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The geographic trajectory of wave energy technology in the formative phase

Margarida Fontes, Hélder Santos, Teresa Sá Marques


A sustainable energy transition is fundamental to combat climate change (IPCC, 2018). The energy system has already undergone a profound transformation, driven by a first generation of clean, renewable energy technologies (Mitchell, 2016). But other technologies are currently under development that propose to address some of the new challenges generated along this process (Markard, 2018), or to explore other, still underexploited, energy sources that can further contribute to the decarbonisation of the energy system. The objective of this paper is to investigate the spatial dimension of the emergence and early development of one such technology, wave energy (ETIP Ocean, 2020), in order to gain new knowledge that permits to accelerate its development and enable places to capture its economic and social benefits (Andersson et al., 2018).

Combining sustainability transitions and innovation geography theories, the paper extends recent conceptualizations of the formative phase of technology development that enable a better understanding of its systemic nature (Markard, 2020), to better encompass the spatial dimension (Binz et al, 2020). Accordingly, the research proposes that formative processes occur in a space that is built by places and their networks at different scales (Hansen and Coenen, 2015); and investigates how actors organise themselves in space, structuring particular configurations of networked places that generate more favourable environments for both technology and local development.

The paper conducts a pan-European analysis of how a new technology system is being spatially built around wave energy technologies. It draws on information from the R&D projects funded by the European Union. This permits to uncover the process of territorial grounding of the research and technology development activities conducted by the actors involved in the technology, and to gain some understanding of the spatial patterns of their interactions.

The results show some variety in the territorial configurations and their evolution trajectories. A typology of places was produced that reflect diverse place positioning towards the development of the technology in the formative phase. In particular, a number of “virtuous” configurations were identified, some of them showing high persistence and consolidating over time.

The research contributes to an understanding of how places are formed as part of the early technology emergence. This is relevant because such early processes can be determinant to shape subsequent development and, therefore, influence the odds that a given place captures the benefits of the technology, once it reaches the market.

Keywords: Wave Energy Technology; Formative Phase; Place Configurations; Multiscalar Networks; Geography of Sustainability Transitions


Fontes, M., Santos, H. and Sá-Marques, T. (2021) The geographic trajectory of wave energy technology in the formative phase, Royal Geographic Society - IBG Annual International Conference, 31 August-3 September 2021


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