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The dynamics of technological catching-up: the case of Iran’s gas turbine industry

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:48 authored by Mehdi Majidpour
Today, fostering gas-fired power plants is recognised as a significant step towards a low-carbon economy. Gas fired-power plants are favoured over other types of fossil-fuelled power plants due to their various advantages, including lower emissions, flexibility of technology, higher efficiency, short construction times and lower capital investment. The gas turbine is the main machine and the most technologically advanced part of a gas-fired power plant. There have been a limited number of companies in industrialised countries that have developed these sophisticated technologies over the last 50 years. The global market for land-based gas turbines has an oligopolistic structure. The evolution of these technologies has been greatly influenced by countries’ government policies, and in particular energy policies. In this light, one question is: to what extent have industrialising countries built their technological capabilities in gas turbines? Consequently, one focus of interest here is the way in which, and the extent to which, industrialising countries have synthesised their indigenous technology development efforts with overseas technology inflows. Countries such as Iran, India and China, which have large and growing domestic electricity markets, are appropriate candidates for research in order to understand the possible technological gaps and associated dynamics between the industrialised and industrialising worlds. To answer these questions, this thesis research deals with Iran’s gas turbine industry and, for the first time, systematically examines this industry in the context of a developing country. The study delves deeply into the dynamics of interactions between indigenous technology development and overseas technology inflows. It casts light upon the influences, challenges, and difficulties associated with technological catching-up processes. The framework of the analysis is based on an extensive literature review on technological catch-up, the substitution/complementarity debate, and the gas turbine industry. The framework was operationalized through qualitative interviews as well as supplementary documents. The thesis uses a ‘dynamic approach’, and argues that understanding the interaction processes cannot be reduced to examining only the type of relationship between the two technology sources. Instead, far more attention needs to be devoted to analysing the complexity and associated influences on this relationship. The thesis also provides empirical insights into the development of gas turbine capabilities in India and China, the two largest emerging economies. It reveals that a high level of state involvement in developing countries is a prominent feature of the industry. It also demonstrates that the evolution of the industry also in both developed and developing countries is closely interrelated with each country’s national energy policies.


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