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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Volume 77, Issue 8, October 2010, Pages 1222–1236
The transition towards renewable energy production will not occur without the involvement of entrepreneurs who dare to take action amidst uncertainty. In an earlier article, a conceptual model was introduced for analyzing how perceived uncertainties influence the decisions and actions of entrepreneurs involved in innovation projects that aimed at developing and implementing renewable energy technologies. In this article, the conceptual model is applied to stand-alone biomass combustion projects in the Netherlands. Although none of the biomass combustion projects has been abandoned, some entrepreneurs clearly have more difficulty to turn their project into a success than others. To create insight into the underlying dynamics of these projects, the article analyzes what types of positive or negative interaction patterns occur over time between (internal or external) factors in the project environment, perceived uncertainties, motivation and entrepreneurial action and how these patterns can be stimulated or prevented. The results provide several lessons to take into account when designing policies for stimulating the development and implementation of biomass combustion.
Previous studies on the transformation of the energy system have demonstrated that the success of renewable energy technologies is not only determined by technical and economic factors (such as technical performance or the relative price of the technology), but also by the social system in which the technology is embedded , , ,  and . Within this social system, also called Technological Innovation System (TIS) , several actors contribute to the development, diffusion and implementation of a new technology. Whereas previous studies have investigated the dynamics of such a TIS , ,  and , this article focuses on one group of actors that plays a prime role in these innovation systems: the entrepreneurs. The role of entrepreneurs is to turn the potential of new knowledge, networks and markets into concrete actions to generate and take advantage of new business opportunities . This role is not fulfilled by a single entrepreneur, but by multiple, different types of entrepreneurs: technology developers as well as adopters (buyers and users of the technology), new entrants as well as incumbent companies ,  and . Through their actions, these different types of entrepreneurs help to turn the outcomes of basic R&D activities into commercial technological products to be implemented on a large scale. Thus, the actions of entrepreneurs to a large extent determine whether or not renewable energy technologies are successfully developed and implemented. In order to achieve a transition to a low-emission energy infrastructure as many as possible renewable energy technologies need to be diffused and implemented. The infrastructure for the production, transportation and distribution of energy represents an important socio-technical sub-system, implying institutional and socio-cultural changes as well as changes in lifestyle . In this paper we will mainly focus on the first part of the energy infrastructure, i.e. the production of renewable electricity by biomass combustion technology. Therefore, stimulating the breakthrough of renewable energy technologies that contribute to a low-emission energy infrastructure, requires a thorough understanding of the underlying mechanisms that influence entrepreneurial action. In a previous article , perceived uncertainty was introduced as a key component influencing the decisions and actions of entrepreneurs. A useful conceptualization for studying uncertainty from the perspective of entrepreneurs comes from Frances Milliken, who defines uncertainty as: “an individual's perceived inability to predict something accurately”  (p. 136). The term perception refers to the process by which individuals or organizations organize and evaluate stimuli from the environment. This definition suggests that uncertainty cannot be measured objectively, since it is dependent on the eye of the beholder. In the remainder of this article, the term ‘uncertainty’ refers to ‘perceived uncertainty’. Following McMullen and Shepherd (2006), the argument was made that entrepreneurs will only decide to act if their motivation outweighs the uncertainties he or she expects to encounter. These uncertainties stem from different sources. Uncertainty will not only arise about the technology itself, but also about governmental policy, the availability of resources and the behavior of consumers, competitors and suppliers. Furthermore, it was argued that the decision whether or not to act is constantly reassessed as time goes by. In a case study on the development of biomass gasification projects in the Netherlands, the article illustrated how identifying the dominant sources of uncertainty and analyzing how the balance between perceived uncertainty and motivation changes over time can help us understand why some entrepreneurs decide to stop their activities whereas others continue. The empirical results showed that many entrepreneurial projects were abandoned due to an accumulation of perceived uncertainties and loss of motivation. Negative interactions between different sources of perceived uncertainty and factors in the internal and external project environment (such as changes in the constitution of actors involved, institutional