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Unleashing the transformative potential of innovations


Several innovations promise to accelerate transition but only a few can engender broader socio-economic effects beyond environmental improvement. This research questions under which conditions the development of new technological systems contributes to changes in other sectors. We conceptualize the transformative potential of innovations in three dimensions: context; complementarities; and competition. We discuss this framework against the empirical case of the development of marine renewable energies – whose growth benefit from spillovers of existing activities - in different contexts, such as Portugal and Norway. While the existence of an offshore oil & gas industry accelerates the emergence of offshore wind in Norway, the absence of an offshore energy sector raises challenges, but also creates opportunities for the transformation of several sectors in Portugal. We also perform a sectoral mapping and a survey of the actors in Portugal. Support to mature innovations lead to faster results in the focal sector; combined technology development results in more diversified activity, innovation and organizational change in adjacent sectors. Implications include a framework for assessing the socio-economic impacts of innovations, as well as the identification of policy-relevant circumstances that can simultaneously accelerate the transition to a low-carbon energy system and stimulate its transformative potential.



  • Transformative technologies induce a change in the industrial context

  • Focus on the extent and nature of activities in adjacent sectors that engage with the emerging technologies

  • ​​Support to more mature technologies leads to faster results in the emerging sector; support to combined development of different technologies results in more diversified activity, innovation and organizational change in adjacent sectors

  • ​​Comparison with Norway reveals that context constrains the intensity and nature of complementary and competitive relationships​


(Fontes,M., Bento, N., Andersen, A., 2019) – “Unleashing the transformative potential of innovations: context, complementarities and competition”. International Sustainable Transition Conference 2019 – 23-26/June – Ottawa, Canada –presentation


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