Exploring incumbents’ agency: Institutional work by grid operators in decentralized energy innovations

Maria Galeano Galvan*, Eefje Cuppen, Mattijs Taanman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


The agency of incumbents has gained increasing attention in the study of transitions. Recent studies show that besides being inert and resistant to change, incumbents can also support transitions. We focus on the agency of a particular type of incumbent, grid operators. In several countries, these actors play an active role in institutional change in the energy domain. At the same time, they are engaging in activities to maintain the regime. This paper examines the actions of grid operators when performing institutional work, i.e. when creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions. We conducted a qualitative content analysis of Dutch media to analyze the actions of grid operators while engaging with decentralized energy innovations. We conclude that grid operators are both subject and object of institutional work as part of a distributed, collective process of institutional change. Furthermore, our analysis reflects on their paradoxical position as embedded actors engaging in institutional change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-92
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Innovation and Societal Transitions
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Decentralized energy innovations
  • Embedded agency
  • Energy transition
  • Grid operators
  • Incumbents
  • Institutional work


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