Sustainability Science Program

Christian Binz

Dr. Christian Binz
Kennedy School of Government
Mailbox 117
Harvard University
79 JFK Street
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Office: 124 Mt. Auburn Street, Suite 190, Room 105
Office: Non-resident
Group affiliation: Associate

Christian Binz is an Associate in the Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.  He is conducting a Swiss NSF-funded Post-Doctoral Research project at the Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy at Lund University in Sweden. Working at the interface between evolutionary economic geography and transition studies, he examines the geography of sustainability transitions in the water and energy sector. Christian aims to develop new theories on how international linkages shape innovation in clean-tech industries and the technological leapfrogging potential of latecomer economies. He is contributing to collaborative work with the Initiative on Sustainable Energy Development in China led by Professor Henry Lee. Christian holds a Masters in Economic Geography from the University of Bern in Switzerland and received his PhD through a Sino-Swiss Science and Technology Collaboration project between the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) and the Research Centre for Eco-Environmental Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. His dissertation focused on the emergence of on-site water recycling industries in China and Europe and developed a new analytical perspective on how environmental innovation processes interrelate between developed and emerging economies. He is a recipient of the Giorgio Ruffolo Post-doctoral Research Fellowship in Sustainability Science (2015) at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He worked as a visiting post-doctoral Research Fellow at UC Berkeley’s National Engineering Research Center for Re-Inventing the Urban Water Sector (ReNUWIt) and analyzed the development and legitimation of potable water reuse in California. His research on environmental innovation and sustainability transitions has been published in Research Policy, Economic Geography, Environmental Science & Technology and Technological Forecasting and Social Change, as well as in books by the International Water Association and UNEP. His host at Harvard is Henry Lee.

Low-carbon leapfrogging in China: An international innovation system perspective
The project’s goal is to develop a systemic, international view of innovation and policy options for low-carbon leapfrogging in China’s energy sector.

To mitigate global climate change, China’s energy sector needs to leapfrog conventional fossil energy technologies and directly deploy low-carbon innovation. Yet, inducing such low-carbon leapfrogging is a complex, systemic innovation problem: it involves not only creating and diffusing technological innovation, but also adapting the relevant regulation, user practices, and institutional contexts. Existing approaches to low-carbon leapfrogging mainly focus at a national level, leaving international interdependencies underexplored. This project aims at developing a new analytical framework that relates low-carbon leapfrogging in China to systemic change at an international level. It takes the technological innovation system approach as a conceptual basis for assessing innovation trajectories in the Chinese solar photovoltaic, and water recycling sectors. The performance of Chinese innovation systems in inducing low-carbon leapfrogging will be assessed and compared based on extensive literature reviews and qualitative expert interviews. This project will provide improved policy recommendations that reflect China’s role in increasingly globalized innovation systems and enhance conventional market failure based policy approaches with a focus on broader system building failures.

Spatial dynamics in the knowledge base of emerging clean-tech sectors:  A patent analysis of globally leading solar photovoltaics manufacturing firms
Christian Binz, Tian Tang, and Joern Huenteler

Innovation and knowledge in clean-tech industries develops in increasingly globalized networks, whose dynamics are not yet well understood by academia and policy making. Solar photovoltaics (PV) is a case in point for a sector that is evolving in a strongly globalized pattern, with several spatial shifts in technological leadership over very short periods of time. Especially the sector’s most recent history attracted a lot of attention. In less than ten years, solar PV manufacturing almost completely shifted to China, strongly challenging Western PV firms’ competitive position. A lively debate has emerged on whether Chinese companies leapfrogged to the global technological frontier, making Western industries fall behind also in terms of their technological knowledge base or if they essentially only transferred low value-added production know-how. Several qualitative case studies tried to address this question recently, but a more quantitative assessment of the PV sector’s knowledge base is still missing. This project aims at addressing this gap based on an extensive patent analysis of the world’s leading solar PV companies. Based on a database of 85,000 solar PV patents field between 1968 and 2012, it derives an aggregate picture of the world’s PV knowledge base and identifies recent spatial shifts in the sector’s innovation activities. This enables a discussion of near-to mid-term scenarios for the competitive positions of Western and Asian PV companies, to derive new stylized hypotheses for the geography of transitions literature, and to inform policy making with a global view on relevant innovation processes in emerging cleantech industries.

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