Latest INNOPATHS publications

Diffusion of flue gas desulfurization reveals barriers and opportunities for carbon capture and storage

Addressing climate change may require rapid global diffusion of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). To understand its potential diffusion, we analysed a historical analogy: Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) in the global coal power market. Our findings challenge common patterns: diffusion of FGD is not described by a single S-curve but by multiple steps and does not slow down after materiality. The regulation-driven diffusion of FGD can be fast, especially for retrofit since it does not require new power plants. Owing to the mature size of coal power plants, the diffusion of FGD is driven by unit numbers instead of unit capacity growth. We find that the diffusion of CCS in climate change mitigation pathways, when normalised for economic growth, rarely exceeds the historical maximum diffusion rate of FGD. Our findings suggest that end-of-pipe abatement technology can diffuse fast and to a great extent provided deep, consistent long-term regulatory commitment.

Written by Stijn van Ewijk and Will McDowall

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Green Stimulus in a Post-pandemic Recovery: the Role of Skills for a Resilient Recovery

As nations struggle to restart their economy after COVID-19 lockdowns, calls to include green investments in a pandemic-related stimulus are growing. Yet little research provides evidence of the effectiveness of a green stimulus. We begin by summarizing recent research on the effectiveness of the green portion of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on employment growth. Green investments are most effective in communities whose workers have the appropriate “green” skills. We then provide new evidence on the skills requirements of both green and brown occupations, as well as from occupations at risk of job losses due to COVID-19, to illustrate which workers are most likely to benefit from a pandemic-related green stimulus. We find similarities between some energy sector workers and green jobs, but a poor match between green jobs and occupations at risk due to COVID-19. Finally, we provide suggestive evidence on the potential for job training programs to help ease the transition to a green economy.

Written by Ziqiao Chen, Giovanni Marin, David Popp and Francesco Vona

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Global Energy System Transformations to 1.5 °C: The Impact of Revised Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Carbon Budgets

The Paris Agreement calls for countries to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 °C. Scenarios that limit global warming to 1.5 °C describe fundamental transformations in energy systems and typically rely on emission reductions combined with carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere, mostly through large‐scale application of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). These options face several difficulties, such as reliance on underground CO2 storage and competition for land with food production. Here, using the PROMETHEUS global energy system model, alternative deep mitigation pathways are explored, in light of the revised carbon budgets specified in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5 °C. The pathways assess the potential contribution of energy efficiency improvements and more rapid electrification of energy services based on renewable energy. Although these alternatives also face specific implementation challenges, they are found to significantly reduce the need for CDR and BECCS, but not fully eliminate it, and offer an effective way to diversify transition pathways to meet the Paris targets. Achieving the 1.5 °C target is technically feasible but requires immediate, ambitious, and global action, based on large‐scale deployment of renewables, early retirement of fossil‐based power plants, accelerated efficiency improvements, and expansion of carbon‐free options in end‐uses.

Written by Panagiotis Fragkos

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Sustainable minerals and metals for a low-carbon future

Climate change mitigation will create new natural resource and supply chain opportunities and dilemmas, because substantial amounts of raw materials will be required to build new low-carbon energy devices and infrastructure (1). However, despite attempts at improved governance and better corporate management, procurement of many mineral and metal resources occurs in areas generally acknowledged for mismanagement, remains environmentally capricious, and, in some cases, is a source of conflict at the sites of resource extraction (2). These extractive and smelting industries have thus left a legacy in many parts of the world of environmental degradation, adverse impacts to public health, marginalized communities and workers, and biodiversity damage. We identify key sustainability challenges with practices used in industries that will supply the metals and minerals—including cobalt, copper, lithium, cadmium, and rare earth elements (REEs)—needed for technologies such as solar photovoltaics, batteries, electric vehicle (EV) motors, wind turbines, fuel cells, and nuclear reactors. We then propose four holistic recommendations to make mining and metal processing more sustainable and just and to make the mining and extractive industries more efficient and resilient.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Saleem H. Ali, Morgan Bazilian, Ben Radley, Benoit Nemery, Julia Okatz and Dustin Mulvaney.

