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How clean is clean? Incremental versus radical technological change in coal-fired power plants

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  • Rennings, Klaus
  • Markewitz, Peter
  • Vögele, Stefan

Abstract

In the discussion on innovations for sustainable development, radical innovations are frequently called for in order that the transformation of society to a system perceived as sustainable can succeed. The reason given for this is the greater environmental efficiency of these innovations. This hypothesis is, however, not supported by empirical evidence. Against the background of a globally increasing use of coal-burning power plants and the environmental impacts to be expected, the hypothesis that radical innovations are superior to incremental innovations is reviewed on the basis of fossil fuel power plants. This paper examines the diffusion of incremental and radical innovations in the field of power plants and the basic obstacles with which these innovations were confronted. To give an example, Pressurised Pulverised Coal Combustion (PPCC) as a radical innovation and supercritical coal-fired power plants as an incremental innovation are compared. An ex-post analysis of the German R&D portfolio in the past three decades in the field of power plants environmentally shows that technologies which were radical innovations had great difficulties in becoming accepted by possible investors. The future potential of radical innovations in the field of power plant technology is to be regarded as relatively low, especially due to comparatively high cost-pressure, the reluctance of utilities to take risks and the temporal dynamics of technological progress facilitating incremental innovations on the basis of conventional reference technology. The conclusion for future R&D work in the sector of large-scale power plants is that an innovation is more likely to succeed the more it follows established technological trajectories. In the context of energy market liberalisation, hardly any radical innovations are expected in this field of technology. The findings of this paper may also be helpful in evaluating risks or probabilities of success of technologies being developed. As an example technological trajectories currently favoured in CO2 capture are discussed.

Suggested Citation

  • Rennings, Klaus & Markewitz, Peter & Vögele, Stefan, 2009. "How clean is clean? Incremental versus radical technological change in coal-fired power plants," ZEW Discussion Papers 09-021, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:zewdip:09021
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    Cited by:

    1. Barbieri, Nicolò, 2016. "Fuel prices and the invention crowding out effect: Releasing the automotive industry from its dependence on fossil fuel," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 222-234.
    2. Grazia Cecere & Nicoletta Corrocher & Cédric Gossart & Muge Ozman, 2014. "Lock-in and path dependence: an evolutionary approach to eco-innovations," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 24(5), pages 1037-1065, November.
    3. Nicolò Barbieri, 2015. "Environmental policy and invention crowding out. Unlocking the automotive industry from fossil fuel path dependence," SEEDS Working Papers 0615, SEEDS, Sustainability Environmental Economics and Dynamics Studies, revised Mar 2015.
    4. Martin Kalthaus, 2017. "Identifying technological sub-trajectories in photovoltaic patents," Jena Economic Research Papers 2017-010, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.
    5. Marzucchi, Alberto & Montresor, Sandro, 2017. "Forms of knowledge and eco-innovation modes: Evidence from Spanish manufacturing firms," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(C), pages 208-221.
    6. Leoncini, Riccardo & Montresor, Sandro & Rentocchini, Francesco, 2016. "CO2-reducing innovations and outsourcing: Evidence from photovoltaics and green construction in North-East Italy," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(8), pages 1649-1659.
    7. repec:wfo:wstudy:41198 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Jaime Gómez & Raquel Orcos & Sergio Palomas, 2014. "The evolving patterns of competition after deregulation: the relevance of institutional and operational factors as determinants of rivalry," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 24(4), pages 905-933, September.
    9. Mikielewicz, Dariusz & Wajs, Jan & Ziółkowski, Paweł & Mikielewicz, Jarosław, 2016. "Utilisation of waste heat from the power plant by use of the ORC aided with bleed steam and extra source of heat," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 11-19.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Radical innovations; incremental innovations; carbon capture storage; coal power plants;

    JEL classification:

    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development
    • Q55 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environmental Economics: Technological Innovation
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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