Entry Date:
July 8, 2008

The Development of Innovative Industries and the Role of Public Research Institutions: The Case of Renewable Energy

Principal Investigator Richard Lester

Co-investigator Michael Piore

The project focuses on the role of research universities and other public research institutions in the development of innovative industries and the broader consequences for economic development, especially in the communities within which the research institutions are located. By examining the development of the solar photovoltaic industry in different locations (U.S. and Germany), the diversification away from oil and gas into knowledge economies in two European cases (U.K. and Norway), and the local capabilities for innovation in UAE, this research contributes to a better understanding of strategies for developing renewable energy industries in the UAE region.

In pursuit of these objectives, we examine several practical issues, including:

(*) The relative importance for local and regional economic development of university contributions in knowledge creation, problem-solving, education and training, and the provision of public space;
(*) The primary attributes of effective leadership in interpretive processes;
(*) The development of new ways to measure the results of interpretive dimensions of innovation management, and the developmental requirements (education, training, career and reward structures, etc.) for successful practitioners of interpretive processes.

The primary method we use to investigate these questions is to carry out a set of longitudinal, comparative case studies designed to trace the scientific, technological, and commercial development of (a) the same field of industrial practice in different locations; and (b) different fields of industrial practice in the same location. These cases are developed through a combination of interview testimony, observation, statistical analyses, and literature reviews. The principal mode of data collection is in-depth, semi-structured interviews with firms, university researchers and administrators, and others. We estimate that for each case (i.e., each industrial domain in each location) we will conduct 30 to 40 interviews.

The research is carried out in three phases:

(1) Comparative studies of the development of solar photovoltaic industry in three leading centers of innovation, with a focus on the role of universities and/or public research institutions in each case.
(2) Comparative studies on the specific role of MIT in the development of three different industries in Massachusetts. In addition to the solar photovoltaic industry, we have tentatively identified energy services and robotics as the two other sectors for this research.
(3) The oil and gas industry in the UAE and the local capabilities for innovation in renewable energy technologies, to examine the specific economic and institutional context for innovation in the UAE.

As part of Phase 1, we are currently conducting intensive literature research to examine the pattern of development and technological innovation in the solar photovoltaic industry in the U.S. We are in the process of mapping the value chain for the three generations of photovoltaic energy technology, which will allow us to better understand opportunities for innovation in the sector. In addition, we carried out a thorough evaluation of the institutional framework behind the development of the industry in the U.S. (i.e. legislation for research and development, tax incentives for market creation). Currently we are identifying potential companies and institutions to interview in Massachusetts and California.