The role of policy in shielding, nurturing and enabling offshore wind in The Netherlands (1973–2013)
It is widely acknowledged that many renewable energy technologies cannot (yet) compete with incumbent (fossil fuel) options e.g. in terms of price. Transitions literature argues that sustainable innovations can nevertheless break out of their ‘niches’ if properly shielded, nurtured and empowered. Most studies using this perspective have focused on how innovation champions engage in shielding, nurturing and empowering (SNE) activities: none have so far focused specifically on the role that policy plays in relation to these three processes. This paper therefore aims to analyze the way in which policy constrains and enables the shielding, nurturing and empowering of renewable energy innovations. To do so, it presents a qualitative review of the development of offshore wind power (OWP) in The Netherlands over the past four decades. Based on interpretation of a wide variety of written sources (academic histories, reports, policy documents, parliamentary debate transcripts, news media) and nine semi-structured interviews, it discerns six periods of relative stability in the history of Dutch offshore wind. It then analyzes the effects of various policies on the shielding, nurturing and empowering of offshore wind in these periods. The paper contributes to transitions literature (1) by providing an analysis of how policies can enable and constrain the shielding, nurturing and empowering of renewable energy innovations, and (2) by bringing together, for the first time, fragmented accounts of the surprisingly long history of Dutch offshore wind development and implementation. Both contributions are timely, given the recent reprioritization of OWP on the Dutch policy agenda.