Case Study Material Technology Innovation

Appendix to Chapter 24: Policies for the Energy Technology Innovation System (ETIS) of the Global Energy Assessment

Innovation is most simply conceived of as novelty, originating from human endeavor and inspiration. Energy technology innovations range from radical new inventions to marginal performance improvements, and encompass social and behavioral changes alongside more visible material changes in technological hardware. Innovation success typically means widespread diffusion and commercial uptake. But this outcome is the culmination of an often lengthy process which runs from research and development through demonstration and trials to early market formation and then diffusion. There are countless pitfalls along the way. The majority of innovation journeys end in failure, some abject, others marginal. Innovation is neither costless nor certain.

What can we learn from innovation histories ranging from widely heralded successes to fast faded failures? Here, we compile a varied set of 20 such innovation histories of energy technology innovation. We are concerned with energy technology innovations ranging from solar photovoltaics in Kenya to end-use appliances in Japan, and from wind power in Europe to hybrid cars in China. We emphasize technological innovations largely at the fringes of our current energy system, but hoped and heralded to play an ever-greater part in an environmental sustainable future.

Indeed, innovation and technological change will be central to the enormous challenges facing the global energy system in mitigating climate change, in providing universal access to modern energy carriers like electricity, and in ensuring the supply and distribution of energy is secure and resilient. The Global Energy Assessment sets out these challenges as well as the possible pathways to their surmounting. These case studies originated as an Appendix to the Global Energy Assessment’s chapter on energy technology innovation. As such, they enrich and deepen this assessment in the GEA, and offers further empirical support for the analytical approach taken.

Table of Contents

Historical Context for Case Studies

1. Energy Transitions - A. Grubler        
2. Technology Diffusion - C. Wilson         


3. Solar Water Heaters (US) - G. Nemet
4. Heat Pumps (Sweden & Switzerland) - B. Kiss, L. Neij & M. Jakob
5. Knowledge Depreciation - A. Grubler & G. Nemet
6. Nuclear Power (France) - A. Grubler


7. Solar Thermal Electricity (US) - G. Nemet
8. Vehicle Efficiency - G. Nemet
9. Hybrid Cars - K.S. Gallagher
10. Solar Photovoltaics - G. Nemet

Actors & Institutions

11. Wind Power - L. Neij & P.D. Andersen
12. End-Use Efficiency (Japan) - O. Kimura
13. Ethanol (Brazil) - D. Meyer, L. Mytelka, R. Press, E.L. Dall'Oglio, P.T. de Sousa Jr. & A. Grubler
14. Rural Solar (Kenya) - D. Kammen & A. Jacobson
15. Synfuels (US) - L. Anadon, G. Nemet & R. Schock
16. Technology Portfolios - A. Gruber, S. Fuss, D. McCollum, V. Krey & K. Riahi


17. Assessment Metrics - C. Wilson
18. Global Financial Resources - A. Grubler, L.D. Anadon, K.S. Gallagher, R. Kempener, A. O'Rourke & C. Wilson
19. R,D&D Investments (Emerging Economies) - R Kempener, L.D. Anadon, K.S. Gallagher & K. Jiang
20. Global End-Use Investments - C. Wilson & A. Grubler

Zambesi style: Innovation

COP Brief development

The commission was new ground for Zambesi; the first time it had been involved in creating a corporate uniform. To secure the commission, Zambesi had to pitch for the job along with five other design houses. Elizabeth Findlay and her team worked up a series of sketches of how they saw the uniforms. To make their pitch, these sketches of male and female figures were drawn into groups of crew, ground staff and management.

Elisabeth Findlay says the presentation was "pretty much our idea of how the design should appear, we were just showing off what we thought would be right."

Uniforms are primarily concerned more with comfort and maintenance than glamour and display. While this is true enough, a uniform is far more than simply clothing worn at work. A uniform identifies its wearer with an organisation and conveys an image about that organisation. A uniform can make people feel proud of their work and foster espirit de corps. Uniforms also convey messages. Air New Zealand management wanted the new uniforms to say 'New Zealand' to their customers and potential customers. They wanted the uniforms to reflect New Zealander's strong pride, sense of place and attachment to their country. They wanted the uniforms to convey the notions of green tranquility and restfulness. And they wanted this message conveyed with style, flair and clarity. It went without saying they also wanted cost-effective comfort, durability and ease-of-maintenance.

Computers have changed fashion design and will transform it further. But until they are programmed for creativity, art, magic, inspiration and serendipity, computers will never come within a stone's throw of 'doing fashion', much less convey the sort of messages Air New Zealand management had in mind. While computers and other technologies can help turn ideas into "things", they can't in themselves give us those ideas; or manage the conversion of ideas into objects for that matter. Fashion design is a complex and subtle process that will always be closer to art than to science. Many of the early stages of the process may occur unconsciously. All design is bound by culture and informed by visual memory. Ideas, details, historical and cultural references and memories all combine in the designers mind to narrow the range of design options available as a starting point. Because designers nearly always devise new combinations of familiar elements to accomplish novel results, links to known elements are inevitably present. But the inevitability of the old in the new is no check to originality. Part of the visual memory and culture tapped by the Zambesi designers referred to the gloriously stylish days of air travel, when airlines such as TEAL, BOAC and Continental ruled supreme.

Elisabeth Findlay grew up in Dunedin and remembers air hostesses turning heads on Princes Street, so exotic and glamorous were they considered. Elisabeth wanted to recapture some of this glamour. In her initial sketches, she started with the silhouettes of the outfits.

COP Planning for practice

"I just sat down and thought about how I would like the silhouette for the female crew to be. Why start with silhouette? Because I wanted the females to look like females a little bit more. More glamorous I guess. But not in a Hollywood sort of a way, a little bit more feminine, not so corporate. I didn't want them to look like they worked in a bank."

Elisabeth Findlay

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