We are living in a time of energy innovation: growing need for energy supply, energy (in)security, changing markets, climate change and other driving forces increase the need for new technological solutions. The resulting advances affect patterns of wealth, trade, power, and politics worldwide. These processes have an important international dimension and cannot be understood without taking international affairs into consideration. In this course, we study energy innovation from this international point of view. State involvement in energy innovation is an important starting point in that regard. Industrialised as well as upcoming countries are currently in a race for yielding the benefits of developing new energy technologies. Other countries struggle for their place in the future world of energy. By studying the race for energy innovation, the course aims at shedding a new light at the global energy transition. This includes the potential of international agreements such as Paris and organisations such as IRENA to distribute the benefits of energy innovation in a more just way. The module includes guest lectures from leading experts across Europe.
The topics of energy, innovation, and geopolitics are highly prominent in the academic literature. The concept of energy transition is central in that regard: it captures changes in the overall energy system, from one particular fuel source or technology to another. Numerous papers are dealing with these issues, many new papers are being published almost daily. Furthermore, the topic is becoming more and more prominent on the curricula of universities across Europe and worldwide.
Energy innovation is an important aspect of today’s energy sector. Almost daily, we hear about the introduction of new processes, methods or devices that somehow improve how energy is being generated, transmitted or used. Classic economic theory assumes that these novelties are produced by the dynamics inherent to the capitalist, private economy. In that view, state intervention to change the overall energy system works against the progress (that is innovation).
However, the energy sector is unique in a sense that state involvement – one way or the other – is very strong. The reasons for this can be found at the international level. The energy sector is of fundamental importance for the functioning of the economy; the state therefore has a high interest to ensure energy supply. Moreover, the state has an interest in keeping its national economy competetive. The energy sector is an important economic sector in many countries. State involvement is therefore very high.
In short: energy innovation needs to be understood in relation to state policy, not least policy in response to pressures coming from the international level. The motives behind the promotion of energy innovation by the state (for example through science parks, university research projects, subsidies, or public private partnerships etc.) are, however, not mecessarily directly apparent. With this challenge, we want to shed light on the connection between energy innovation, state policy, and international affairs.
Your task will be to identify a significant case of energy innovation in your area (city or region) and to find information material about it (for example websites, brochures, policy documents, interviews, or surveys sent by email). Furthermore, you will describe this case by finding answers to the following questions:
What are the motivations and/or driving forces behind this case of energy innovation?
Is this a case of private enterprise or is the state involved in any way?
If the state is involved, in what form does it take part?
Why is the state involved?
Does the information material about the case refer to the national economy?
Does your case include a form of international cooperation?
In the exam (short essay), you will discuss the information that you have collected against some of the contents of the course. This must also be presented at the end of the course.