4.1. The ASKO Case
The current regime in which ASKO is operating is the grocery wholesale market in Norway, and the day-to-day operations of the company is to sell and distribute groceries to stores, retailers, and the restaurant and catering industry. To do this, the 13 regional forwarding hubs, of which ASKO Mid-Norway is one, are composed of large, energy intensive cold-storage buildings for storing the goods. ASKO Mid-Norway services around 1700 stores and restaurants in an 800-kilometre radius, and the goods kept within the cold storage buildings are transported by a fleet of around 50 diesel operated distribution trucks. As such, another important regime for ASKO to relate to is the national transport regime. Finally, getting the goods on and off the trucks is facilitated with the aid of forklifts in one end, and in the other, by the lift ramp on the back of the truck itself. In order to operate the lift, the truck needs to idle, thus it consumes diesel and cause large unnecessary emissions to occur, often in urban areas. All these points of energy expenditure, which are representative of how the dominant regime functions, are included in the plan of ASKO to reduce energy consumption, CO2 emissions, and increase energy self-sufficiency.
ASKO is part of a broader corporate structure with 10 regional branches spread out across Norway. In turn, a large national actor who owns a broad portfolio of corporations such as grocery store and fast food chains owns ASKO. Within this structure, well-defined formal rules and requirements regarding returns on investments has been long established. In other words, companies such as ASKO, have been embedded in a belief and value system where the core desired outcome has been guided by straightforward business economics with the goal of maximizing economic rewards and profit. For the last 7–8 years, however, a key group of owners within this structure, have been working to change the rules of this game. They have become environmental protagonists within ASKO, arguing for the importance of broader societal and environmental engagement in order for the company and the planet to survive. This has resulted in the overarching goals that are now causing the reconfiguration of many of ASKOs core operations. The vision has developed into becoming climate neutral in every aspect of ASKO’s operations. This vision became manifest through a decision by the board of directors where it was stressed that the return on environmentally oriented investments could be much lower that than return on “ordinary” investments. Thus, we see that ASKO have visionary owners and directors, with clearly articulated goals. These visions were established in the format of the board meeting but were not only expected to give new guiding principles within the organization. They were also expected to impact other actors in the sector, for whom ASKO wanted to be “ahead of the pack”.
It is interesting to note that this top-down push from the ASKO owners was on the one hand, a clearly articulated expectation. On the other hand, it was rather open, in the sense that it did not dictate how companies within the structure should work to become sustainable, only that they should. However, the vision was further translated into concrete goals of being 100% self-supplied with new renewable energy by 2020, as well as switching to 100% renewable fuels for transport.
On a corporate level, the first decision was to invest roughly 20 million euros in a wind park with 60 GHW annual capacity. This would cover the equivalent of 75% of all annual electricity consumption throughout the corporation. Several respondents from the regional branch spoke to how their own initiative was the result of a combination of the external push mentioned above and internal motivation. Thus, we can see how expectations were clearly articulated between members of the organization, and how they, at the same time, spurred local branches to think of their own solutions and to translate the general vision of the company to local needs and interests.
In terms of articulating expectations and visions, ASKO had adopted a robust and vertically integrated approach, to adhere to the terminology of Naber et al. [20
]. This included involving the entire workforce, from part-time warehouse workers to regional management, in their vision for ASKO as the most environmentally ambitious corporation in Norway. Articulations of visions may be labelled robust, in the way that they were shared by both top management, regional managers and employees.
We also found the articulations of expectations and visions to be deeply grounded: that is substantiated with ongoing experiments, research and development. As an example, at the time of the interviews, managers did not believe that the hydrogen production facility they were about to start, would be able to deliver as much hydrogen as they thought they would need after 2023. Hence, they targeted other actors more firmly anchored in renewable energy production and tried to enrol them in the future hydrogen fuel cell production. They were for instance, in dialogue with a regional electricity company that had a wind park near the coast which was identified as good fit for producing hydrogen. Winds were just as strong on the coast at night when one does not use much electricity, so producing hydrogen at night could be a way to avoid having to stop the wind turbines. In this sense, ASKO envisioned a future where their ongoing pilot project would be scaled up, and they were actively working to produce market- and framework conditions that would favour such a reality.
