Watt’s next? On socio-technical transitions towards future electricity system architectures
In the effort to fight climate change, the electricity systems around the world are undergoing a transformation towards being based on renewable sources of energy. The criterion of one hundred per cent renewables can, however, be satisfied in several radically different ways, varying from global or continental super grids via local smart-grids to self-sufficient off-grid communities and households of electricity prosumers. At this point, the eventual system design is not a given.
The purpose of this research is to follow the emergence of new system configurations that satisfy the criterion of hundred per cent renewables globally, to identify possible development pathways, and to study the critical factors that influence the different directions of development. This thesis takes a step towards fulfilling this objective by answering the question of what determines the direction of the electricity system transition. While Article 1 presents findings about these directions and comprehensively describes them, Article 2 answers questions related to the causal relationships and buildup processes that influence the transition to take a specific direction. It takes the Multilevel Perspective (MLP) and Technological Innovation System (TIS) frameworks, as a theoretical starting point and places technological change, especially the emergence and diffusion of novel technologies, at the core of the analysis.
The research presented in this thesis contributes to the literature by clearly defining three alternative electricity futures, i.e., the Super-grid, Smart-grid, and Off-grid systems, that can be monitored in the form of structural components currently emerging and accumulating. Our findings show that all three alternatives have gained notable momentum over the last 15 years and provide evidence that a transition is underway. However, the emerging systems are not exclusive to the electricity sector, but instead, create links with and borrow components from other sectors, discourses, and societal trends. In addition, the results contribute to a better understanding of the causalities that may lead to a future of complete interconnectedness, i.e. the Smart-grid system by analysing important factors and processes determining the successful innovation processes leading to a development in this direction.
This thesis makes conceptual contributions by combining a number of socio-technical concepts and methodologies to clearly define a number of future configurations and their key structural components. Moreover, for the analysis of the Smart-grid scenario, this thesis proposes a variation of the conventional TIS framework, by integrating a categorization of the innovation system context and the role of entrepreneurial activities to better analyse developments at the micro-level.
technological innovation system
innovation system context