How Long Do Major Innovations Take to Get Widespread Commercial Acceptance?

Thanks to Ivan Idso for referencing this study on the Journal of Nuclear Physics.

If a revolutionary energy technology came on the scene, and worked well, how long would it take to get a firm foothold, and start to displace other established energy sources? That is a question considered in a paper titled “How long does innovation and marketing in the energy sectors take? Historical case studies of the timescale of invention,”  published in the journal Energy Policy 123, on December 2018, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421518305901

The answer of the authors of this paper is that if history is to be our guide, it can take a long time. The researchers looked at 13 key technologies that had been developed since the end of the 19th century which were: cars, cathode ray tube TV, nuclear power, combined cycle gas turbine, solar photovoltaics, videocassette recorder, wind electricity, cash cards and ATMs, mobile phones, compact fluorescent light bulbs, lithium ion rechargeable batteries, thin film transistor LCD TVs, and LED lighting.

The researchers found that on average, the average time from invention to widespread commercialization was 32 years. The technology with the shortest time was the LCD TV (20 years), and the longest was the car (69 years). In terms of electricity generation technology, the average time was 43 years:

The two renewable generation technologies, solar PV (55 years in Germany) and wind (40 years in Denmark), also have amongst the longest timescales of the 13 innovations included in our study. Slow diffusion timescales for renewable energy technologies were observed in the early 2000s in European countries by Negro et al. (2012), who point to a range of innovation system failures which constrain their deployment, such as a lack of long term and consistent institutional support. Such failures are compounded by lock-in to incumbent fossil fuel technologies which have become optimally aligned with supporting institutions and have benefited from economies of scale and technological learning over extensive periods of time.

Many of us like to think that if a radical new technology with obvious advantages came on the scene that it would be widely accepted and adopted rapidly, but this study provides examples showing that this may not necessarily be the case.

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