change or external technological developments) appeared to play a crucial role in this. Building upon the insights of the previous article , the aim of this article is to deepen our understanding of how perceived uncertainties influence entrepreneurial action. More specifically, this article focuses on the identification of different types of interaction patterns, as this is still a relatively unexplored topic in the literature on uncertainty and entrepreneurial action. The empirical section of this article consists of a case study on stand-alone biomass combustion plants for combined generation of heat and power (CHP) in the Netherlands. Biomass combustion is considered to be an appealing solution in terms of the overall goal of achieving a transition to a low-emission energy production, as it is a relatively simple technology to convert biomass into electricity and heat. Although the electrical efficiencies of biomass combustion are lower compared to other thermo-chemical conversion technologies like gasification or pyrolysis, the main advantage of biomass combustion is that the technology is in a more mature stage of development compared to these other technologies ,  and  and that most of the current infrastructure can be used without having to undertake major changes. In contrast to the previous case study on biomass gasification , in which almost all projects in the Netherlands were abandoned, the biomass combustion projects are still ongoing. This different outcome of entrepreneurial action makes the biomass combustion case particularly interesting for gaining more insight into the emergence of negative as well as positive interaction patterns. The following research questions are posed: How do perceived uncertainties influence the decisions and actions of entrepreneurs involved in biomass combustion projects in the Netherlands? What types of interaction patterns can be identified between (internal or external) factors in the project environment, perceived uncertainties, motivation and entrepreneurial action? In the next section the theoretical framework on uncertainties will be described in more detail. Section 3 provides insights in the methodology used. In Section 4, the case description can be found. The interaction patterns that influence entrepreneurial action are identified in Section 5. Section 6 concludes by answering the above-mentioned research questions and by providing recommendations on how to accelerate the transition to low-emission energy infrastructure.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
The aim of this article was to come to a better understanding of the influence of perceived uncertainty on entrepreneurial action in the transition to low-emission energy infrastructure. The biomass combustion data showed that various interactions occur over time between (internal or external) factors in the project environment, perceived uncertainties, motivation and entrepreneurial action. These interactions may either positively or negatively influence the balance between perceived uncertainties and motivation. An interesting conclusion from the empirical data is that most biomass combustion projects were characterized by a combination of both positive and negative interaction patterns. A distinction can be made between two types of negative interaction patterns. First, negative interaction patterns can emerge between different sources of perceived uncertainty, meaning that one source of perceived uncertainty directly or indirectly results in an increase of another source of perceived uncertainty. Second, negative interactions may occur between (internal or external) factors in the project environment and perceived uncertainty. An increase of perceived uncertainties in the biomass combustion projects was often triggered or intensified by external factors such as declining social acceptance (in the case of manure combustion), institutional change (such as unexpected changes to the policy instruments), or internal factors, such as a change in the constitution of actors involved in the project (like the withdrawal of an investment partner or a technology supplier). In both types of negative interaction patterns, the time factor proved to play an important role as delay of a project often directly or indirectly (via changes in the actor constitution or institutional setting) resulted in an increase of perceived uncertainties. Although the projects in which negative interaction patterns occurred progressed less smoothly than the projects in which these negative interaction patterns were absent, none of the biomass combustion projects were abandoned. An important explanation for this is that the negative interaction patterns were not as dominant as the positive interaction patterns. The empirical data contains many instances in which perceived uncertainties motivated the entrepreneurs to initiate various uncertainty-management activities. These activities (ranging from studying, experimenting and knowledge-acquisitioning to cooperating and lobbying activities) generally resulted in a reduction of perceived uncertainties, which in turn reinforced the motivation of the entrepreneurs to continue their actions. Thus, positive interaction patterns between perceived uncertainties, entrepreneurial action and motivation were established and negative interaction patterns were stopped or even prevented. As shown also in previous work  and  the identification of the factors that trigger positive and