Renewable Energy Technology--Is It a Manufactured Technology or an Information Technology?

Shum, Kwok L.
August 2010
Sustainability (2071-1050);Aug2010, Vol. 2 Issue 8, p2382
Academic Journal
Socio-technical or strategic approach to renewable energy deployment all suggests that the uptake of renewable energy technology such as solar photovoltaic is as much a social issue as a technical issue. Among social issues, one most direct and immediate component is the cost of the renewable energy technology. Because renewable electricity provides no new functionality-a clean electron does the same work as a dirty electron does-but is relatively expensive compared with fossil fuel based electricity, there is currently an under-supply of renewable electricity. Policy instruments based on economics approaches are therefore developed to encourage the production and consumption of renewable electricity, aiming to remediate the market inefficiencies that stem from the failure in internalizing the environmental or social costs of fossil fuels. In this vein, the most discussed instruments are renewable portfolio standard or quota based system and the general category of feed-in tariff. Feed-in tariff is to support output or generation of the renewable electricity by subsidizing revenues. The existing discussions have all concerned about the relative effectiveness of these two instruments in terms of cost, prices and implementation efficiency. This paper attempts a different basis of evaluation of these two instruments in terms of cost and (network) externality effects. The cost effect is driven by deploying the renewable as a manufactured technology, and the network externality effect is driven by deploying the renewable as an information technology. The deployment instruments are studied in terms of how these two effects are leveraged in the deployment process. Our formulation lends itself to evolutionary policy interpretation. Future research directions associated with this new energy policy framework is then suggested.


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