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The paper "Sectoral and territorial effects of experimentation at early stages of energy innovations: Lessons from 20 years of marine renewable technologies in Portugal" co-authored by Margarida Fontes, Mariana Aguiar e Nuno Bento and presenting results of the research conducted by OceanTrans project, was awarded an Honourable Mention in the Finisterra 2022 Best Article Award. The award session took place on 19th October 2023, at IGOT-University of Lisbon.

ABSTRACT – Addressing climate urgency and unpredicted crisis, such as pandemics and wars, requires the acceleration of the sustainable transition and, particularly, the development and implementation of new renewable energy technologies. This acceleration depends on the capacity for mobilizing resources and skills present in the territory. In particular, the transition to a commercial phase poses important challenges that may be met drawing on the capacities developed in the initial experimentation phase, whose effects remain poorly studied. Portugal has a long experience in the development of marine renewable energy technologies – wave energy and floating offshore wind energy. It is relevant to understand, through a longitudinal analysis, supported on a database of actors involved with the technology, to investigate whether the activities carried out during the initial phase of development permitted to start mobilizing the national industry, and to what extent this mobilization generated sectoral and regional centers of activity that can support future developments. The analysis shows that test and demonstration projects have a role in the mobilization of firms from relevant sectors, even if their ability to attract local companies is still limited. The activities are based on networks of companies distributed throughout the territory, with a predominance of the main metropolitan areas. These results can inform strategies to accelerate technology diffusion and increase the potential for industrial transformation.

Keywords: Geography of transitions; technological innovation systems; sectoral complementarities; industrial transformation; marine renewable energy

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A commitment to marine renewable energies is crucial for Portugal to achieve energy and industrial sovereignty. But the main challenge facing the country is to take advantage of this opportunity to both reduce energy dependence, and generate wealth and qualified jobs, improving the well-being of its citizens. This was the main theme of the Conference “The potential of renewable energy technologies for industrial transformation: the case of marine energies” organized by the OceanTrans project on the 19th of September, at ISCTE-IUL, in Lisbon.

The initiative was opened by the Secretary of State for Marine Affairs, José Maria Costa, and brought together decision-makers and experts in economics, energy, and sustainable transitions.

In the first panel of the conference – "Evidence of industrial transformation" – a Directory of Companies in Marine Energies, developed by the project and including most Portuguese companies that have been active in this area over the last decades, was presented. This was followed by a presentation about the development of marine energies in the Northwest region, by Artur Jorge Silva from the Municipality of Viana do Castelo.

In the second panel – under the theme “Industrial Transformation and Emerging Technologies” – Margarida Fontes presented the main results of the project, followed by a debate in a Round Table composed by: with Allan Andersen, from the University of Oslo, Björn Sandén, from the Chalmers University of Technology, Vera Kissler, from the Directorate-General for Energy of the European Commission, André Couto from the Directorate-General for Natural Resources, Safety and Maritime Services and Nuno Bento from do Dinamia'Cet-ISCTE, co-coordinator of the project.

The conference, which had a hybrid format (in person and online), had around 120 participants, and enabled a very lively debate involving representatives from industry, academia and government organizations.

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Cristina Sousa, Margarida Fontes and Juliana Barbosa


This paper tackles the transformative potential of new sustainable technologies, that is, the ways in which the development of these technologies can induce structural change by driving new activities in other sectors of the economy (Dolata, 2009). In particular, it discusses whether and how links established between technology producers and firms from existing sectors create conditions for combination of diverse knowledge, driving diversification processes with transformative effects.

For this, the paper draws on insights of several literature streams: sustainability transitions, namely the discussion on the transformative impacts of transitions (Andersen et al, 2020; Boschma et al, 2017) strategic management, for processes of corporate diversification (related and unrelated) (Helfat and Eisenhardt, 2004; Picone and Dagnino, 2015) and networks and knowledge creation and diffusion in particular debates on bridging knowledge bases and on the role of proximities (Lamperti et al, 2020; Stephan et al, 2017).

The paper starts from the notion that companies that belong to a certain sector share a knowledge base. Collaborations established in research and innovation projects, aiming at the development of the new technologies, facilitate contacts and knowledge sharing between sectors that may or may not be related at the outset, opening opportunities for cross-fertilization and recombination of knowledge (Arts and Veugelers, 2014; Janssen and Frenken, 2019; Stephan et al, 2019;). Therefore, collaborative projects create an intersectoral space of knowledge sharing and co-creation that spurs the emergence of novelty.

These spaces of intersectoral interaction can trigger corporate diversification processes, since they create new business opportunities related to the new technology that can be exploited (individually or jointly) by companies from a variety of sectors, established and new. This can lead to processes of change and contribute to the revitalization of traditional sectors.

This conceptual approach is applied to the case of the new marine renewable energy technologies in Portugal, which is a pioneer in this field (Fontes et al, 2016). The empirical research addresses the following question: to what extent the emergence of marine energy technologies mobilizes knowledge from different sectors and creates opportunities for corporate diversification?

The research starts by mapping and characterizing the “intersectoral interaction space” created by R&D and innovation projects. This analysis is based on secondary data from national and European publicly funded projects, involving Portuguese actors/companies, and is conducted using Social Network Analysis. The configuration of this space provides indications on particular areas in which conditions for knowledge combinations are likely to be more favourable.

In order to understand whether the opportunities thus created are being exploited, the analysis subsequently focuses on Portuguese companies identified as active in the marine energy technologies. This analysis is based on primary data on firms’ innovation activities and organizational changes, collected through a survey, as well as on secondary data (industrial databases, reports, websites, etc.). The objective is to understand whether these companies are engaged in activities that denote diversification processes associated with the new technologies.

The paper contributes to a better understanding of the mechanisms that enable established industries to engage with and benefit from the development of sustainable technologies, enabling a better understanding on how to steer sustainable transitions in the desired directions from an economic and social standpoint.


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Sousa, C., Fontes, M. and Barbosa, J. (2021) Intersectoral interaction spaces and the exploitation of new business opportunities: the case of marine energy technologies, 18th conference of the International Joseph A. Schumpeter Society, 8–10 July, Rome.

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