Research methodology & data
Cases of industry evolution
Adopting a case narrative, this paper observes the solar energy and fuel cell industries. These industries are both seen as core to the clean technology sector but still have different characteristics. They target different markets, have to face different regulatory settings, emerged at different points in time, and have different technological backgrounds.
Solar energy represents the first case: Light and heat created by the sun can be used as solar energy through various technologies. First, there is solar photovoltaic (PV), which generates electric energy and second, there is solar thermal, which generates heat energy. Solar PV converts light directly into electricity. It is composed of semiconductor cells assembled into solar modules, which together build a solar system. Solar thermal is used to generate heat. This heat can be used to generate electricity, nonetheless, but solar thermal energy has captured just a quite small fraction of the overall market. The solar PV energy industry emerged out of technological innovations for space exploration, and by the 1970s found some application in off-grid use and started initial commercial sales for home or industry use in the early 1990s. The market size was negligibly small with shipments of systems with 71.5 MWp in 1995 growing to 252 MWp in 2000, 1407 MWp in 2005, 17.4 GWp in 2010 leading to 39 GWp in 2013. Production of solar PV systems now mostly takes place in China and Taiwan, while a lot of the installations take place in Europe and the US (Fraunhofer ISE, 2014; Mints, 2006; NREL, 2011).
The second case is the fuel cell industry: Fuel cells convert chemical energy from fuels, like hydrogen or methane, through a chemical reaction with oxygen to electricity. They consist of an anode, a cathode and differing electrolytes. These electrolytes are what mainly distinguish the types of fuel cells. Fuel cells can be used in transportation or other portable power applications or also in stationary settings. They are seen as clean, energy-efficient and do not necessarily emit emissions at the point of operation. The market has grown consistently reaching 35,000 units in 2013. 30,000 thereof in a stationary application (Hall & Kerr, 2003; Hellman & van den Hoed, 2007; Satyapal, 2014; Steele & Heinzel, 2001; U.S. Department of Energy, 2014).