Climate-relevant technologies, like wind and solar energy, are crucial for mitigating climate change and for achieving sustainable development. Recent literature argues that Chinese solar firms play more active roles in international knowledge flows, which may better explain their success in international markets when compared to those of Chinese wind firms; however, empirical evidence remains sparse. This study aims to explore to what extent and how do the international knowledge flows differ between China’s wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) industries? From a network perspective, this paper develops a three-dimensional framework to compare the knowledge flows in both explicit and tacit dimensions: (i) inter-country explicit knowledge clusters (by topological clustering of patent citation network); (ii) inter-firm explicit knowledge flow (patent citation network of key firms); and, (iii) inter-firm tacit knowledge flow (by desktop research and interviews). The results show that China’s PV industry has stronger international knowledge linkages in terms of knowledge clustering and explicit knowledge flow, but the wind power industry has a stronger tacit knowledge flow. Further, this study argues that the differences of global knowledge links between China’s wind and solar PV industries may be caused by technology characteristics, market orientation, and policy implementation. This suggests that these industries both have strong connections to global knowledge networks, but they may involve disparate catch-up pathways that concern follower-modes and leader-modes. These findings are important to help us understand how China can follow sustainable development pathways in the light of climate change.
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