Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Spatial Dynamics in the Global Knowledge Base for Solar PV: Evidence from Patent Analysis

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 2:25 PM
Board Room (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Christian Binz1, Tian Tang1,2 and Joern Huenteler1,3, (1)Harvard University, (2)Florida State University, (3)The World Bank, Energy & Extractives Global Practice
Innovation and knowledge of the emerging climate-friendly technologies develops in increasingly globalized networks and its dynamics are not yet well understood by academia and policy making. Solar photovoltaics (PV) is a case in point for a sector that is evolving in a strongly globalized pattern, with several spatial shifts in technological leadership over very short periods of time. Especially the sector’s most recent history attracted a lot of attention. In less than ten years, solar PV manufacturing almost completely shifted to China, strongly challenging Western PV firms’ competitive position. A lively debate has emerged on whether Chinese companies leapfrogged to the global technological frontier, making Western industries fall behind also in terms of their technological knowledge base or if they essentially only transferred low value-added production know-how (Nahm and Steinfeld, 2014). Several qualitative case studies tried to address this question recently, but a more quantitative assessment of the PV sector’s knowledge base is still missing.

This paper aims at addressing this gap based on an extensive patent analysis of the world’s leading solar PV companies and research institutes. In this paper, we ask: 1) what the current global configuration of the solar PV sector’s knowledge base is; 2) how the relevant knowledge networks have evolved over time; 3) if the core of co-patenting and patent citation networks is shifting towards actors in Asian developing countries; and 4) what drives this shift of technological leadership.

To answer these research questions, we extract global patent records related to solar PV technologies, and analyze country and institutional level patent counts, the geographic scope of patenting activities, as well as the geographic reach of co-patenting and patent citation networks. Based on social network analysis, this paper derives an aggregate picture of the world’s PV knowledge base and identifies recent spatial shifts in the sector’s innovation activities. Ultimately, it will enable us to discuss near-to mid-term scenarios for the competitive positions of Western countries and Asian catching-up countries, and to inform policy making with a global view on relevant innovation processes in emerging cleantech industries.