The emergence of innovation systems in new locations

Categories: journal article
Categories: journal article

Title: The emergence of innovation systems in new locations: theoretical explorations and an in-depth case study of wind energy technologies in Ireland, 1990-2014 (PhD Thesis)

Author: Cian O’Donovan

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Summary: This thesis is about the processes of creating renewable electricity systems in new locations. Specifically it addresses the challenges and drivers of building-up renewable energy system in a ‘fast follower’ country, Ireland. With increasing scientific, political, civil society and private sector agreement on the need to reduce green-house gas emissions from the provision of electricity, the rolling out of complex, renewable electricity systems from countries in which initial system building activities have taken place to others is an important issue. The primary research question posed is ‘what explains the growth of the wind electricity system in Ireland?’ This question is reflected upon by asking ‘what does the Irish experience tell us about why and how these systems spread to new locations?’

The build-up in Ireland of wind energy capabilities, institutions and imaginations of possible futures
The build-up in Ireland of wind energy capabilities, institutions and imaginations of possible futures.

The thesis addresses an innovation studies audience, making a theoretical contribution to the field of sustainability transitions. It contributes to recent research integrating theories from human geography by offering new insights on how location influences building of large scale renewable electricity systems in new jurisdictions. It contributes findings about the rapid development of the Irish wind system that challenge two dominant perspectives; roll-out in Ireland has been driven by EU policy push and the development of the industry is fundamentally about the extent of national subsidies. We find both perspectives are partial; what they omit is likely to be essential to reproducing the Irish experience.

This thesis takes as its unit of analysis the wind energy system itself, and using a ‘technological innovation system’ framework, examines and evaluates the structure of the system; the complex arrangement of institutions, actors and technologies; and the dynamic innovation processes or ‘functions’ of the system. An inquiry into the substantive historical contexts of the development of the system make possible insights into the locational characteristics and relations within and between the system; drivers, barriers and influences of direction of the system processes; and the contexts in which decisions are made and technological change takes place. The thesis finds the development of a renewable electricity system in new locations is simultaneously heavily influenced by transnational dimensions of system actors relations and institutions, and shows that while the direction of the emergent technological pathway is influenced at multiple spatial and governance levels, legitimation of the technology is highly localised.