The current linear production model based on fossil fuel resources, coupled with an increasing consumption generated by population growth have overstretched the pressure on the environment. Understanding the path to environmental and socio-economic sustainability is the main goal of the literature in sustainability transitions, which are long-term, multi-dimensional and fundamental transformation processes through which established socio-technical systems shift to more sustainable modes of production and consumption. This PhD thesis engages in this literature with the aim to enrich the analysis on sustainability transitions; particularly, assessing the influence of policy on innovation niches’ maturity process and network structure, as well as scrutinizing the role of the spatial dimension of innovation niches on their maturity process. Identifying the importance of policy on transition patterns and systemising the role of space on niche maturity are of great interest for the comprehension of a socio-technical system and consequently of the mechanisms influencing its transition process. Having this in mind, this thesis is built on three main stand-alone chapters that apply different research methodologies and data elaboration, providing new findings and discussion. The first of the main chapters investigates the role of policy in fostering/hindering the development of the clean energy niche and the complete deployment of clean energy technologies in the Boston area. Using an Argumentative Discourse Analysis based on official documents and qualitative interviews with key stakeholders, this work shows that the clean energy niche in the Boston area is generally perceived as strong and well developed. However, it has not been able yet to overcome the incumbent energy regime. The analysis of both public legitimizing and de-legitimizing narratives identified three gaps related more generally to three major pitfalls of the public strategy in support of the clean energy niche: (1) the policy at the State level has engaged more in adopting new laws rather than achieving a harmonized regulation, (2) policy intervention has not yet fully succeeded in crowding-in private investments into the clean energy sector causing a dependent relation between public funding and niche development and deployment, and (3) by occasionally offering infrastructures (e.g. facilities for market-level prototype tests) the policy action has not yet succeeded in building an effective commercialization programme reflected in a limited deployment of clean energy technologies in the Boston area – hindering the clean energy niche breakthrough. Two important aspects emerged from this study: (i) the spatial dimension of innovation development does not always coincide with the one of innovation deployment, and this may influence niches maturity processes and their ability to overcome the incumbent regime, and (ii) policy intervention may determine the playground and actors involved in an innovation niche, thus emphasising the role of policy in shaping the social network structures of innovation niches. For instance, the role of the spatial dimension of niches in their transition process is scrutinized in a second chapter. The idea behind this chapter is to understand the influence of the spatial dimension of actors’ network in the niche creation, maturity and overall performance; establishing either a local niche a global niche able to break through the incumbent regime. To accomplish this goal, an agent-based model (ABM) is developed, which allows investigating the interactions and behaviours of heterogeneous agents within and beyond the local dimension of a niche. In this model, agents are located in a geographical space in order to show how local niches building on spatially bounded ties with geographically proximate partners perform differently from global niches building on spatially unbounded ties with relational proximate partners, in terms of timing of niche creation and velocity of niche maturation, average profit, environmental uncertainty, network power and knowledge. Taking into account the divergences between local and global niches, a spatial dimension of the niche should be considered as a new mechanism within the niche management framework. Additionally, in a third chapter is assessed the influence of different policy strategies in shaping the social network structure of an innovative bioplastics niche. A comparative analysis, looking at Italy and Germany, is conducted since both countries have enacted divergent policies in support of the bioplastics industry. The comparison is based on a Social Network Analysis, which provides with some interesting insights on the maturity level of the two respective niches as well as on the emerging architectural properties of the underling social networks. The results obtained on the emerging architectural properties of the two niches are linked, in a retrospective way, to the different policy strategies in support of the bio-based economy enacted by the respective national governments, under the common umbrella of the EC policy for the bio-based economy. Indeed, the German policy strategy characterized by large public investments in R&D, whereas the Italian case mostly characterized by demand side policy which effectively created a market for bioplastics. In this thesis, the effort has been to deepen the analysis of particular aspects in the complex transitions studies: i) systematization of the spatial dimension of innovative niches, ii) the role of policy intervention in niche architecture and path breaking processes, iii) environmental issues as landscape pressure for transition, and iv) the extension of the concepts of Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) and Strategic Niche Management (SNM) in bio-based economy. The interesting findings emerged from these analyses, by means of various qualitative and quantitative methodologies, help enriching the sustainability transitions framework by refining the aspects mentioned above.
Sustainability transitions. The role of space and policy / Tani, Almona. - (2018 Feb 13).