University of Sussex
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Evolutionary technological change: the case of fuel ethanol in developing countries

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posted on 2023-06-09, 15:29 authored by Calestous Juma
This study suggests an evolutionary approach to the analysis of energy technology policy. The approach emphasizes economic fluctuations, technological change and Institutional re-organization through time. The liquid fuel sub-sectors of Zimbabwe and Kenya constitute different technological systems adapted to the production and utilization of different energy forms. They represent different market niches In a techno-economic landscape. Gasoline occupies a central role In the energy budget. The 1973- 74 oil crisis created major fluctuations which made it possible to introduce fuel ethanol as an alternative liquid fuel. The process of realising the ethanol niche was largely dependent on the existence of technological options whose technical and financial characteristics allowed them to compete favourably with conventional 1iquid fuels. Niche realization also required the modification of the adoptive terrain to reduce the obstacles to the introduction of the new technological systems. The entire process takes an evolutionary perspective because it involves the generation. selection and retention of technological options under constantly changing conditions. Moreover. the technological systems continue to undergo or require incremental Improvements after they have been installed. Such improvements require the generation of plant-level technical knowledge and often lead to the accumulation of local technological capacity. A glance at the evolutionary path reveals periods of gradual change. punctuated by moments of increased innovations which are often linked to periods of major fluctuations. The process is associated with a complex network of institutional arrangements which are also re-organized either in response to fluctuations or in anticipation of emerging niche opportunities. Institutions play a central role because the process is not random, it is purposive and based on socio-economic expectations. It is precisely this point that led to major differences In the process of niche realization In Zimbabwe and Kenya. although both countries were presented with the same technological options. The study draws a wide range of technology policy and research implications from these differences.


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University of Sussex

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