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The decarbonisation divide: Contextualizing landscapes of low-carbon exploitation and toxicity in Africa

Much academic research on low-carbon transitions focuses on the diffusion or use of innovations such as electric vehicles or solar panels, but overlooks or obscures downstream and upstream processes, such as mining or waste flows. Yet it is at these two extremes where emerging low-carbon transitions in mobility and electricity are effectively implicated in toxic pollution, biodiversity loss, exacerbation of gender inequality, exploitation of child labor, and the subjugation of ethnic minorities. We conceptualize these processes as part of an emerging “decarbonisation divide.” To illustrate this divide with clear insights for political ecology, sustainability transitions, and energy justice research, this study draws from extensive fieldwork examining cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the processing and recycling of electronic waste in Ghana. It utilizes original data from 34 semi-structured research interviews with experts and 69 community interviews with artisanal cobalt miners, e-waste scrapyard workers, and other stakeholders, as well as 50 site visits. These visits included 30 industrial and artisanal cobalt mines in the DRC, as well as associated infrastructure such as trading depots and processing centers, and 20 visits to the Agbogbloshie scrapyard and neighborhood alongside local waste collection sites, electrical repair shops, recycling centers, and community e-waste dumps in Ghana. The study proposes a concerted set of policy recommendations for how to better address issues of exploitation and toxicity, suggestions that go beyond the often-touted solutions of formalisation or financing. Ultimately, the study holds that we must all, as researchers, planners, and citizens, broaden the criteria and analytical parameters we use to evaluate the sustainability of low-carbon transitions.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Andrew Hook, Mari Martiskainen, Andrea Brock and Bruno Turnheim

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Beyond cost and carbon: The multidimensional co-benefits of low carbon transitions in Europe

The paper explores the myriad potential benefits of four low-carbon transitions beyond those in the environmental or economic domain. Drawn from a rich set of original mixed methods data—across expert interviews, focus groups, and public internet forums—we examine the presumed multidimensional, qualitative co-benefits to nuclear power in France, solar photovoltaics in Germany, electric vehicles in Norway, and smart meters in Great Britain. We cataloged 128 identified prospective co-benefits to these four European low-carbon transitions, 30 for nuclear power, 30 for solar photovoltaic panels, 26 for electric vehicles and 42 for smart meters. Tellingly, 37 of these collective benefits are identified as economic and 14 environmental, but the remaining ones illustrate a broader spectrum of technical benefits (31 in total), social benefits (30 in total) and political benefits (16 in total). After presenting this body of evidence, the paper then discusses these benefits more deeply in terms of complementarity, temporality, scale, actors, and incumbency. We conclude with insights for energy and climate research and policy more broadly.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Mari Martiskainen, Andrew Hook and Lucy Baker

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Long-Term Projection of Renewable Energy Technology Diffusion

The EU aims at increasing the use of renewable energy sources (RES), mainly solar-photovoltaic (PV) and wind technologies. Projecting the future, in this respect, requires a long-term energy modeling which includes a rate of diffusion of novel technologies into the market and the prediction of their costs. The aim of this article has been to project the pace at which RES technologies diffused in the past or may diffuse in the future across the power sector. This analysis of the dynamics of technologies historically as well as in modeling, roadmaps and scenarios consists in a consistent analysis of the main parameters of the dynamics (pace of diffusion and extent of diffusion in particular markets). Some scenarios (REMIND, WITCH, WEO, PRIMES) of the development of the selected power generation technologies in the EU till 2050 are compared. Depending on the data available, the learning curves describing the expected development of PV and wind technologies till 2100 have been modeled. The learning curves have been presented as a unit cost of the power versus cumulative installed capacity (market size). As the production capacity increases, the cost per unit is reduced thanks to learning how to streamline the manufacturing process. Complimentary to these learning curves, logistic S-shape functions have been used to describe technology diffusion. PV and wind generation technologies for the EU have been estimated in time domain till 2100. The doubts whether learning curves are a proper method of representing technological change due to various uncertainties have been discussed. A critical analysis of effects of the commonly applied models for a long-term energy projection (REMIND, WITCH) use has been conducted. It has been observed that for the EU the analyzed models, despite differences in the target saturation levels, predict stagnation in the development of PV and wind technologies from around 2040. Key results of the analysis are new insights into the plausibility of future deployment scenarios in different sectors, informed by the analysis of historical dynamics of technology diffusion, using to the extent possible consistent metrics.

