Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2011

Historical Trajectories and Corporate Competences in Wind Energy

by Geoffrey Jones and Loubna Bouamane

Abstract

This working paper surveys the business history of the global wind energy turbine industry between the late nineteenth century and the present day. It examines the long-term prominence of firms headquartered in Denmark, the more fluctuating role of U.S.-based firms, and the more recent growth of German, Spanish, Indian, and Chinese firms. While natural resource endowment in wind has not been very significant in explaining the country of origin of leading firms, the existence of rural areas not supplied by grid electricity was an important motivation for early movers in both the U.S. and Denmark. Public policy was the problem rather than the opportunity for wind entrepreneurs before 1980, but beginning with feed-in tariffs and other policy measures taken in California, policy mattered a great deal. However, Danish firms, building on inherited technological capabilities and benefitting from a small-scale and decentralized industrial structure, benefitted more from Californian public policies. The more recent growth of German, Spanish, and Chinese firms reflected both home country subsidies for wind energy and strong local content policies, while successful firms pursued successful strategies to acquire technologies and develop their own capabilities.

Keywords: Business History; Renewable Energy; Competitive Advantage; Technology Adoption; Policy; Business and Government Relations; Energy Industry; United States; Denmark;

Citation:

Jones, Geoffrey, and Loubna Bouamane. "Historical Trajectories and Corporate Competences in Wind Energy." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 11-112, May 2011.