@ iied

Why technology adoption sometimes fails

A new working paper from iied points the example of South Africa out, that and why a purely technology-oriented approach to rural electrification often fails. The statements apply not only to South Africa. Here is an excerpt:

It’s easy to get carried away by the thought of how a new technology could transform people’s lives — the temptation is often to roll it out as quickly as possible.

But focusing on the hardware may be the wrong start. Getting people to adopt new or improved technologies does not happen overnight. A whole raft of influences, such as skills, institutions, policies and economics, affect the process.

This is particularly pertinent to the energy sector. Renewable energy technologies have differing success in different countries, and this often has little to do with the technology and a lot to do with one or more socioeconomic factors. Many technology options — such as solar photovoltaics, small-scale hydropower, or biomass to power — are approaching both technical maturity and economic parity with conventional power sources.

Why technology adoption sometimes fails

There are many reasons why a new energy technology might not be adopted. The most common are listed below. Ÿ


  • Technological factors: The technology does not work well.Ÿ
  • Demand: People don’t want the new technology.Ÿ
  • Cultural/perception factors: People feel that the new technology does not fit with their values and preferences (for instance, lower income groups may think they are being foisted with second-rate technologies).Ÿ
  • Skills and knowledge: People don’t know what the technology can offer, or don’t have the skills to use and/or maintain it.Ÿ
  • Infrastructure and maintenance factors: The infrastructure for delivering the product and/or spare parts is inadequate; or a maintenance network does not exist.Ÿ
  • Undesirable social and/or environmental effects: Technologies intended to solve one problem may introduce new ones.Ÿ
  • Policy and regulatory framework: A new technology may not fit with existing regulations and policies.

Important: the socioeconomic aspects

Clearly technology adoption is complex, and getting the technology right is only part of the process. Policymakers need to devise a suitable ‘delivery model’ that addresses all the issues in this list. Such a model must be flexible enough to ensure that new or improved technologies meet real needs — that is, they adapt to fit specific social and economic contexts.

A large field of academic literature, known as ‘technology innovation systems thinking’, discusses how technologies are developed and adopted, emphasizing the socioeconomic aspects. It stresses that understanding and responding to this wider context is often more important than how efficient a technology is in engineering terms. It also underlines how institutional and policy change are crucial in making technology adoption successful.

Download the full paper here.





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