The role of institutions for the path-dependent development of the wind energy industry in Germany and the United Kingdom
MSc Spatial Planning, Oxford Brookes University
Professor James Simmie
My research is concerned with the development of the wind energy industry in Germany and the United Kingdom. Despite having the best on and offshore wind resource in Europe the United Kingdom does not have a single large scale manufacturer of wind turbines. Germany overtook Denmark as world leader in turbine manufacturing in the early 1990s. This in part is down to the creation of a strong home market, which was enabled by the introduction of a feed-in tariff for decentralised sources of electricity in 1990. Only recently has the potential for offshore wind turbines been recognised in the United Kingdom and the industry is now trying to ‘catch up’ but is having to buy in key technology from elsewhere, notably Germany.
The study is placed within Evolutionary Economic Geography and uniquely combines the strands of the path-dependency literature and neo-institutionalism. It puts forward the argument that technological development cannot be seen in isolation and must be understood as socially embedded activity. Therefore, institutions need to develop alongside technological innovation for the successful creation of new industries. It also argues that institutions carry a particular role in favouring or hindering the industrial development in a country or region because they determine the influence that the civil society and agents from the established industries are given in shaping its destiny. The institutions themselves are continually evaluated and recreated by society and are the outcome of struggles for influence between past agents.
To study this I have adapted a multi-level perspective of the path-dependent development of industries from existing literature. I have added the distinct focus on the role of institutions. The study presents and tests a framework to represent the dynamics between the civil society, the institutional arrangements and the economic landscape. The fieldwork consists of a descriptive, quantitative element and an explanatory, qualitative element. The quantitative element illustrates and describes whereas the qualitative element seeks to explain. Statistical data is collected, analysed and visualised. This is combined with the content analysis from around 30 semi-structured interviews. This will help to build explanation and will lead to an improved framework for understanding the role of institutions in the path-dependent development of new industries.
What do you enjoy about being a research student?
Most of all I enjoy the freedom I have to organise my workload. There is also a lot of freedom to explore areas of interest. The relationship with my supervisor is great; I enjoy the difficult debates that we sometimes have and how my supervisor supports me but also pushes me to optimise all of my work.
Being a research student can be extremely challenging and we all experience phases where we feel we move backwards rather than forwards. As much as it can be painful I like this continuous challenge. When I experience my most stressful periods I intensify all my other activities as well - I like to go rowing, running, and swimming, meet my friends, and travel. This enables me to wind down and work harder when needed.