Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The next phase of the energy transition and its implications for research and policy


In many places, the electricity sector is transitioning towards greater share of renewable energy technologies. In the initial phase of the transition, a primary concern for research and policy was to establish renewables as technically and economically viable options. Today, the situation is different: renewables are diffusing rapidly in many electricity grids, thereby generating major changes for existing technologies, organizations and infrastructures. In this new phase of the energy transition, we do not just witness an acceleration of earlier transition dynamics, but also qualitatively new phenomena. These include a complex interaction of multiple technologies, the decline of established business models and technologies, intensified economic and political struggles of key actors such as utility companies and industry associations, and major challenges for the overall functioning and performance of the electricity sector (for example, when integrating renewables). Drawing on a transition studies perspective, this paper compares the two phases and discusses implications for research and policymaking.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Mitchell, C. Momentum is increasing towards a flexible electricity system based on renewables. Nat. Energy 1, 15030 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Geels, F. W. et al. The enactment of socio-technical transition pathways: A reformulated typology and a comparative multi-level analysis of the German and UK low-carbon electricity transitions (1990-2014). Res. Pol. 45, 896–913 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Markard, J. & Hoffmann, V. H. Analysis of complementarities: Framework and examples from the energy transition. Technol. Forecast. Soc. 111, 63–75 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Markard, J., Raven, R. & Truffer, B. Sustainability Transitions: An emerging field of research and its prospects. Res. Pol. 41, 955–967 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Geels, F. W., Sovacool, B. K., Schwanen, T. & Sorrell, S. Sociotechnical transitions for deep decarbonization. Science 357, 1242–1244 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Smith, A., Voß, J.-P. & Grin, J. Innovation studies and sustainability transitions: The allure of the multi-level perspective and its challenges. Res. Pol. 39, 435–448 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Geels, F. W., Berkhout, F. & van Vuuren, D. P. Bridging analytical approaches for low-carbon transitions. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 576 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Kern, F. & Markard, J. in The Palgrave Handbook of the International Political Economy of Energy (eds Van de Graf, T. et al.) Ch. 12, 291–318 (Palgrave Macmillan UK, London, 2016).

  9. Stirling, A. Transforming power: Social science and the politics of energy choices. Energy Res. Soc. Sci 1, 83–95 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Rittel, H. W. J. & Webber, M. M. Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Pol. Sci. 4, 155–169 (1973).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Mowery, D. C., Nelson, R. R. & Martin, B. R. Technology policy and global warming: Why new policy models are needed (or why putting new wine in old bottles won't work). Res. Pol. 39, 1011–1023 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Shove, E. & Walker, G. CAUTION! Transitions ahead: politics, practice and sustainable transition management. Environ. Planning A 39, 763–770 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Garud, R., Gehman, J. & Karnoe, P. in Research in the Sociology of Work: Institutions and Entrepreneurship Vol. 21 (eds Sine, W. D. & David, R.) 51–93 (Emerald Group Publishing Ltd, Bingley, 2010).

  14. Rosenbloom, D., Berton, H. & Meadowcroft, J. Framing the sun: A discursive approach to understanding multi-dimensional interactions within socio-technical transitions through the case of solar electricity in Ontario, Canada. Res. Pol. 45, 1275–1290 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Bergek, A. et al. Technological innovation systems in contexts: Conceptualizing contextual structures and interaction dynamics. Environ. Innov. Soc. Trans. 16, 51–64 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Coenen, L., Benneworth, P. & Truffer, B. Towards a spatial perspective on sustainability transitions. Res. Pol. 41, 968–979 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Grubler, A. Energy transitions research: Insights and cautionary tales. Energy Policy 50, 8–16 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. van den Bergh, J. C. J. M. Policies to enhance economic feasibility of a sustainable energy transition. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 2436–2437 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Rotmans, J., Kemp, R. & van Asselt, M. More evolution than revolution. Transition management in public policy. Foresight 3, 15–31 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Raven, R. Niche accumulation and hybridisation strategies in transition processes towards a sustainable energy system: An assessment of differences and pitfalls. Energy Policy 35, 2390–2400 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Musiolik, J., Markard, J. & Hekkert, M. Networks and network resources in technological innovation systems: Towards a conceptual framework for system building. Technol. Forecast. Soc. 79, 1032–1048 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Stenzel, T. & Frenzel, A. Regulating technological change—The strategic reactions of utility companies towards subsidy policies in the German, Spanish and UK electricity markets. Energy Policy. 36, 2645–2657 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. van Lente, H. & Bakker, S. Competing expectations: the case of hydrogen storage technologies. Technol. Anal. Strat. Manage. 22, 693–709 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Global Wind Report 2015 - Annual market update (Global Wind Energy Council, Brussels, 2016).