The new emphasis on environmental issues on a company level was used to promote what we can call community or individual acceptance of sustainable choices to employees, in other words, a “downward” enactment of transition-oriented agency. This can be interpreted as identity-oriented translation work, which in practical terms meant that the company established employee support mechanisms. An annual environmental fund of roughly 1 million Euro was established, from which employees could get funding for electric bikes, energy efficient home renovations, or tickets to use public transport. On-site, ASKO established electric vehicle chargers, which employees could use for free. Several respondents pointed out how this focus on the material and cognitive aspects of sustainability at the work place gave them a sense of pride and contributed to forming engagement and identity around the company, as a particularly sustainable frontrunner. Thus, ASKO used their own agency and capacity to create new spaces of involvement for their employees. This way they created deeper social networks, demonstrating that resource commitments of the firm and the employees were high.
ASKO was also involved in the building of broader social networks that aligned with their pilot experiment and the enrolment of external actors from other domains to aid them in creating viable socio-technical solutions. This is evident in the efforts made by ASKO Midt-Norge (the local branch) to reduce the idling of trucks in delivery mode using hydrogen. In these efforts, ASKO was initially reluctantly enrolled in a small research project aiming to test and make viable for markets a design for a diesel–hydrogen converter. Through employing this design to keep lift batteries charged and operational during delivery without idling, ASKO managed to reduce emissions from urban deliveries with about 85%. Still a prototype, the design was deemed a success, and the technology is currently part of a project to power mobile refrigeration. However, and most importantly, this collaboration sparked interest in the promise to use hydrogen to decarbonize distribution trucks and dispense with cumbersome necessity of charging batteries in the fleet of forklift trucks. Thus, we see that the social network was broadened, to consist of actors from logistics, research institutes, car manufacturers, electricity companies and, later, as we shall see below, policymakers.
In the case of ASKO, it became evident that the learning process became broad and multi-layered, taking place on several dimensions, impacting the organization through new rules and practices, technical design of the whole delivery operation as well as symbolic meanings related to electricity self-sufficiency and reaching their target of 100% renewable and carbon neutral by 2020. In other words, the experimental environment set up by ASKO still continues, and efforts are now focused on how to make use of hydrogen to fuel delivery trucks, further reducing emissions and fossil fuel consumption.
The regional ASKO manager noted how producing energy entailed a shift in company priorities, understandings and values so that energy and environmental issues became one of the most important things they were doing, in addition the core activity, which was to distribute goods. Their role as being part of a socio-political reality seemed to become more evident to the manager, as well as their capacity to influence and re-shape conditions by influencing the municipalities’ procurement rules, giving input to the Norwegian state budget and trying to influence the new national transport plan. Thus, we see typical second-order learnings happening in the ASKO case. We see learning that creates new expectations and create new goals in addition to goal-oriented first order learning and instances where broad networks involving users and outsiders strive to make innovative solutions to become part of market niches.
Furthermore, while ASKO focused on improving environmental performance on the one hand, the corporation is itself heavily involved in the formative processes surrounding national procurement, road and transport policies. As is customary in Norwegian politics, regulatory changes like these are presented to the public with a following hearing period, in which any interested parties may comment on the changes. ASKO used this as opportunities to suggest policies and regulations that would benefit the company and that could leverage environmental capabilities. In this way, expectations and visions were adjusted to accommodate even tougher environmental demands, which in turn would increase the value of environmental assets within a company. Thus, we see the example of a reflexive learning process where assumptions about underlying problem definitions, functions or desirability of solutions are questioned, as evident when ASKO seeks to influence municipality procurement policy to increase the significance of environmental impact of offers.
Other activities clearly aimed to change framework conditions. One example of this is that the ASKO corporation annually provided input to the Norwegian state budget. To this end, they collected input from regional ASKO branches with the goal of providing statements so clear, unambiguous and applicable that they “can just put it straight into the budget”. Also, when Norwegian road authorities drafted the new national transport plan a few years ago, ASKO provided an eight-page letter of input, clearly reflecting their environmental ambitions, claiming for instance that the price of renewable fuels, such as bio, electricity and hydrogen should be made competitive with fossil fuels and differentiated through taxes and incentives. This can of course be seen as a general plea for subsidies, but other statements indicate a more direct attempt to enrol the authorities in ASKOs’ solar-hydrogen agenda. ASKO considered the responses they received on their ideas to the national budget to be good, but it is difficult to assess their impact on national policy without further studies. ASKO ownership met regularly with politicians from all political parties to improve conditions as the strategy to sit around waiting for those conditions was not perceived effective. Conversely, a frontrunner strategy was expected to configure framework conditions to line up with the capabilities of the company. In this way, ASKO sought protection from public policy measures in line with typical niche protection strategies identified by the literature, while at the same time combining this with a role of regime player, wielding its power to protect its innovation by changing the rules of the game from within (i.e., by putting different demands of return from renewable projects).
