The electricity sector is undergoing structural changes due to a confluence of forces that can conveniently be summarized as the “Four D’s”: decarbonization, digitalization, decentralization, and deregulation.
While the energy transition holds the promise of new technologies, business models and competitive landscapes, the journey for any company toward these endpoints is highly uncertain. This is true for both incumbents and new entrants.
Incumbents may have assets, experience, and capital, however the “business as usual” deployment of these capabilities may not be enough to achieve decarbonization at the necessary scale and speed, making it difficult for these firms to thrive in the future. New entrants may have agility, ideas and cutting-edge knowledge, but not necessarily the experience and resources to build, test and deploy their solutions economically or at scale.
In response, incumbents and new entrants may overcome their strategic constraints and complement each other in an open innovation environment in order to co-develop mutually beneficial solutions, accelerating both competitive advantage and achievement of ‘net-zero’ ambitions.
The Free Electrons program is a manifestation of such an open innovation environment and provides a rich case study on how and why (i) complementary actors can apply ecosystems strategies to realize a ‘net-zero’ energy future (ii) heterogeneous actors organize themselves and form meaningful collaborations in an open innovation environment; (iii) new capabilities (business models, technologies, markets) are enabled or hindered by firm organizational structures; (iv) individuals – acting as “corporate boundary spanners” – navigate an open innovation setting; and (v) virtual formats allow the building of personal relationships, trust and a shared identity in multi-party collaborations.
The ongoing research will seek to answer these questions as part of a longitudinal examination of the program and publish findings in both academic and practitioner outlets. The envisioned practical impact of this work is to better inform the design and performance of innovation and deployment efforts in the energy sector.