Multinational energy utilities in the energy transition: A configurational study of the drivers of FDI in renewables

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The global energy system has a long way to go to meet international climate goals, and significant investment in renewable energy is required to accelerate the energy transition (IRENA, 2016, 2019). We examine how firm- and country-specific conditions in the electric utility sector impact foreign direct investment (FDI) in renewables. Using a unique dataset of 289 greenfield investments by 17 multinational energy utilities, we employ a fuzzy set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA) that yields five causal configurations leading to FDI in renewables and four configurations leading to investment in non-renewables. Our results indicate that private MNEs are at the forefront of investment in renewables, and while state-owned MNEs (SOMNEs) do invest in them, they tend to follow strategies that are less risky compared to private MNEs and more responsive to host-country incentives. Our analysis suggests that for private MNEs, international experience is strongly associated with investment in renewables, while for SOMNEs it is associated with investment in non-renewables. Further, we also identify instances where MNEs contribute simultaneously to a ‘race to the top’ and a ‘race to the bottom’ by investing in both renewables and non-renewables in different markets, thereby reducing the pace of the energy transition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)930-950
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of International Business Studies
Issue number5
Early online date8 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • energy transition
  • pollution havens
  • FSA-CSA matrix
  • FDI
  • incentives
  • state-owned enterprises


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