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Navigating the “paradox of openness” in energy and transport innovation: Insights from eight corporate clean technology research and development case studies

Journal Article

Using an inductive case study approach drawn from original interview data, this article investigates the innovation approaches among a sample of international energy companies, or corporate firms. It first presents a conceptual framework synthesized from the business studies, entrepreneurship, evolutionary economics, innovation studies, management science, organization studies, political science, and sociology literature. This framework suggests that corporate approaches to clean technology innovation will cut across the four dimensions of organizational multiplicity and stakeholder involvement, information sharing, coordination and control, and market orientation. It then explores how eight firms—the Algal Carbon Conversion Flagship and Aurora Algae (biofuel), DONG and Statoil (carbon capture and storage), Tesla and Volkswagen (electric vehicles), and Siemens and Vestas (offshore wind turbines)—approach clean technology development with “open innovation” attributes mixed with “closed” attributes. Although the study finds striking similarities among the particular approaches embraced by each corporate actor, it also notes that approaches are technology and firm specific, and the potential for different permutations leads to an almost endless number of possible stylistic combinations. The innovation profiles depicted also reveal conflict and competition among various stakeholders, the implication being that corporate innovation in the energy sector remains a conflicted, disjointed, and messy process.

Read more about Benjamin Sovacool and his work at CIED.