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How do global manufacturing shifts affect long-term clean energy innovation? A study of wind energy suppliers

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Abstract: Clean energy technologies are important for meeting long-term climate and competitiveness goals. But clean energy industries are part of global value chains (GVCs), where past manufacturing shifts from developed to emerging economies have raised questions on a decline in long-term innovation. Our research centers on how geographic shifts in the GVC shape long-term innovation, i.e., innovation in a time frame within which “mission-oriented”, societal, or firm strategic objectives need to be met rather than tactical, near-term market competitiveness alone. Focusing on wind energy, we introduce a temporal measure to distinguish between long-term and short-term innovation, applying natural language processing methods on patent text data. We consider supply-side value chain factors (i.e., manufacturing supplier relationships with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)) and demand-side factors (i.e., policy-induced clean energy market growth), shaping the patenting activities of 358 global specialized wind suppliers (2006–2016). Our findings suggest that the wind industry did not suppress long-term innovation during manufacturing shifts, in this case to China. After 2012 when China developed a large wind market, long-term innovation increased by 80.7% in European suppliers working with non-European OEMs (including Chinese) and by 67.2% in Chinese suppliers working with non-Chinese OEMs. Our results highlight the importance of coupling international manufacturing relationships with sizeable local demand for inducing long-term innovation. Our results advance research in innovation, GVCs, and green industrial policy with implications for several industries that can contribute to climate mitigation.

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