STS - conferences, IST2012

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The diffusion of family size anaerobic digestion technologies as a case of socio-technical transition
Willington Ortiz, Carmen Dienst, Hanna Scheck

Last modified: 2012-03-26


Biogas systems of family size are regarded as a promising alternative for improving the energy supply of poor population, particularly rural households in emerging and developing countries. The development and diffusion of such household technologies have been the objective of several initiatives around the world, since more than thirty years. However, the current diffusion of family size biogas systems at global level offers a rather uneven picture (ranging from millions of installed plants reported in some Asian Countries to marginal figures in most African Countries). The difficulties to move forward in the development and diffusion of the technology vary depending of the national or regional context. However, we argue that many of those difficulties may actually derive from crucial structural components, which are common to any process striving to disseminate family size biogas solutions. Our analysis is based on the assumption that initiatives supporting the diffusion of these technologies can be understood as socio-technical transition management processes.

The proposed analysis starts by identifying the common features of the technology and its functionality as well as the specific setting of challenged regimes, involved actors and resources for adoption. Subsequently, heuristic concepts from the multi-level perspective on socio-technical transitions and from transition management are applied in order to identify (ex-ante) possible features, mechanisms and patterns that can emerge in a transition process towards the broad implementation of family size anaerobic digestion technologies. The expected particularities of a ‘generic’ transition process are confronted with empirical observations from representative initiatives in three different contexts. The discrepancy on expectations among relevant actors and the multi-regime functionality of the technology arise as particularly challenging patterns, which may confine possible transition pathways and explain certain observed stagnation in programs pursuing similar visions, i.e. societies where family size biogas solutions have become ‘taken-for-granted’ options for rural population.