Barriers to Implementation

Engineers frequently adopt the view that "if we build it (so that it is cheap and effective) they will come." The reality is that large-scale technology adoption and diffusion are often much more complicated and uncertain. Even when there are no major barriers to adoption, it may take several decades or more for a new technology to become widely used because old capital stock remains economically attractive and personnel are slow to understand and appreciate the benefits of new technology. Beyond this, in many cases large vested interests have a stake in sustaining old technologies. These interests often work actively to impede the introduction of new competing technologies. Frequently regulatory or similar barriers inhibit introduction. For example, in many countries electric utilities are granted exclusive service territories, making it illegal for a private entrepreneurial company to introduce microgrid systems built on small-scale combined heat and power distributed generation (which is more energy efficient than central station power). At the same time, traditional utility companies may see little or no incentive to invest in such technology.

Social acceptability can also play an important role in the rate at which a new technology is adopted. As already noted, social concerns are often not founded on a full understanding of a technology, its strengths and weaknesses, and those of available alternatives. In such cases the professional community has an obligation to provide leadership and keep important options open for development and evaluation. But technology proponents also have a long history of arrogantly ignoring legitimate public concerns, consequently fostering a climate of mistrust and hostility that makes rational public decision making difficult or impossible.

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