Architectural change in accelerating transitions

Insights from the German energy transition

As transitions accelerate, they often increase in depth and scope. Transition dynamics may go beyond changes in core technologies to include architectural change at the system level. In this paper, we study actor preferences for system technologies that underpin different system architectures. System technologies are important as they can affect the pace and direction of transitions including system architecture. Our empirical case is the transition in the German electricity system where actors disagree about how decentralised the system architecture should become. In electricity, system technologies ensure stable supply by e.g. providing flexibility for the integration of variable renewable energies. We find that many incumbents mainly prefer established centralized system technologies but because these are difficult to expand, they reluctantly accept a role for novel and immature decentralized system technologies. As for challengers, there are important differences from incumbents in terms of when and to what extent new system technologies are needed and how they should be supported. We make two contributions to the literature: 1) we introduce system technology as a concept and use it to illustrate tensions between the pace and direction of accelerating transitions, and 2) we show how actor roles and positions become more fluid during acceleration.