The politics of system innovation for emerging technologies: understanding the uptake of off-grid renewable electricity in rural Chile

Opazo, Jose (2014) The politics of system innovation for emerging technologies: understanding the uptake of off-grid renewable electricity in rural Chile. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

Access to sustainable energy in the developing world has become a fundamental challenge in development and environmental policy in the 21st Century, and rural electrification in developing countries constitutes a central element of access to energy goals. However, traditional ways of providing electricity to dispersed rural populations (i.e. through centralised electricity infrastructure or fuel-based on-site generation) is proving to be ineffective, inefficient and less sustainable than the use of renewable energy technologies (RETs) in off-grid settings. Such ‘system innovations’ for sustainable electricity services in rural areas are the focus of this study, which seeks to understand the reasons underlying success or failure in the diffusion of radical innovations. Embracing evolutionary and constructivist theories of socio-technical change and sustainability transitions, the thesis attempts to explain the use and diffusion of PV (photovoltaic) and wind technology in off-grid rural electrification over the last 20 years in Chile, a country where access to rural electricity has increased from 53% to 95%. RETs have contributed to nearly 10% of that increment. By using a framework that combines Strategic Niche Management (SNM), systemic intermediation and power, agency and conflicts in decision making, the thesis analyses the dynamics between the development and adaptation of new technologies and their influence in regime shift through replication, scaling up and translation of new socio-technical practices. The thesis attempts to shed light on processes affecting niche construction and it concludes that internal niche processes are relevant to understanding how radical innovations are structured and stabilised from the aggregation of projects. However, those processes are not only a managerial activity that can be steered but a politically underpinned (and iterative) process between specific (socio-political) settings. The study also highlights the role of systemic intermediaries, government and incumbent actors in the dynamic interaction between emergent niche dynamics and traditional ways of improving electricity access.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Business, Management and Economics > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Subjects: T Technology > TK Electrical engineering. Electronics Nuclear engineering > TK2896 Devices for production of electricity by direct energy conversion
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 16 Jun 2015 11:10
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2015 14:10
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/54509

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