Rethinking the dynamics of innovation, science, and technology: The curious case of Stirling engines and Stirling refrigerators

Dmitry S. Smirnov, Kelvin W. Willoughby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


“Technological innovation” has become a catch phrase of contemporary policy making for governments, corporations and academic organizations. For many it has become an article of faith that technological innovation is the key to solving energy transition and environmental problems, but the formula for success is not obvious. The phrase “science and technology” rolls off the tongues of energy related policymakers, managers and researchers spontaneously, as if this is the natural order of things, but why is the converse phrase “technology and science” so rarely encountered? The popular view appears to be that energy technology is applied energy science, or that technological change in the field of energy technologies flows naturally from scientific progress. However, what if popular preconceptions about the relationship between science and technology in the energy field are misplaced? This paper addresses the question of the fundamental relationship between technology and science by first analyzing historical cases of two representative energy-conversion technologies, then reviewing pertinent literature from the field of science, technology and society (STS) studies, and finally investigating empirically the nature of the relationship using statistical data analysis. It draws policy-making implications for investment in energy technology and science. We propose the hypothesis of technology-conditioned science as a plausible and credible counterweight to extant commonplace presumptions that science is the precursor of low-carbon energy-conversion technologies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102159
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Energy transition
  • Science policy
  • Science, technology and society
  • Stirling engines and refrigerators
  • Technological innovation
  • Technology policy


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