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A model of technological breakthrough in the renewable energy sector

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  • Schmidt, Robert C.
  • Marschinski, Robert

Abstract

Models with induced technological change in the energy sector often predict a gradual expansion of renewable energies, and a substantial share of fossil fuels remaining in the energy mix through the end of our century. However, there are historical examples where new products or technologies expanded rapidly and achieved a high output in a relatively short period of time. This paper explores the possibility of a 'technological breakthrough' in the renewable energy sector, using a partial equilibrium model of energy generation with endogenous R&D. Our results indicate, that due to increasing returns-to-scale, a multiplicity of equilibria can arise. In the model, two stable states can coexist, one characterized by a lower and one by higher supply of renewable energy. The transition from the low-output to the high-output equilibrium is characterized by a discontinuous rise in R&D activity and capacity investments in the renewable energy sector. The transition can be triggered by a rise in world energy demand, by a drop in the supply of fossil fuels, or by policy intervention. Under market conditions, the transition occurs later than in the social optimum. Hence, we identify a market failure related to path-dependence and technological lock-in, that can justify a strong policy intervention initially. Paradoxically, well-intended energy-saving policies can actually lead to higher emissions, as they reduce the incentives to invest in renewable energies by having a cushioning effect on the energy price. Hence, these policies should be supplemented by other instruments that restore the incentives to invest in renewable energies. Finally, we discuss the influence of monopoly power in the market for innovations. We show that market power can alleviate the problem of technological lock-in, but creates a new market failure that reduces static efficiency.

Suggested Citation

  • Schmidt, Robert C. & Marschinski, Robert, 2009. "A model of technological breakthrough in the renewable energy sector," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(2), pages 435-444, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:69:y:2009:i:2:p:435-444
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Dumas, Marion & Rising, James & Urpelainen, Johannes, 2016. "Political competition and renewable energy transitions over long time horizons: A dynamic approach," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 175-184.
    2. Robert Marschinski & Philippe Quirion, 2014. "Tradable Renewable Quota vs. Feed-In Tariff vs. Feed-In Premium under Uncertainty," Working Papers 2014.99, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
    3. Tilmann Rave & Ursula Triebswetter & Johann Wackerbauer, 2013. "Koordination von Innovations-, Energie- und Umweltpolitik," ifo Forschungsberichte, ifo Institute - Leibniz Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, number 61, October.
    4. Fischer, Carolyn & Preonas, Louis, 2010. "Combining Policies for Renewable Energy: Is the Whole Less Than the Sum of Its Parts?," International Review of Environmental and Resource Economics, now publishers, vol. 4(1), pages 51-92, June.
    5. Samuel Fankhauser & Cameron Hepburn & Jisung Park, 2010. "Combining Multiple Climate Policy Instruments: How Not To Do It," Climate Change Economics (CCE), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 1(03), pages 209-225.
    6. Lehmann, Paul & Gawel, Erik, 2013. "Why should support schemes for renewable electricity complement the EU emissions trading scheme?," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 597-607.
    7. Jean-Charles Hourcade & Antonin Pottier & Etienne Espagne, 2011. "The Environment and Directed Technical Change: Comment," Working Papers 2011.95, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
    8. repec:zbw:rwirep:0473 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Pottier, Antonin & Hourcade, Jean-Charles & Espagne, Etienne, 2014. "Modelling the redirection of technical change: The pitfalls of incorporeal visions of the economy," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(C), pages 213-218.
    10. Andor, Mark & Voss, Achim, 2016. "Optimal renewable-energy promotion: Capacity subsidies vs. generation subsidies," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 144-158.
    11. Charnovitz, Steve & Fischer, Carolyn, 2015. "Canada–Renewable Energy: Implications for WTO Law on Green and Not-So-Green Subsidies," World Trade Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 14(02), pages 177-210, April.
    12. Karlsson, Rasmus, 2012. "Carbon lock-in, rebound effects and China at the limits of statism," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 939-945.
    13. Kalkuhl, Matthias & Edenhofer, Ottmar & Lessmann, Kai, 2012. "Learning or lock-in: Optimal technology policies to support mitigation," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 1-23.
    14. Mattauch, Linus & Creutzig, Felix & Edenhofer, Ottmar, 2015. "Avoiding carbon lock-in: Policy options for advancing structural change," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 49-63.
    15. Hritonenko, Natali & Yatsenko, Yuri, 2010. "Technological innovations, economic renovation, and anticipation effects," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(6), pages 1064-1078, November.
    16. Kemp-Benedict, Eric, 2014. "Shifting to a Green Economy: Lock-in, Path Dependence, and Policy Options," MPRA Paper 60175, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    17. Jean Charles Hourcade & Antonin Pottier & Etienne Espagne, 2011. "The environment and directed technical change : comment," Working Papers hal-00866435, HAL.

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