15 February 2019 from 12:45 to 13:30

PhD Defence: Users and the upscaling of innovation in sustainability transitions

The use of sustainable innovations, such as car-sharing and electric vehicles, has grown considerably in the past years. Most commentators ascribe this growth to the efforts of companies such as Tesla and SnappCar or government intervention. However, the role of end-users in sustainability transitions has received considerably less attention. This thesis focuses on the users of car-sharing and the electric car. The aim of the thesis is to obtain more insight in the characteristics of users as well as in their active role in the upscaling of innovations in sustainability transitions. These innovations are systemic: they entail changes in technologies, use patterns, markets, infrastructures and institutions. 

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A questionnaire was used to gain insights in motivations for car-sharing.  Car sharing is mostly driven by environmental and financial motivations, while other forms of sharing are driven by different sets of motivations. From a user perspective, one can thus not speak of one sharing economy. Differences in motivations for sharing economy participation equally exist between socio-demographic groups. For example, people on lower incomes have higher financial motivations, older people have more social motivations and women are more environmentally driven.

Subsequently, the diffusion of two forms of car-sharing in the Netherlands was mapped. These concerned business-to-consumer car-sharing, in which a company owns cars that are located in neighbourhoods, and peer-to-peer car-sharing, in which users rent out their own cars via an online platform. A spatially heterogenous conception of the Multi-Level Perspective on transitions was developed, emphasizing geographical differences in regime, niche and landscape levels. The diffusion of car-sharing was linked to socio-demographic and built environment characteristics of neighbourhoods. Business-to-consumer car-sharing is limited to urban areas, with specific groups of users. Peer-to-peer car-sharing appears in all kinds of neighbourhoods. One explanation is its complementarity to the existing regime: underutilized capacity of cars that are already there is put to use.

The active role of users in diffusion is studied by means of an analysis of an internet forum of mainly Tesla users. Their contribution to different dimensions of upscaling in sustainability transitions is assessed: the built-up of an innovation system, the geographical diffusion of the electric vehicle, and the removal of institutional barriers to growth. The users deliver a unique contribution to these dimensions. They share knowledge and practical solutions for the daily use of electric vehicles. They lobby for chargers, and mingled in international discussions about standardization. In spite of these contributions, the forum is relatively chaotic and subjective. Still, users are shown to be important actors in upscaling transitions.

Finally, the role of users in the growth of electric vehicles is considered from an assemblage perspective. This approach goes back to the philosophies of Deleuze and Delanda and describes a world of interconnected assemblages that are instable. It challenges current conceptualizations of the socio-technical regime as stable and homogenous. The Tesla internet forum is a combination of very different users: environmentalists, car hobbyists and gadget freaks. Exactly the temporary alliances between those different groups contribute to the further diffusion of the electric vehicle.

Start date and time
15 February 2019 12:45
End date and time
15 February 2019 13:30
PhD candidate
Toon Meelen
Dissertation
Users and the upscaling of innovation in sustainability transitions - The cases of car-sharing and electric vehicles
PhD supervisor(s)
Koen FrenkenBernhard Truffer
Co-supervisor(s)
Tim Schwanen