The Journal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies' (TES)
Volume 10, Number 1, 2011

ISSN 1602-2297

Wind Power Generation in Germany
– a transdisciplinary view on the innovation biography

Elke Bruns
Senior Research Associate, The Environmental Assessment and Planning Research Group, Technische Universität Berlin, e-mail:

Dörte Ohlhors
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Technology Foresight and Assessment

Abstract: This article is based on two interdisciplinary research projects that examined the innovation pathways of wind energy in Germany within the last 30 years. The research team used constellation analysis, a methodology that has been developed for the ever-growing field of interdisciplinary research and policy advice. It facilitates the whole-systems approach, drawing on engineering, economics and the environmental and social sciences. The term ‘innovation biography’ expresses that the reconstruction of the development path pays much attention to its specific characteristics and to the ruptures of the process. Focus of the research project was to analyze the driving forces and facilitating impulses that allowed wind energy to develop from a niche technology to an internationally successful industry.
The analysis shows that governance on different levels was decisive. Granting the right of access to the grid, precedence for feeding in electricity from renewable and cost covering feed in tariffs were key policy factors, implemented via the feed-in law (StrEG and EEG). But a comprehensive explanation of the wind energy development acknowledges that the regulation was embedded in an interplay of various supportive factors.
The process of innovation, taking place in the niche, was backed by the anti-nuclear movement and upcoming environmental groups. The process of entering the market, stabilizing after a short setback which was followed by a boom appears to be multi-layered with a high interdependence between different driving factors. The successful innovation pathway has arisen from dynamic interactions between governmental and non-governmental actors within a framework of complex conditions. Although the government changed, proponents succeeded in keeping the supportive framework stable and reliable over a long time.
Wind power gave rise to public debate as the acceptance of wind turbines decreased during the expansion phase. These challenges were countered by policies enacted by state actors at the regional and local levels. Decisive factors were the amount, duration and reliability of the feed-in compensation, funding policy and the zoning and building laws. The successful establishment of wind power has been possible in spite the fact that it has been difficult to integrate wind power into the energy supply system due to wind power’s intermittent nature, and despite resistance from actors of the fossil-nuclear energy supply system. This has been possible as a result of continually adjusting the policy approaches at various governance levels and reflecting various requirements in the different phases of the innovation process. The analysis reveals that the task of harmonizing and coordinating the timing of policies demands a flexible design that is both relevant to a number of different public policy levels, yet tailored to the process in question. Different phases of innovation processes bring with them substantial framing changes, which then place new demands on policy interventions.

Keywords: wind energy, innovation process, niche, constellation analysis, energy policy, multi-level governance

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