To create insights in the meanings of the theoretical constructs ‘system innovation’ and ‘strategic niche management’, and learn to apply them in practical cases.
Energy has become taken for granted in industrialized societies. Like water and food it is now regarded as a basic necessity expected to be available at all times. The benefits of electricity are well known: it is a resource indispensable for manufacturing the products we consume, and it is a resource essential for the functioning of a wide range of products, such as household and office appliances. The creation of these benefits has, however, come at significant cost. Industrialized societies, and especially energy and transport systems, have become ‘addicted’ to the use of fossil fuels. The emergence and shape of these systems is inextricably linked to the exploitation of fossil resources such as coal, oil and gas. Apart from local and regional environmental problems, carbon emissions through the combustion of fossil fuels have contributed to the problem of human-induced global warming. Other structural problems involve oil dependency on politically volatile regions and security of supply. To solve these problems promising new technologies have been developed. Many of them have better environmental performance than the ones aimed at combustion of fossil fuels. However, many of these new and promising technologies are not (yet) taken up. This is partly related to economic reasons, but also to social, cultural, infrastructural and regulative factors. Existing systems seem to be ‘locked in’ at multiple dimensions. Unsuccessful attempts in the past to deal with the problems (e.g. so-called ‘end-of-pipe’-solutions) suggest that a more fundamental approach is necessary. However, most new approaches do not aim at system optimization, but rather at System Innovation: a complete renewal of the socio-technical configuration of the system. System Innovation is a key condition to achieve Energy Transition.
This course deals with specific strategies aiming to achieve System Innovation and Energy Transition: Strategic Niche Management (SNM) and Transition Management (TM). SNM starts from the observation that many sustainable technologies fail to break through, despite these technologies' potential to drastically improve the environmental performance of current socio-technical systems. The unit of analysis in SNM is the niche. Niches are emerging new concepts and technologies for energy provision, often under some form of 'protection': this enables actors (e.g. in the form of subsidies), such as firms, users, policy makers and environmentalists, to learn about the desirability of the technology, and improve its technical performance and societal embedding. A niche consists of several societal experiments, such as pilot- and demonstration plants. Societal experiments are an important step in technological development, because it is the first time that the innovation is exposed to the ‘real world’ (outside laboratories). SNM conceptualizes this (important) phase as a process of technological niche formation: experiments produce and give body to new technological practice, including the design, production, regulation, and the use of a new technology. Eventually, technological niche formation may stabilize and, through a process of niche accumulation and expansion, replace the dominant technological practice. Transition Management (TM) involves the creation of a multi-actor ‘transition arena’ to embed to energy transition goals (and sub-goals) in policy-making and corporate managerial processes.
Finally, we introduce socio-technical scenarios, technology assessment (TA), and prospective analysis as heuristic tools that facilitate SNM and TM. These tools designed to support the development and alignment of visions, built-up of networks and transition coalitions, and development of a learning infrastructure.
During the course, students in small groups of 2-3 work on a practical case study in the field of renewable energy that concerns a certain technique that inherently carries with it the expectation in a radical way to innovate the conventional energy system in order to reduce the environmental pressure (for example: concentrated solar power). The students gather information about the technique and theory on the extent to which fit system innovation occurred to diagnose. From this starting point, they apply the insights of ' strategic niche management ' and ' transitions ' to a get to recommendation about how the studied niche could grow and a sustainable energy system can be achieved in the future.
The exam form is a paper written and presented by a small group of students. Attendance at lectures is not mandatory, but is recommended and appreciated