Disillusionment in renewable energy diffusion: A case study of biogas technology in Austria

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Over the last decades renewable energy technologies have matured substantially and have shown strong growth rates all over the world. But in many places, the development and diffusion of renewables have been characterized by cycles of hype and disillusionment. In this study, I investigate the hype cycle that was associated with biogas technology in Austria. Based on the analysis of expert interviews, newspaper articles and policy documents, I describe the dynamics that characterized this hype cycle and relate them to the institutional processes that have underline the emergence of the Austrian biogas sector.
Whereas in previous studies, scholars illustrated the rising legitimacy problems that were associated with the biogas sector, in this study, I take a closer look on the discursive struggles that have been associated with the different phases of the biogas hype cycle and the actor constellations behind these struggles. Furthermore, I place particular emphasis on the framing strategies that were used in order to overcome the phase of disillusionment. In this context, the findings illustrate the strong roles that incumbents played in reframing the technology and creating new visions around it. While during the hype, biogas has been understood mainly as a technology that produces electricity from energy crops, in the subsequent years, it has been increasingly reframed towards a technology that produces ‘renewable gas’ from residuals. But although this reframing process has triggered renewed optimism within the sector, the underlying storylines of the new frame have been not uncontested. Particularly questions with regard to (i) resource availability, (ii) the appropriate end use of the produced gas, and (iii) the credibility of key actors have led to the emergence of counternarratives that challenged the newly developing discursive hegemony.
By providing new insights into the ‘framing contests’ that can be associated with the growing diffusion of renewable technologies, the study not only contributes to the ongoing efforts of transition scholars to shed light on the nature and role of discursive processes during sustainability transitions, but also provides important policy lessons, highlighting, most importantly, the need for a reflexive and cross-sectoral policy approach.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Event11th International Sustainability Transition Conference: Governance in an Era of Change – Making Sustainability Transitions Happen - Virtuell, Austria
Duration: 18 Aug 202021 Aug 2020


Conference11th International Sustainability Transition Conference
Abbreviated titleIST 2020
Internet address


  • Hype cycles
  • Frames and framing
  • Biogas
  • Sustainability transitions


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