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Technology Substitution for System Transformation: Reassessing the role of learning and infrastructure

Nuno Bento

14th International Sustainability Conference | IST 2023

Technological substitution is a crucial part of system transformation that is needed for reaching decarbonization and sustainable development goals. Technology substitution has been treated in different streams of the literature, including diffusion of innovations, historical energy transitions and sustainability transitions. From this literature, we identify several determinants of technology substitution grouped into technology- and contextual-related factors. We analyze several historical dynamics of technological substitution, comparing the time it takes for the formation of emerging innovations and the decline of existing technologies. For that, we use a sample of 14 transition processes including different types of technology (communication, consumer goods, transport, industry, energy supply), both recent and old. The results confirm the slow pace of technological substitution in transport and industry in the past. A particular analysis of the effect of cost and infrastructure on the ongoing electrification of light-duty vehicles in Norway reveals that the falling costs of electric vehicles (EV) clearly preceded the dynamics of technological substitution, which anticipated the increase in the number of charging stations. A comparison across countries reveals the importance of the interrelation with broadband coverage for EV adoption. The paper concludes by presenting promising implications for the theory and policy, based on the role of technology interrelatedness, to accelerate technology substitution for system transformation.

Keywords: sustainability transitions; technology substitution; formative phase; decline; learning; infrastructure.

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