Transforming the s-shape: Identifying and explaining turning points in market diffusion curves of low-carbon technologies in Austria

Publication from Life
Wetter- und Klimarisikomanagement, Internationale Klimapolitik und Ökonomik

Veronika Kulmer, Sebastian Seebauer, Helene Hinterreither, Dominik Kortschak, Michaela C. Theurl, Willi Haas

Research Policy Volume 51, Issue 1, 1/2022


The need for rapid decarbonization of the energy system calls for an improved understanding how policy action may accelerate the market diffusion of low-carbon technologies. Turning points, in other words, i.e. points in time when market growth curves change direction, occur when politics, policy, and technology streams converge. Investigating photovoltaics, residential heat pump, and electric vehicle diffusion in Austria from 1970/1990 to 2018, we constellate when and why turning points occurred. Analyzing market statistics with the mathematical method of change point analysis allows identifying turning points and growth functions in diffusion curves. We used the Multiple Streams Approach to structure archival documents and findings from expert interviews to reconstruct critical events in past socio-political and socio-technological developments which triggered turning points. We find that observed diffusion processes change direction and pace at specific moments in time, rather than following a uniform s-shape. Mandatory regulations are key levers, but need to be supplemented by events in the respective streams: In the politics stream, overarching political strategies and model policies in other countries set the stage for low-carbon technologies. In the technology stream, R&D programs, product development, and quality labels support technological advancement. In the policy stream, however, ad-hoc subsidy programs tend to produce patchwork policies or only temporarily boost market diffusion. Continuously monitoring market processes may allow anticipation of upcoming turning points when the implementation of integrated policies can push combinations of complementary technologies.

Keywords: low carbon transformation, technology uptake, diffusion of innovations, multiple streams approach, market development