Investments in Academic Renewable Electricity Generation Technology Spin-Offs : A Qualitative Study on High Capital Limitations for Underexplored Renewable Energy Sources
Abstract: Due to an intensified climate change discourse, renewable energy technologies find higher attention within the energy system and increasingly compete with traditional energy conversion systems. Electricity is progressively being generated through renewable electricity generation technologies (REGT) which harness naturally existing energy fluxes (wind, tide, heat, sun) and convert it to electricity. High investments are currently being made into well-developed REGT using explored energy sources such as wind, hydro or solar. In order to increase cost- and energy efficiency of REGTs, university research projects are developing new REGTs that harvest underexplored energy sources such as the marine energy source. These capital-intensive marine energy research projects are entering the market through university spin-off firms but are often confronted with funding gaps, for the current or future operations. Capital rich investors could provide these funds but are often investing in well explored energy sources rather than into underexplored but more cost- and energy-efficient energy sources. Utilizing a qualitative, grounded theory-influenced approach and combining empirical material of semi-structured interviews, data from a participant observation of an innovation system workshop attendance and data from continuous meetings with an academic REGT spin-off from Uppsala University, this study investigates 1) the drivers and barriers within the funding ecosystem for academic REGT spin-offs in Sweden, 2) the limited access of high capital to underexplored energy sources on the specific case of the marine energy source and 3) a potential common ground for investors with high capital and academic REGT spin-offs in order to allow an accelerated diffusion of the marine energy source. The results indicate that the physical properties of the underexplored marine source should not be accounted for as driver but rather as the foundation of an academic REGT spin-off. This frame allows to bridge practitioners of both the investment field and the academic field of REGT spin-offs through the degree of utilization. An inversion of relations, where not only entrepreneurs increasingly link their field of study to economy and business, but also investors adapt cross-disciplinary knowledge towards academia and natural sciences via the degree of utilization, could be beneficial for an accelerated diffusion of academic REGTs. Bridging practitioners of both fields through the degree of utilization and other means might together with a full commercial application and proof of marine REGTs reduce the funding gap of academic spin-offs in the marine sector and allow access to investors with high capital.
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