Disruptive low-carbon innovations

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This perspective article considers the potential for disruptive innovations to transform the market for energy-related goods and services in line with emission reductions required for stringent mitigation. Its rationale is that consumers are a neglected constituency in societal efforts to meet climate policy objectives. First, I review Christensen’s canonical definition of disruptive innovation as low-end products offering novel sources of value to users marginalised or over-supplied by mainstream markets. Second, I apply disruptive innovation concepts to the challenge of climate change mitigation and the necessary contribution of low-carbon innovation. There are both potentials for disruptive low-carbon innovations but also problems in achieving social benefits through the consumption of private goods. Third, I set out a series of criteria for disruptive low-carbon innovations and apply these to identify sets of potential innovations relating to mobility, buildings & cities, food, and energy supply. A wide range of consumer-facing innovations offer goods or services with novel attributes currently valued only in small market niches. Fourth, I report on the findings of two workshops on disruptive low-carbon innovation involving innovators, market intermediaries, policymakers and researchers. Different stakeholders hold sharply contrasting understandings of disruptive low-carbon innovation and its distinctive relevance for energy transformation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-223
Number of pages8
JournalEnergy Research & Social Science
Early online date8 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • Disruptive
  • Innovation
  • Climate mitigation

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