Technology is a form of codified knowledge stored either in physical equipment (“hardware”) or in processes of design, installation, technology use, and end-of-life management (“soft technology”). How specifically this knowledge is codified and stored can have implications for how quickly technologies spread and improve—hardware improvements are shared almost automatically as equipment is shipped to different locations; deployment processes (e.g., installation, permitting) are often site- and region-specific and require dedicated efforts to ensure improvement is accessible to actors in diverse places and retained over time. However, little research examines the nature of this difference and its implications for grand societal challenges such as energy system decarbonization.

This talk introduces a framework to study the roles of hardware and soft technology in technology improvement and discusses insights from applying this framework to energy technologies with diverse cost evolution paths, including solar photovoltaics and smart electricity meters. In particular, I will discuss how the limited codification of soft technology in the past poses both challenges and opportunities for energy technology development, climate change mitigation, community engagement, and academic research.

Magdalena Klemun


Magdalena Klemun is an assistant professor in the Division of Public Policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), where she is also affiliated with the Energy Institute. Magdalena’s research interests are in understanding how the economic and environmental performance of technologies evolves as a function of policy and engineering design choices, with a particular interest in the role of hardware vs. non-hardware innovations. Magdalena received her Ph.D. from the Institute of Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) at MIT, her M.S. in Earth Resources Engineering from Columbia University, where she studied as a Fulbright Scholar, and her B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology from Vienna University of Technology.