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Technology Variation vs. R&D Uncertainty: What Matters Most for Energy Patent Success?

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  • David Popp
  • Nidhi Santen
  • Karen Fisher-Vanden
  • Mort Webster

Abstract

R&D is an uncertain activity with highly skewed outcomes. Nonetheless, most recent empirical studies and modeling estimates of the potential of technological change focus on the average returns to research and development (R&D) for a composite technology and contain little or no information about the distribution of returns to R&D--which could be important for capturing the range of costs associated with climate change mitigation policies--by individual technologies. Through an empirical study of patent citation data, this paper adds to the literature on returns to energy R&D by focusing on the behavior of the most successful innovations for six energy technologies, allowing us to determine whether uncertainty or differences in technologies matter most for success. We highlight two key results. First, we compare the results from an aggregate analysis of six energy technologies to technology-by-technology results. Our results show that existing work that assumes diminishing returns but assumes one generic technology is too simplistic and misses important differences between more successful and less successful technologies. Second, we use quantile regression techniques to learn more about patents that have a high positive error term in our regressions - that is, patents that receive many more citations than predicted based on observable characteristics. We find that differences across technologies, rather than differences across quantiles within technologies, are more important. The value of successful technologies persists longer than those of less successful technologies, providing evidence that success is the culmination of several advances building upon one another, rather than resulting from one single breakthrough. Diminishing returns to research efforts appear most problematic during rapid increases of research investment, such as experienced by solar energy in the 1970s.

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  • David Popp & Nidhi Santen & Karen Fisher-Vanden & Mort Webster, 2012. "Technology Variation vs. R&D Uncertainty: What Matters Most for Energy Patent Success?," NBER Working Papers 17792, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17792
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    Cited by:

    1. Jin, Wei & Zhang, ZhongXiang, 2016. "On the mechanism of international technology diffusion for energy technological progress," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 39-61.
    2. Bistline, John E., 2016. "Energy technology R&D portfolio management: Modeling uncertain returns and market diffusion," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 183(C), pages 1181-1196.
    3. David Popp, 2019. "Environmental Policy and Innovation: A Decade of Research," NBER Working Papers 25631, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Santen, Nidhi R. & Anadon, Laura Diaz, 2016. "Balancing solar PV deployment and RD&D: A comprehensive framework for managing innovation uncertainty in electricity technology investment planning," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 60(C), pages 560-569.
    5. Bruns, Stephan B. & Kalthaus, Martin, 2020. "Flexibility in the selection of patent counts: Implications for p-hacking and evidence-based policymaking," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(1).
    6. Clément Bonnet, 2016. "Measuring Knowledge with Patent Data: an Application to Low Carbon Energy Technologies," EconomiX Working Papers 2016-37, University of Paris Nanterre, EconomiX.
    7. Nidhi R. Santen & Mort D. Webster & David Popp & Ignacio Pérez-Arriaga, 2017. "Inter-temporal R&D and capital investment portfolios for the electricity industrys low carbon future," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 6).
    8. Popp, David, 2017. "From science to technology: The value of knowledge from different energy research institutions," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(9), pages 1580-1594.
    9. Giovanni Dosi & Luigi Marengo & Jacopo Staccioli & Maria Enrica Virgillito, 2021. "Big pharma and monopoly capitalism: A long-term view," LEM Papers Series 2021/26, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    10. Clément Bonnet, 2017. "Measuring Inventive Performance with Patent Data: an Application to Low Carbon Energy Technologies," Working Papers 1709, Chaire Economie du climat.
    11. Clement Bonnet, 2020. "Measuring Knowledge with Patent Data: an Application to Low Carbon Energy Technologies," Working Papers hal-02971680, HAL.
    12. Zheng, Shuhong & Yang, Juan & Yu, Shiwei, 2021. "How renewable energy technological innovation promotes renewable power generation: Evidence from China's provincial panel data," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 177(C), pages 1394-1407.
    13. Angela Köppl & Daniela Kletzan-Slamanig & Katharina Köberl, 2013. "Österreichische Umwelttechnikindustrie. Export und Wettbewerbsfähigkeit," WIFO Studies, WIFO, number 46461, June.
    14. David Popp, 2019. "Environmental policy and innovation: a decade of research," CESifo Working Paper Series 7544, CESifo.
    15. Lee, Chien-Chiang & Wang, Chih-Wei & Ho, Shan-Ju & Wu, Ting-Pin, 2021. "The impact of natural disaster on energy consumption: International evidence," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(C).
    16. Sun, Bixuan & Kolesnikov, Sergey & Goldstein, Anna & Chan, Gabriel, 2021. "A dynamic approach for identifying technological breakthroughs with an application in solar photovoltaics," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 165(C).
    17. Jiang, Xiandeng & Kong, Dongming & Xiao, Chengrui, 2020. "Policy certainty and heterogeneous firm innovation: Evidence from China," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 63(C).
    18. Nidhi R. Santen & Mort D. Webster & David Popp & Ignacio Pérez-Arriaga, 2014. "Inter-temporal R&D and Capital Investment Portfolios for the Electricity Industry's Low Carbon Future," CESifo Working Paper Series 5139, CESifo.
    19. David Popp, 2016. "From Science to Technology: The Value of Knowledge From Different Energy Research Institutions," NBER Working Papers 22573, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • Q4 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy
    • Q42 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Alternative Energy Sources
    • Q54 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Climate; Natural Disasters and their Management; Global Warming
    • Q55 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Technological Innovation

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