Directing technical change from fossil-fuel to renewable energy innovation: An application using firm-level patent data

Joëlle Noailly*, Roger Smeets

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this paper we provide an analysis of directed technical change in the sector of electricity generation. We rely on patent data in fossil-fuel (FF) and renewable energy (REN) technologies for 5471 European firms over the 1978-2006 period. The novelty of our approach is in the focus on firm's heterogeneity in driving technological change. We make a distinction between small specialized firms, which innovate in only one type of technology, and large mixed firms, which innovate in both technologies, to analyse how REN patents can replace FF ones at the sector level both through a shift in innovation activities within existing firms and through firms' entry and exit. We use zero-inflated count data estimation techniques to identify the factors that affect specialized versus mixed firms' patenting behaviour both at the intensive (i.e., levels of innovation) and extensive (i.e., technological entry) margins. We further investigate the implications of our firm-level estimations for reducing the gap between REN and FF innovation at the aggregate level. We establish two key findings: (1) a decrease in the FF-REN technology gap mainly comes about through technological entry of specialized REN firms following an increase in REN market size; (2) increases in FF prices, FF market size, and FF knowledge stocks all increase the technology gap by increasing mixed firms FF innovation rates. An important implication of our results is that policies aimed at increasing REN innovation should focus on helping small firms to start and sustain innovation in the long-run.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-37
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Environmental Economics and Management
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Directed technical change
  • Fossil fuel energy
  • Heterogeneous firms
  • Innovation
  • Patents
  • Renewable energy

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