STS - conferences, IST2012

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Scaling-up local niche experiments for transitions to low carbon energy& transport systems
Lars Coenen

Last modified: 2012-03-22


There is a particular need within studies of sustainability transitions to understand better how the process from the initial 'niche' to a large scale transformation can be accelerated (Geels et al., 2008). Previous studies have stressed the importance of societal experimentation projects to improve, and, eventually, embed emergent technologies into market environments (Kemp et al., 1998; Raven, 2005). Pilot and demonstration projects are often small-scale and geographically bounded by nature (Truffer, 2003; Schot et al., 1994). However, spatial dimensions have, until recently, remained off-radar in sustainability transitions (Coenen et al., forthcoming; Truffer and Coenen, 2012).

The aim of this paper is to gain a better understanding of how location and the small scale of local experiments with low carbon energy&  transport systems might affect their potential for future development, the conditions for successful up-scaling and consequences this process may have on the value chain. By virtue of proximity advantages, the localized nature of niche experiments can give rise to various kinds of beneficial clustering effects (Coenen et al., 2010). On the other hand, there is an inherent ambition to scale-up these local niche experiments into more wide-spread application and commercial use. If and when such up-scaling takes place, parts of the value chain may relocate to other parts of the country or the world, e.g. to reduce production costs or create economies of scale while other value-added activities are further embedded in the region. The paper is mainly conceptual in nature but will be illustrated by empirical examples of biofuel experiments in the Nordic Countries.