Transition to a Sustainable Electricity System

Peter Hofman

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

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    Based on theoretical insight from evolutionary economics and technology studies this paper presents a conceptual framework to analyse processes of systems change and aims to refine the framework through an empirical analysis of developments in a specific system of production and consumption. The focus is on the electricity system where the dominance of incremental improvement along an established design and fossil-based technological paths has made it difficult for alternatives to gain significant ground. Nevertheless, there also cases where new practices emerge, become embedded within the system, and even have the potential to significantly alter the existing system. Empirically, the paper focuses on explaining the emergence of deviations of established paths and their relative success, as understanding these processes is a key to understanding as to how transitions may occur. The examples highlighted in this paper are the fast rise of combined heat and power generation and the emergence and diffusion of green electricity in the Dutch electricity system. Decentralised combined heat and power generation increased from 13% in 1988 to 36% in 1999, while 26% of all households bought green electricity in 2003 after the concept was initiated in 1995. Core aspects that are highlighted are the role of ‘prime movers’, network formation, and processes of institutional change. Prime movers play an important role such as to raise awareness, to undertake investments and to provide legitimacy for new technologies or products. As prime movers may trigger wider transformation processes, they are likely to be well positioned to take advantage of the momentum that is generated. Secondly, the research points out that the building or restructuring of networks is required to deviate from familiar paths and to establish new practices. Thirdly, the introduction of a new product or technology often needs to be accompanied by further institutional change in order to gain momentum and to change a technological system. Processes of standardisation, building legitimacy and adapting regulatory frameworks are examples of this.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages13
    Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2003
    Event11th Greening of Industry Network Conference, GIN 2003: Innovating for Sustainability - San Francisco, United States
    Duration: 12 Oct 200315 Oct 2003
    Conference number: 11


    Conference11th Greening of Industry Network Conference, GIN 2003
    Abbreviated titleGIN
    CountryUnited States
    CitySan Francisco


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