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Green energy clusters and socio-technical transitions: analysis of a sustainable energy cluster for regional economic development in Central Massachusetts, USA

Abstract

As the societal benefits associated with transitioning to more sustainable, less fossil fuel-reliant energy systems are increasingly recognized by communities throughout the world, the potential of creating ‘green jobs’ within a ‘green economy’ is attracting much attention. Green energy clusters are increasingly promoted throughout the world as a strategy to simultaneously promote economic vitality and stimulate a sustainable energy transition. In spite of their emerging role in regional-scale sustainability planning efforts, such initiatives have not been considered within the sustainability transitions literature. This paper explores the development of one such regional sustainable energy cluster initiative in Central Massachusetts in Northeastern USA to consider the potential for such cluster initiatives to contribute to socio-technical transition in the energy system. Since 2008, a diverse set of stakeholders in Central Massachusetts, including politicians, universities, businesses, local citizens, and activists, have been working toward facilitating the emergence of an integrated cluster of activity focused on sustainable energy. Through interviews with key actors, participant observation, and document review, this research assesses the potential of this cluster initiative to contribute to a regional socio-technical transition. The empirical details of this case demonstrate that sustainable energy cluster initiatives can potentially accelerate change in entrenched energy regimes by promoting institutional thickness, generating regional ‘buzz’ around sustainable energy activities, and building trust between multiple and diverse stakeholders in the region. This research also contributes to emerging efforts to better ground socio-technical transitions in geographic space.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise at Clark University for the financial support for this research. In addition, research collaborators Mary-Ellen Boyle, Jing Zhang, Lisa Kwiatkowski, Angela Marshall, and Hila Benzaken are gratefully acknowledged for their perspective and contributions to this work. Thanks also go to all of the actors that gave their time to be interviewed and all of our university and community partners.

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Correspondence to Jennie C. Stephens.

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Handled by Frans Berkhout, Vrije Universiteit, The Netherlands.

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McCauley, S.M., Stephens, J.C. Green energy clusters and socio-technical transitions: analysis of a sustainable energy cluster for regional economic development in Central Massachusetts, USA. Sustain Sci 7, 213–225 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-012-0164-6

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Keywords

  • Clusters
  • Energy systems
  • Green energy
  • Socio-technical transitions
  • Niche
  • Energy innovation