Business Models as Drivers of the Low Carbon Power System Transition: A Multi-Level Perspective

Authors: Martin E. Wainstein and Adam G. Bumpus

Abstract: Decarbonising the electrical power system holds a critical role in climate change mitigation. Recent developments in technology are helping change the current centralized paradigm into one of integrated distributed clean energy resources. In spite of these developments, radical transformation is not occurring at a speed to effectively meet environmental targets, mostly due to the incumbent carbon lock-in trajectory. We argue that business model (BM) innovation dynamics are key drivers in accelerating the low carbon power system transition, often operating irrespective of the underlying technology. We combine BM theory with the multi-level perspective on sociotechnical transitions to present a useful framework to analyze this potential transition. This paper presents the application of this framework characterizing relevant BM dynamics of niche and regime business actors, and supporting these with illustrative examples. Particularly, we find that new actors in the distributed energy business are achieving market scale by offering financially innovative BMs that do not require upfront costs from customers. Higher penetrations of renewable energy sources in liberalized electricity markets are destabilizing the historical BM of large centralized utilities through erosion of wholesale prices. Furthermore, a shift towards distributed and dynamic energy resources further challenges incumbents and might bring opportunities for BMs focused on active customer participation and social value creation. As these tendencies are expected to accelerate, we find analyses of BMs will have important relevance for future power system transition research.

Citation: Wainstein, Martin E. and Bumpus, Adam G. 2016. Business Models as Drivers of the Low Carbon Power System Transition: A Multi-Level Perspective. Journal of Cleaner Production. In Press. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.02.095