Narratives of energy incumbents - Unravelling perspectives on municipal electric utilities
Licentiatavhandling, 2022

The dominant narrative in sustainability transitions studies frames electric utilities as incumbents and “villains” who hinder the diffusion of niche innovations (Johnstone et al., 2017; Turnheim and Sovacool, 2020). This behavior is in line with the conception of incumbent actors as part of the dominant sociotechnical regime (Geels, 2002, 2006a), painting the picture of incumbents with a broad brush and limiting nuance. However, several authors have made attempts to illustrate heterogeneity among incumbents and that some can take on proactive roles in advancing niche innovation (Altunay et al., 2021; Ampe et al., 2021; Apajalahti et al., 2018; Berggren et al., 2015; Stalmokaitė and Hassler, 2020). The purpose of this licentiate thesis is to advance this inquiry by unravelling the narratives of electric utilities as incumbents in energy transitions.

Three narratives are explored through a synthesis of two qualitative case studies of Swedish electric utilities’ engagement with solar photovoltaics. The thesis is organized along two core questions: how electric utilities engage with this emerging technology at the level of business models and collaborations, and why they choose to engage in certain ways, investigating internal and external drivers. The findings show that most electric utilities engage with solar photovoltaics through a variety of business models and collaborations, depending on a combination of firm-internal factors (i.e., organizational goals, business logics, and resources) and external factors (i.e., the task environment, the institutional environment, and the industry regime).

The study illustrates the need for extending dominant narratives, as it shows that electric utility incumbents can support niche innovations, display niche and regime characteristics simultaneously, and react heterogeneously to similar external pressures. As a result, this thesis contributes to pluralizing incumbencies within sustainability transitions.


business model choice

Solar PV


niche-regime interaction

business relationships


Online, password 891934
Opponent: Eeva-Lotta Apajalahti, forskarassistent, LUT University


Maria Altunay

Chalmers, Teknikens ekonomi och organisation, Environmental Systems Analysis

Solar business model adoption by energy incumbents: the importance of strategic fit

Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions,; Vol. 40(2021)p. 501-520

Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift

Altunay M., Bergek A., Interaction between energy incumbents and solar entrants: Relationship status complicated

Elhandelsbolagen och solelens spridning: strategier och kritiska avvägningar

Energimyndigheten (2018-003170), 2019-01-01 -- 2020-12-31.


Hållbar utveckling


Tvärvetenskapliga studier

Övrig annan teknik






Online, password 891934


Opponent: Eeva-Lotta Apajalahti, forskarassistent, LUT University

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