negative interaction patterns provides several opportunities for designing policy instruments to further stimulate the development and implementation of biomass combustion projects. In order to contribute to a low-emission energy infrastructure, policy instruments should aim at stimulating positive interaction patterns, and preventing or removing negative interaction patterns. As the case results showed, knowledge development or diffusion activities (such as studying, experimenting or knowledge-acquisitioning) can help to further reduce perceived uncertainties. In addition, knowing about the success of other biomass combustion projects can encourage entrepreneurs of less-successful projects to continue their efforts. Thus, policy instruments that contribute to knowledge development and diffusion can help to further exploit this positive effect. One of the ways for the government to help prevent negative interaction patterns, is to reduce perceived political uncertainty. Both this article and previous empirical work in which the same approach was used  and  bring forward that political uncertainty is one of the most dominant sources of perceived uncertainty hindering entrepreneurial action with respect to the development and diffusion of sustainable energy technologies. Since the development and implementation of emerging energy technologies require large investments with payback periods of at least 10 years, a stable and predictable investment climate is needed. However, the frequent and unexpected changes in the financial policy for sustainable energy over the past years undermine this investment climate. Although the Dutch government can never promise full stability in terms of specific policy instruments (i.e. policy instruments may need to be adapted in response to election results or the opportunistic behavior of entrepreneurs), it is also understandable that the extent to which the sustainable energy policy has shifted over the past decades has provoked considerable uncertainty among entrepreneurs and other investors (banks, venture capitalists, etc.). As was concluded from the empirical findings as well as from several policy evaluation studies  and , this political uncertainty is hindering investments in sustainable energy technologies in the Netherlands. Therefore, in order to achieve a transition towards a low-emission infrastructure, government needs to create such an environment where entrepreneurs can experiment with their new technology, For instance, by reducing uncertainty about the licensing procedure and subsidy of biomass combustion projects, a niche market can be established in which sufficient room is provided for entrepreneurs to learn how best to deal with the various other sources of perceived uncertainty they encounter. If some of these entrepreneurs manage to become successful, this will encourage other entrepreneurs to undertake action. In this way, positive interactions within a niche start to reinforce each other and might influence activities on the regime and landscape level. These interactions might lead to a shift in the regime or landscape level, such as simplified licensing procedures, and enable a breakout of the niche. Besides the uncertainty about the stability of the governmental policy, entrepreneurial actions in the biomass combustion case were also hindered by uncertainty about the mobilization of resources. To further reduce perceived uncertainties within a niche market, governmental policy should therefore aim at mobilizing sufficient risk capital (e.g. by creating favorable conditions for private investors or by establishing a participation fund in which government and private investors jointly invest in entrepreneurial projects). Thus, the most important factors that could hamper the diffusion of renewable energy technologies in order to contribute to a low-emission energy infrastructure are political uncertainty, technological uncertainty and resource uncertainty. These are all factors that play a role when the technology is still in a niche market and needs to breakout (see also  in this issue). If the uncertainties become too high, no breakout will occur. Therefore by supporting uncertainty-management activities as mentioned above, the sustainable energy technology will mature and gain critical mass. However it is also important that at the same time the external factors on the regime and landscape level (e.g. the institutional settings and the social acceptance of the technology) start to align with the needs of the technology in question, in order for a ‘window of opportunity’ to occur which will allow the technology to breakout of the niche. This alignment on regime and landscape level is only possible if a systemic approach is taken such as recommended in , where the transition path of renewable energy production is legitimized as a whole and competition between transition paths is reduced to a minimum. This kind of analysis of the development of a single transition pathway is a first step as suggested by (this issue) to take more into account the interaction between actors and put less emphasis on only technically sound futures, costs and benefits. Finally, in combination with other pathway typologies and analysis such as in , ,  and  (this issue) more insight could be created and could contribute to how transition pathways should be designed and analyzed and which policy tools are necessary and successful for a transition towards a low-emission energy infrastructure.