Upscaling, Legitimation and Guidance in New Energy Technologies – The Case of Floating Offshore Wind
Nuno Bento1, Margarida Fontes2
1DINÂMIA'CET, ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon, Portugal. 2LNEG, Lisbon, Portugal


Energy systems have undergone a spectacular growth over the last century and were accompanied with an increase in size and energy conversion capacity of energy technologies (Smil, 2008). Upscaling describes the process of increase in size or performance of a technology (Luiten & Blok, 2003; Wilson, 2012). It is a well-known constant characteristic of production (Winter, 2008), routed in the natural development of technological trajectories and paradigms (Nelson & Winter, 1977; Dosi, 1982). Upscaling occurs during a period in the technology life cycle when a radical innovation establishes itself as the dominant design (Frenken & Leydesdorff, 2000). It is typically motivated by the potential of unit economies of scale to reduce costs and a further impetus to innovation processes (Sahal, 1985; Luiten & Blok, 2003). The Paris Agreement should increase the focus of policies and innovation efforts on upscaling alternative lower emission technologies.

Technology upscaling involves the formulation of collective visions and expectations that require some consensus on the strategies to follow. It requires the mobilization of resources in a context surrounded by several uncertainties on technologies and markets (Bergek et al., 2008a; Kemp et al., 1998). This implies a minimum acceptance of the technology and its conformity with the current norms and values, and therefore of legitimacy (Johnson et al., 2006; Zelditch, 2001; Suchman, 1995; Aldrich & Fiol, 1994).

The creation of legitimacy and guidance have an important role in the formative and transitional phases of new technologies (Bergek et al., 2008b; Hekkert et al., 2007; Markard et al., 2016). Legitimation has been the object of a rising literature that examines the way early actors create legitimacy for new products (Binz et al., 2016; Markard et al., 2016; Bergek et al., 2008b). However, the construction of guidance is still not well researched (McDowall et al, 2012), let alone its relationship with the process of legitimation. 

This paper aims to answer the question: How innovation systems grounded on emerging low-carbon technologies prepare for upscaling and growth? We address this question by analyzing directive documents such as roadmaps as reference analytical instruments. Roadmaps are increasingly used to address the requirements of growing systems (McDowall et al, 2012; Rip, 2012). They can give a glimpse into the evolution of innovation processes such as legitimation and guidance (Borup et al., 2013). As empirical setting, we study the development of offshore wind in deepwaters which is an emerging energy technology that could unlock huge amounts of low-carbon electricity but arguably needs to upscale to reach that potential (Rodrigues et al., 2015). A survey of the actor’s opinion complements the roadmaps’ analysis to compare results and discern any effects of roadmaps in the expectations on the technology.  

We argue that upscaling of low-carbon energy technologies also requires non-technological factors including a collective strategy and a minimum of social acceptance of the technology. Roadmaps can help in these innovation processes, but their guidance co-evolves with the degree of maturity of the innovation and their effectiveness is contingent on the participatory character and involvement of key players (investors, governments, users and so on).

The analysis contributes to consolidate the definitions of legitimation and guidance and to a better operationalization of these processes. The theory assigns public opinions and organization preferences to legitimation, and policy action plans and collective strategies to guidance (Borup et al., 2013; Bergek et al., 2008b). However, the distinction is still unclear at the conceptual level, let alone for the analyst in the practice (Borup et al., 2013). The substance of legitimation and guidance and the relationship between them remains largely unknown in the literature and so this study aims to bring some light to these crucial innovative processes.