In this doctoral thesis, I explore the activities and strategies of large energy companies and the way their activities contribute to a change of the socio-technical energy system. During the past two decades, societal, political, technological and economic pressures to tackle the challenge of climate change have been steadily increasing. This study aims to respond to the overall research question of what the role of large energy companies is in energy system transition. In the three research essays of this dissertation, I explore organisational activities, ranging from defensive response strategies to the slow acceptance and development of new business solutions, which have the potential of contributing to the energy transition. The approach that I take views these large organisations not only as respondents to external pressures, but also as co-constructors of the emerging technological fields. In the first essay, I trace the one hundred-year development of a large municipally owned energy company in order to capture how its development led to deep carbon and technological lock-in, and then theorise how path break-outs might occur. In the second essay, I explore how EU-wide policy on energy saving and efficiency is perceived in a large energy company, how the company attempted to create an energy contract model to save energy for its clients, and what challenges the model developers faced. In the third essay, I have followed the long-term development of solar panel package and electric vehicle charging businesses at two large energy companies. Based on these two product development processes, I theorise on how these large actors contribute to and shape the emerging solar energy and electric vehicle fields in Finland. This study contributes to the fairly recent research field of sustainability transitions, in which the role of large actors has been under-theorised due to a strong emphasis on new small entrepreneurs and on governance. To provide a more diversified picture on the role of large actors in transition, I draw on four different, yet related, theoretical perspectives: socio-technical transition studies, sociological field theory, innovation studies, focusing on large incumbent organisations facing challenging innovations, and in the organisational path dependence literature. The results of the study show that a sustainability transition of the dominant energy field is not easy due to the rigidities caused by past commitments to technologies, infrastructures, organisational forms and resources. However, this study also finds that there are ways to break out from these rigidities. Furthermore, this study show that by mobilising their power and resources to novel technological fields, large energy companies can cause wider 'positive spillovers' for the field development, and thus, operate as bridge builders of transition.
|Translated title of the contribution||Suuret energiayhtiöt murroksessa – Portinvartijoista sillanrakentajiksi|
|Publication status||Published - 2018|
|MoE publication type||G5 Doctoral dissertation (article)|
- energy transition
- large energy companies
- socio-technical change
- emerging technological fields