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WIREs Energy Environ.
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Future energy system development depends on past learning opportunities

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Learning curves pervade all levels of industry and suggest deployment programs to buy down the cost of presently too expensive environment‐friendly technologies. However, the legitimate role of learning curves in a low‐carbon strategy depends on the validity of extrapolations and forecasts of the curves. Moving toward a technology‐led strategy for a low‐carbon energy system requires understanding of the learning mechanisms and their stability. The first part of this review provides examples of pervasive learning and a brief literature survey of recent learning curve measurements for energy technologies and the use of learning curves for scenario and policy analysis. The second part reviews how authors from two different perspectives understand the learning curves and come to different conclusions about their stability and legitimate role in scenario analysis and policy making. WIREs Energy Environ 2016, 5:16–32. doi: 10.1002/wene.172 This article is categorized under: Energy Systems Economics > Economics and Policy Energy and Climate > Economics and Policy Energy Policy and Planning > Economics and Policy Energy Research & Innovation > Economics and Policy
Experience curve and growth in global sales for photovoltaic modules. (Data for experience curve from Ref )
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Theoretical experience curve and observed prices for PV modules. The theoretical curve is fitted to price in 1976 (red square). The numbers in parentheses show the cumulative world shipments in MWp at eigentime 5, 10, 15, 20. (From Ref ; price data from Ref )
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The learning system and government policies. (Adapted from IEA and Wene)
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Core elements of strategies to manage climate stability.
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(a) Learning curve for installation of offshore wind turbines. (Adapted from Ref ) (b) Experience curve for production of coated glass. (Data from Ref ) (c) Decarbonization of world GDP. (d) Learning curve for building man‐of‐war, frigate plus ship‐of the‐line, at Karlskrona shipyard 1782–1785. (Data from Ref ) I am grateful to Lorens Borg for calling my attention to this work and to the performance data available. (e) Learning curve for wildcats in the USA. The y‐axis is 1/performance following the definitions in Eqs and . (f) Experience curve analysis of oil exploration. (Data from Ref )
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