  25. Snapshot of Global Photovoltaics Markets (International Energy Agency, 2017).

  26. Kungl, G. Stewards or sticklers for change? Incumbent energy providers and the politics of the German energy transition. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 8, 13–23 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lauber, V. & Jacobsson, S. The politics and economics of constructing, contesting and restricting socio-political space for renewables - The German Renewable Energy Act. Environ. Innov. Soc. Trans. 18, 147–163 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Bird, L., Milligan, M. & Lew, D. Integrating Variable Renewable Energy: Challenges and Solutions. (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colorado, 2013).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  29. Sutherland, L.-A., Peter, S. & Zagata, L. Conceptualising multi-regime interactions: The role of the agriculture sector in renewable energy transitions. Res. Pol. 44, 1543–1554 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Erlinghagen, S. & Markard, J. Smart grids and the transformation of the electricity sector: ICT firms as potential catalysts for sectoral change. Energy Policy 51, 895–906 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Dijk, M., Wells, P. & Kemp, R. Will the momentum of the electric car last? Testing an hypothesis on disruptive innovation. Technol. Forecast. Soc. 105, 77–88 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Rosenbloom, D. Pathways: An emerging concept for the theory and governance of low-carbon transitions. Glob. Environ. Chang. 43, 37–50 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Sandén, B. A. & Hillman, K. M. A framework for analysis of multi-mode interaction among technologies with examples from the history of alternative transport fuels in Sweden. Res. Pol. 40, 403–414 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Stephan, A., Schmidt, T. S., Bening, C. R. & Hoffmann, V. H. The sectoral configuration of technological innovation systems: Patterns of knowledge development and diffusion in the lithium-ion battery technology in Japan. Res. Pol. 46, 709–723 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Lamberg, J.-A., Ojala, J. & Peltoniemi, M. Thinking about industry decline: A qualitative meta-analysis and future research directions. Bus. Hist. 60, 127–156 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Turnheim, B. & Geels, F. W. Regime destabilisation as the flipside of energy transitions: Lessons from the history of the British coal industry (1913–1997). Energy Policy 50, 35–49 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Hess, D. J. Sustainability transitions: A political coalition perspective. Res. Pol. 43, 278–283 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Markard, J., Suter, M. & Ingold, K. Socio-technical transitions and policy change – Advocacy coalitions in Swiss energy policy. Environ. Innov. Soc. Trans. 18, 215–237 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Voß, J.-P., Bauknecht, D. & Kemp, R. Reflexive Governance for Sustainable Development (Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2006).

  40. Stirling, A. Pluralising progress: From integrative transitions to transformative diversity. Environ. Innov. Soc. Trans. 1, 82–88 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Jacobsson, S. & Bergek, A. Innovation system analyses and sustainability transitions: Contributions and suggestions for research. Environ. Innov. Soc. Trans. 1, 41–57 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Kivimaa, P. & Kern, F. Creative destruction or mere niche support? Innovation policy mixes for sustainability transitions. Res. Pol. 45, 205–217 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Rogge, K. S. & Reichardt, K. Policy mixes for sustainability transitions: An extended concept and framework for analysis. Res. Pol. 45, 1620–1635 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Stegmaier, P., Kuhlmann, S. & Visser, V. R. in The Governance of Socio-Technical Systems (eds Borrás, S. & Edler, J.) Ch. 6, 111–131 (Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2014).

  45. Stirling, A. Transforming power: Social science and the politics of energy choices. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 1, 83–95 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Sovacool, B. K. How long will it take? Conceptualizing the temporal dynamics of energy transitions. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 13, 202–215 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Binz, C. & Truffer, B. Global Innovation Systems—A conceptual framework for innovation dynamics in transnational contexts. Res. Pol. 46, 1284–1298 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Electricity Information 2017. III–157, 213, 462, 517 (IEA, 2017).

  49. Electric Generation Capacity & Energy (California Energy Commission, accessed 12 April 2018);

  50. Stromerzeugung nach Energieträgern 1990-2017 (accessed 12 April 2018);

Download references


This research has received funding from the Research Council of Norway (Energix program, Project ‘Integration of Power Transmission Grids’, grant no. 243994) and it is also part of the activities of the Swiss Competence Center for Energy Research (SCCER CREST), financially supported by Innosuisse under grant no. KTI 1155000154. I thank V. Hoffmann, A. D. Andersen, B. Girod, F. Kern, C. Knoeri, M. Schwartz and B. Turnheim for their comments.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jochen Markard.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The author declares no competing interests.

Additional information

Publishers note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Markard, J. The next phase of the energy transition and its implications for research and policy. Nat Energy 3, 628–633 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing