Configurational innovation systems – Explaining the slow German heat transition

J. P. Wesche*, S. O. Negro, E. Dütschke, R. P.J.M. Raven, M. P. Hekkert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In the field of sustainability transitions, temporality has recently received increased attention, specifically with regard to understanding acceleration of transitions. Acceleration of sustainability transitions is needed, to minimize the risks of global crises, and so the question is how these transitions can be accelerated. To answer this question, we use the technological innovation systems (TIS) approach to better understand the underlying processes. The central argument of this paper is that the pace of development in TIS, which ultimately have an impact on sustainability transitions, strongly depends on the local context in which the technologies are embedded in. Technologies that are little context-dependent can be produced in series; they do not need to adapt to local contingencies and can be easily substituted by more efficient and up-to-date technology – in this paper we refer to these as generic technologies. Conversely, technologies that are strongly dependent on the local context always need to be configured with regard to specific local contingencies – we refer to these as configurational technologies. This differentiation has repercussions on the defining pillars of technological innovation systems: Higher local context dependence slows down the pace of development of configurational TIS. The differentiation is illustrated by comparing electricity and heat innovation systems in Germany. An analysis based on literature as well as empirical case studies shows that the rather generically structured Solar PV and onshore wind are developing faster toward decarbonization than the configurationally structured heat TIS. The distinction between generic technological innovation systems and configurational technological innovation systems is helpful to better understand innovation system development and design supportive policies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-113
Number of pages15
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Configurational innovation systems
  • Electricity
  • Heat
  • Pace
  • Sustainability transitions
  • Temporality


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