Renewable Futures and Industrial Legacies: Wind and Solar Sectors in China, Germany, and the U.S.

37 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2015 Last revised: 24 Oct 2015

See all articles by Jonas Nahm

Jonas Nahm

Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Date Written: August 8, 2015


This article develops an explanation for patterns of industrial specialization in emerging high-technology industries through a comparative analysis of wind and solar sectors in China, Germany, and the United States. Although governments have similar goals in the support of domestic wind and solar industries, firms in all three economies have established distinct innovative capabilities. Prevailing literatures attribute such divergence in industrial specialization to state intervention or persistent institutional differences. This article instead presents a firm-centered explanation. It argues that the rise of global production networks has widened the space for national diversity in industrial specialization. Firms no longer have to establish the full range of skills required to bring an idea from lab to market, but can specialize and collaborate with others. In this environment, firms respond to industrial policy by building on local industrial legacies, even in emerging industries: instead of converging on similar specializations, firms incrementally develop existing industrial capabilities and rely on familiar public resources and institutions in the process. These findings point to the role of local industrial legacies in shaping firm’s positions in global production networks and show that firms are active agents in maintaining distinct national industrial specializations under conditions of globalization.

Keywords: industrial specialization, China, Germany, technology, wind and solar, United States, public resources, economics, environment

Suggested Citation

Nahm, Jonas, Renewable Futures and Industrial Legacies: Wind and Solar Sectors in China, Germany, and the U.S. (August 8, 2015). Watson Institute for International Studies Research Paper No. 2015-27, Available at SSRN: or

Jonas Nahm (Contact Author)

Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies ( email )

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