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Outside the networks?: a Strategic Niche Management analysis of renewable energy in off grid rural electrification in Chile
Jose Opazo

Last modified: 2012-03-19


This research studies the dynamics behind success or failure in the diffusion of radical innovations. Through the lens of Strategic Niche Management (SNM) the study empirically looks at the use and diffusion of Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs) in off-grid rural electrification in the context of access to energy in developing countries.


SNM thinking has been developed to understand the role of protected spaces (i.e. socio-technical niches) where experiments on sustainable innovation can be further developed in controlled absence of pressures from the dominant set of rules and institutions around a socio-technical practice (i.e. the regime), such as energy use, housing, transport and so on (see for example Schot et al. 1994; Kemp et al. 1998).


Internal niche processes articulate dynamics that enhance transformation and adaptation of new technologies so they can stabilise and lead to regime shift. It has been suggested that these processes work more successfully when: a) expectations are shared by many actors and are based on tangible results; b) social networks are broad, deep and there is regular interaction between actors; and c) learning processes are both broad and reflexive (Raven 2005; Schot et al. 1996; Schot and Geels 2008).


Recent contributions have highlighted how niches grow from the aggregation of local experiments (Geels and Raven 2006; Schot and Geels 2007), leading to co-ordination and structuring of new rules, practices and configurations. However is not clear the extent to which niche mechanisms allow for replication, scaling up and translation of niche experiments into regime practice, that is, how niches and regimes are linked and interact dynamically, particularly in specific contexts (Smith 2007).


This study is analysing off-grid PV and wind projects implemented in the framework of rural electrification policies in Chile from 1994 to 2010, where rural electrification rates have increased from 53% to 95%. RETs account for nearly 10% of that increase.  The study aims to understand the extent to which niche processes are relevant to understand niche creation from the aggregation of rural electrification projects in the Chilean context. It will also investigate translation mechanisms between niche practices and traditional ways of improving electricity access.