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The industrial life cycle of wind energy electrical power generation:ARI methodology modeling of life cycle dynamics

Technological Forecasting and Social Change
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.techfore.2008.08.011
  • Wind Electrical Power
  • Ari Methodology
  • Industrial Life Cycle
  • Modeling Innovation Dynamics
  • Economics
  • Medicine
  • Political Science


Abstract This innovation assessment addresses the factors that have influenced the exceptionally lengthy industrial technology life cycle of wind electrical power generation since its inception in the late 19th Century. It then applies the recently developed Accelerated Radical Innovation (ARI) Model to understand the dynamics of this innovation compared to those of other major 18th–20th Century innovations. Despite market pull in the late 19th Century to link small DC electrical generators with hundreds of thousands of existing wind mills used for mechanical water pumping, several factors prevented this from happening. These include the intermittent nature of wind electrical generation requiring low cost battery storage and DC–AC conversion, and the shift in the 1890s from DC to superior AC electrical generation making possible economies of scale for delivering AC electricity long distances over the grid from large hydroelectric and coal fired plants. As a consequence, wind generated electricity remained primarily a technological development until the first energy crisis in the 1970s. Development of an extensive science and technology base for wind turbine dynamics, and deployment since 2000 of commercial scale wind turbines (> 1MW) have elevated wind electrical power generation to commercial practicality, as described in two earlier papers by the authors applying technical cost modeling and experience curve projections of cost of energy (COE) to explore the economic viability of large scale wind electricity generation.. Strongly promoted by wind energy communities of practice in Europe, North America and Asia, normative COE projections suggest that by 2020 wind electrical power will be cost competitive, without tax incentives, with electricity from conventional fossil and nuclear fuel sources. Overcoming technological, business, market, societal, networking and political hurdles to date has required 120years of development to establish wind electricity generation as a breakthrough innovation with the capability to capture 20% of the world electricity market by the mid-to-late 21st Century. Further growth and maturation is expected to continue to 2100, corresponding to a projected ≅ 210year overall industry life cycle at market saturation. This finding has profound implications for innovation theory and practice, since the length of this life cycle exceeds by a factor of ≅ 4 the average life cycle diagnosed for five industrial revolutions and four key 20th Century innovations. The new ARI model provides a holistic approach to understanding the dynamics of the industrial technology life cycle for a wide variety of radical innovations as well as wind electrical power.

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