Globalisation and Innovation in Sustainable Energy Industries in China


Over the past decade, China has emerged as a leading player in several renewable energy technologies. This research addresses both the causes and consequences of China’s rise in sustainable energy technologies. Chinese firms are beginning to take the global lead, putting incumbents from advanced economies under pressure, not least in third markets in both developed and developing countries. Internally, Chinese lead-­‐firms benefit from directed state support and large-­‐scale investments in the creation of markets for renewables. Externally, the globalization of energy innovations is a major factor that enables these Chinese firms to drive a renewable energy transformation. This research project addresses the following questions:

  • In the different green industries is China reaching leadership? How is this leadership attainment taking place? What is the impact of leadership changes on incumbents and on other latecomers?
  • What are the determinants of these changes in leadership? What is the nature of the windows of opportunity that enable catching-up in the different industries? Are the windows of opportunity driven by technical, demand, or institutional changes?
  • What are the lessons for other emerging economies aiming at catching up in green industries? What are the commonalities and differences across green sectors with respect to success factors leading to catch up?
  • What are the implications for the global green transformation? How do developments in green sectors in China influence the global green transformation?

These questions are addressed by examining patterns across the full set of renewable energy sectors, including more traditional (hydro, biomass), mature (wind, PV), and formative sectors (Concentrated Solar Power, geothermal, electric vehicles).

Based on the preliminary analysis of the case studies, green windows of opportunity are institutional in nature, generated by public environmental and economic policies, which are key to create domestic market.  Mission-oriented policies may also be key to create GWOs. The pressure to go for a green growth in developing countries is also new: can it represent a new type of WoO? 

Technological WoO are also present and institutions may facilitate induced technological change. Public investments in R&D can also be facilitated by rents available in the domestic market.

In other words, there is a potential virtuous cycle from domestic market creation to more R&D, but this is not automatic.

There are interactions between different GWOs, which may influence catch up trajectories.

The project connects with the TIPC agenda issues of:

  1. The role of experimentation with policies and niche innovations for transformative change;
  2. Governance and politics of transformative innovation policy in connection with SDGs;
  3. Geographies of transformative innovation policy: Context specific characteristics, issues of space and economic development.

Project Resources

Gosens, J., A. Gilmanova & J. Lilliestam. Windows of Opportunity for Catching Up in Formative Sectoral Systems: The Rise of China in the Concentrated Solar Power Sector. Paper presented at the ECPR conference, 4-7 Sept. 2019, Wroclaw, Poland

Gosens, J. (2018). Timing of entry of countries and firms & resulting leadership in wind turbine manufacturing. Conference paper presented at the Globelics conference, October 24-26 2018, Accra, Ghana.

Lema, R.& Ping, H., 2019, Green Innovation in China  Handbook of Innovation in China . Fu, X., Jin, C. & McKern, B. (eds.). Oxford University Press, (Oxford Handbooks).

Hansen, U. E. & Lema, R. (2019) The co-evolution of learning mechanisms and technological capabilities: Lessons from energy technologies in emerging economies , 2019, In : Technological Forecasting and Social Change. 140, p. 241-257;

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