E-Mobility as a System Innovation - An Analytical Framework

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Augenstein, K


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2012)


When analyzing the potential of e-mobility as a solution for sustainability challenges, the perspectives according to current industry-/technology-oriented discourses seem rather bleak. For instance, it is argued that the range of battery-electric vehicles is too small and their price too high to achieve market breakthrough. Here, the battery is perceived not only as the basic technological innovation, but also the general solution (that needs improvement).

However, in order to contribute to sustainable development, e-mobility must be understood as a system innovation, including both technological and social change. Such processes of socio-technical change are explicitly dealt with in the literature on sustainability transitions [1, 2]. In many cases, though, the analytical focus is primarily on the social (including regulatory, economic, behavioural) aspects, asking what type of social change is needed to foster the sustainable breakthrough of technological solutions.

However, one might also shift the focus, asking in how far the technological innovation itself may trigger social change. Putting the question “the other way around” in this way, fosters the re-orientation towards a truly co-evolutionary understanding of socio-technical change [3]. The battery is a good example in this respect since it becomes the linchpin for visions of social change processes, such as industry cooperation between the automotive and the energy sector, new intra- and inter-industry business models (e.g. battery leasing and infrastructure concepts), or even changing mobility patterns in daily life (e.g. pedelecs becoming attractive alternatives).

In order to address this relation between the battery as a new automotive drive-technology and e-mobility as a system innovation, an analytical framework is being developed that builds on insights from the field of sustainability transitions research and on concepts of technology-oriented sectoral transformation. It is argued that this synthesis allows for a more profound conceptualization of co-evolutionary change processes.


[1] Elzen, B., Geels, F. W. & Green, K. (eds.) (2004). System innovation and the transition to sustainability: theory, evidence and policy. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
[2] Geels, F. W. (2005). Technological Transitions and System Innovations. A co-evolutionary and socio-technical analysis. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
[3] Dolata, U. (2009). Technological innovations and sectoral change. Transformative capacity, adaptability, patterns of change: An analytical framework. Research Policy. 38:6.

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