Clean energy storage technology in the making: An innovation systems perspective on flywheel energy storage

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The emergence and diffusion of green and sustainable technologies is full of obstacles and has therefore become an important area of research. We are interested in further understanding the dynamics between entrepreneurial experimentation, market formation, and institutional contexts, together playing a decisive role for successful diffusion of such technologies. Accordingly, we study these processes by adopting a technological innovation system perspective focusing on actors, networks, and institutions as well as the functions provided by them. Using a qualitative case study research design, we focus on the high-speed flywheel energy storage technology. As flywheels are based on a rotating mass allowing short-term storage of energy in kinetic form, they represent an environmentally-friendly alternative to electrochemical batteries and therefore can play an important role in sustainable energy transitions. Our contribution is threefold: First, regarding the flywheel energy storage technology, our findings reveal two subsystems and related markets in which development took different courses. In the automotive sector, flywheels are developing well as a braking energy recovery technology under the influence of two motors of innovation. In the electricity sector, they are stagnating at the stage of demonstration projects because of two important system weaknesses that counteract demand for storage. Second, we contribute to the theory of technological innovation systems by better understanding the internal dynamics between different functions of an innovation system as well as between the innovation system and its (external) contextual structures. Our third contribution is methodological. According to our best knowledge, we are the first to use system dynamics to (qualitatively) analyze and visualize dynamics between the diverse functions of innovation systems with the aim of enabling a better understanding of complex and iterative system processes. The paper also derives important implications for energy scholars, flywheel practitioners, and policymakers.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Pages (from-to)1118-1134
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 20.09.2017

    Research areas

  • Sustainability sciences, Management & Economics - Batteries, flywheel energy storage, functions of innovation systems, green technology, kinetic energy recovery systems, short-term storage, sustainable energy, Technology innovation system