Research Plan 2011-2015

The strategic goal of the Transition to New Technologies (TNT) Program is to further the understanding of the patterns, drivers, constraints and impacts of technological change, particularly in the areas that are key for framing global sustainability conditions (such as climate change) and to disseminate policy-relevant research findings through high-level global forums and participation in major international scientific assessments.

Program Focus and Relevance

In terms of systems hierarchy, technological change arises from the spatial and temporal diffusion of individual innovations all the way up to the emergence of new technological combinations that could fundamentally redefine products, services and even entire industries and markets. TNT’s strategic research goal consequently focuses on the systemic aspects of technological change and draws on empirical case studies, novel modeling approaches, as well as scenario studies and robustness analysis to inform technology policy choices from a systemic perspective. A key unifying strategic question addressed by TNT research is to answer what determines the rates of change of individual technologies as well as of entire technology systems in response to the interplay of endogenous (e.g., innovation and market uncertainties) as well as policy (e.g., innovation push and demand pull) variables. A final objective of TNT is to maximize the visibility of its small in-house research staff through participation in a few, key international assessments and collaborative activities, most notably the IPCC.

Work in TNT will complement work in the three global problem areas described in IIASA’s Strategic Plan with “stand alone” basic research on technological drivers. While there will be a degree of alignment, TNT, like the World Population (POP) Program, will pursue a vigorous research agenda of its own. As a result technology research at IIASA will be conducted in three areas: (i) basic technology-specific research within TNT; (ii) basic research on exploring the interlinkages between the two fundamental drivers outlined in IIASA's strategic plan, namely, population and technology (collaborative POP-TNT research on the relationship between human and social capital on technology diffusion); and (iii) applied research on selected strategic technologies in collaboration with the three problem areas Energy and Climate Change, Food and Water, and Poverty and Equity.

Building on Current Program Expertise and Past Achievements

TNT has, in the past, focused research on a few strategically important technology areas, in particular energy and climate-related technologies. It has maximized internal collaborative linkages and hence synergies with the Greenhouse Gas Initiative (GGI) and the Energy (ENE) Program and given high emphasis to major international scientific assessments as main networking and communication platforms for research and policy findings, most notably via the IPCC and the Global Energy Assessment (GEA). The program has had a substantive research strategy that focuses on prototyping of novel modeling concepts and initiating “gap filling” research in critical areas (e.g., agent-based models of technological complexity, spatially explicit modeling of socioeconomic phenomena in order to advance the state-of-art of emission “downscaling” techniques, or analysis of technologies exhibiting negative returns to “learningby- doing”). These strategic choices inevitably also entail tradeoffs: a focused research agenda on few critical technologies limits the potential to advance research in other technology areas of interest (e.g., the Internet and the digital divide), prototyping model development cycles limit the potential for long-term model maintenance, training and wide dissemination, and the focus on few, major international assessment limits the potential to reach out to numerous smaller research networks/communities within IIASA NMO countries.

In the next five-year cycle, TNT’s research aims to develop an improved understanding of the determinants of the rates of change of individual technologies as well as of entire technology systems that could constitute important constraints in addressing the policy challenges examined in IIASA's three problem areas. Empirical case studies as well as technology "meta-analysis" will feed into new modeling approaches of technological change with an emphasis on the treatment of technological uncertainty and spatial and actor heterogeneity. In turn the collaborative research on specific case studies will constitute a direct TNT input to IIASA's three problem areas, and insights gained from technology modeling studies within TNT are anticipated to become incorporated into policy models, particularly in the Energy and Climate Change Area.

IIASA is uniquely positioned because of its accumulated expertise and data, as well as international research networks in the area of technology studies, which allow it to rapidly explore possible consequences of technological discontinuities and “surprises” (such as the commercial availability of methane hydrates. IIASA researchers have also been leading in the development of concepts that are core to the theory of induced innovation. Their leading role has been recognized inter alia by being nominated to author the corresponding chapters on technology innovation in the latest (2007) IPCC assessment report as well as in the ongoing Global Energy Assessment (GEA). The long-standing focus of technology research of the TNT Program on empirical and historical case studies of technological change provides a unique data source and has already enabled highly innovative “meta-analysis” of a diversity of technological change patterns that nonetheless reveal striking regularity in their scaling behavior (cf. Wilson, 2009). Last but not least, IIASA researchers are widely recognized for their novel modeling approaches that have shed new light on the dynamics of large-scale technology systems. For instance, a series of models developed by TNT has advanced the state of the art in the modeling of uncertain increasing returns. Subsequent efforts have focused on developing alternative modeling approaches using agent-based and spatially explicit modeling techniques to represent heterogeneity.

Representative Recent Research Publications

Grubler, A., O´Neill, B., Riahi, K., Chirkov, V., Goujon, A., Kolp, P., Prommer, I., Scherbov, S., Slentoe, E. (2007). Regional, national, and spatially explicit scenarios of demographic and economic change based on SRES. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 74(7), 980–1029.

Ma, T., Grubler, A., Nakicenovic, N., Arthur, W.B. (2008). Technologies as agents of change: A simulation model of the evolving complexity of the global energy system, IR-08-021, IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria.

Krey, V., Canadell, J.G., Nakicenovic, N., Abe, Y., Andruleit, H., Archer, D., Grubler, A., Hamilton, N.T.M., Johnson, A., Kostov, V., Lamarque, J-F., Langhorne, N., Nisbet, E.G., O’Neill, B., Riahi, K., Riedel, M., Wang, W., Yakushev, V. (2009). Methane hydrates: Entrance to a methane age or climate threat? Environmental Research Letters 4034007 (6 pp.)

Wilson, C. (2009). Meta-analysis of unit and industry scaling dynamics in energy technologies and climate change mitigation scenarios. IR-09-29, IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria.

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Last edited: 16 April 2020

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