Written by Tadeusz Skoczkowski, Sławomir Bielecki and Joanna Wojtyńska

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Why matter matters: How technology characteristics shape the strategic framing of technologies

Previous work stresses that actors use strategic technology framing—i.e. purposeful language and rhetoric—to shape technology expectations, persuade stakeholders, and influence the evolution of technologies along their life-cycle. Currently, however, the literature predominantly describes strategic technology framing as a sociopolitical process, and provides only limited insights into how the framing itself is shaped by the material characteristics of the technologies being framed. To address this shortcoming, we conducted a comparative, longitudinal case study of two leading research organizations in the United States and Germany pursuing competing solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies to examine how technology characteristics shape the strategic framing of technologies. We show that to frame PV technologies in their own favor, executives made use of four framing dimensions (potential, prospect, performance, and progress) and three framing tactics (conclusion, conditioning, and concession). Moreover, we show that which framing dimensions and tactics actors selected depended on the maturity and evolution of the technology they pursued, respectively. By highlighting how technology characteristics shape strategic technology framing, we contribute to the literatures on social movements, institutional entrepreneurship, and impression management. Additionally, by providing a coherent framework of strategic technology framing, our study complements existing findings in the literature on the sociology of expectations and contributes to a better understanding of how technology hypes emerge.

Written by Joern Hoppmann, Laura Diaz Anadon and Venkatesh Narayanamurti

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Processes of elite power and low-carbon pathways: Experimentation, financialisation, and dispossession

What is a low-carbon pathway? To many, it is a way of mitigating climate change. To others, it is about addressing market failure or capturing the co-benefits attached to low-carbon systems, such as jobs or improved health. To still others, it represents building adaptive capacity and resilience in the face of climate change. However, these interpretations can fail to acknowledge how pathways of low-carbon transitions can also become intertwined with processes and structures of inequality, exclusion and injustice. Using a critical lens that draws from a variety of disciplines, this article explores three ways through which responses to climate change can entrench, exacerbate or reconfigure the power of elites. As society attempts to create a low-carbon society, including for example via coastal protection efforts, disaster recovery, or climate change mitigation and renewable energy, these efforts intersect with at least three processes of elite power: experimentation, financialisation, and dispossession. Experimentation is when elites use the world as a laboratory to test or pilot low-carbon technologies or policy models, transferring risks yet not always sharing benefits. Financialisation refers to the expansion and proliferation of finance, capital, and financial markets in the global economy and many national economies, processes of which have recently extended to renewable energy. Dispossession is when elites use decarbonisation as a process through which to appropriate land, wealth, or other assets (and in the process make society more majoritarian and/or unequal). We explore these three themes using a variety of evidence across illustrative case studies, including hard and soft coastal protection measures (Bangladesh, Netherlands), climate risk insurance (Malawi), and renewable energy auctions and associated mechanisms of finance and investment (South Africa and Mexico).

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Lucy Baker, Mari Martiskainen and Andrew Hook

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Bias in energy system models with uniform cost of capital assumption

Several studies have recently evaluated the feasibility of 100% renewable energy-based energy systems in different world regions. In a recent article, Bogdanov et al.1 contribute to this literature, by using an energy system model that takes into account the unique conditions of 145 global subregions, including factors such as renewable energy (RE) resource conditions, structure and age of existing capacities, demand patterns, etc. Based on their results, they discuss transition pathways and calculate the 2050 levelized cost of electricity generation (LCOE) of 100% RE-based energy systems in those 145 subregions. While the paper provides a new high-resolution analysis of 100% RE systems, we believe that it falls short of adequately considering large differences in the cost of capital (CoC) when comparing the LCOE between countries. As a result, Fig. 2 in Bogdanov et al. shows the lowest LCOEs for solar photovoltaic (PV)-based systems in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan, which seems at odds with the high investment risks and very low installed capacity in both countries2. Accounting for CoC differences between countries changes the results dramatically, as we show in Fig. 1. We therefore argue that using uniform CoC can lead to distorted policy recommendations.

Written by Florian Egli, Bjarne Steffen and Tobias S. Schmidt

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