In sum, we see that ASKO midt-Norge ventured into becoming one of the region’s largest solar power producers. Their endeavour into hydrogen also represents a re-articulation of how to manage intermittent electricity sources and matching production and consumption across infrastructures, sectors and seasons. Furthermore, the case illustrates how the boundaries of the traditional electricity system has increasingly become blurry, and how new networks have been constructed to solve tasks in novel ways. ASKO, as a grocery wholesaler and logistics firm, have not traditionally been part of this system as anything but a very large actor on the “demand side” of the energy system. Now they produced electricity and were venturing into fuel production, while using these assets to leverage disruption in the policy area—for their own benefit—but also for the benefit of a tangible sustainable transition with potential implications for the mobility sector.
Finally, the case illustrates the importance of trust built over time between actors when trying to establish unconventional solutions, showing how new combinations of actors and technologies might open new market opportunities. So far, the pilot project relies on economic support, and it is difficult to predict if framework conditions will change enough to make this economically feasible. However, ASKO has proved that they are prepared to take some losses to facilitate second order learning, reach new long-term gains and fulfil their visions.
4.2. The VLOTTE Case
The VLOTTE project is operated by Illwerke vkw and situated in the region of Vorarlberg in the western-most part of Austria. The project started in 2008 as a nationally funded research and demonstration project. At that time, it was the first e-mobility field test in Austria. Later, after a series of additional research projects carried out by the in-house project team, VLOTTE became its own brand and branch of Illwerke vkw. The project name VLOTTE was chosen at the very beginning and means a new fleet of vehicles (in German ‘Flotte’) in the Vorarlberg region. The project owner, Illwerke vkw, is a largely (95.5%) regional state-owned enterprise consisting of Vorarlberger Illwerke AG (peak and control energy and tourism), Vorarlberger Kraftwerke AG (energy supply, energy services and energy trading) and Vorarlberger Energienetze GmbH (electricity and gas network). National funding played an important role to stimulate the first activities, but the project also profited from a number of supportive local conditions. Today, Vorarlberg is one of the leading e-mobility regions in Europe.
In 2009, all political parties in the regional parliament agreed on the strategic goal of Vorarlberg becoming energy autonomous by 2050. The energy autonomy goal was understood as a process of development and design of a sustainable energy supply, aimed at fully meeting demand with renewable resources. To reach this goal, the regional government initiated several measures, the program for mobility planning for municipalities being one of them. A participatory vision building process served as the basis for reaching the climate goals after which working groups for the topics renewable energy, buildings, trade and industry as well as mobility and spatial planning were established. These working groups developed frameworks with concrete milestones for each topic. Currently, measures to be taken until 2020 have been agreed on, which is seen as the first stage of the plan to reach energy autonomy in the region by 2050. This process was guided by the European Union’s 2020 goals. The 1990 emissions level was taken as the initial point. For Vorarlberg, this means that the energy consumption must be reduced by 15% in comparison to 2005, CO2 emissions by 18% and the share of renewable energy has to be expanded by 13% in comparison to 2009. In this strategy for a climate-neutral Vorarlberg, 101 practical measures were formulated (Energieautonomie Vorarlberg 2011). The start of the VLOTTE project took place in the same period that the comprehensive strategy for Vorarlberg was developed. VLOTTE had started as a project initiated by the e-mobility model region funding program (Modellregionen der Elektromobilität) of the Climate and Energy Fund (Klima- und Energiefonds—KLIEN) and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (BMLFUW). E-mobility model regions were not common in Austria at that time, so the Climate and Energy Fund was one of the ground breakers for the establishment of electric mobility.
The general idea behind the e-mobility model region program was to test different e-mobility systems in different regions of Austria and thereby pave the way for e-mobility technology for everyday life. The funding program included three stages: First, to test electric mobility in different regions and building up different systems; second, funding of networking and consolidating projects in cooperation with the different model regions; third, spreading of experiences and gained knowledge in the whole country (Klima- und Energiefonds 2017). The different actions and focal points of the project on vehicles, infrastructure, business and distribution models made it possible to bring around 2000 e-vehicles on the streets and to install about 3000 charging points between 2009 and 2011. The last call of the funding program was in 2014.
At the beginning of the VLOTTE project, in 2008, the development of e-mobility was in a very early phase and there was a very limited amount of charging infrastructure. The proposition for this e-mobility model region was to establish an overall mobility concept for the region and was later included as part of a comprehensive plan for Vorarlberg to become energy self-sufficient by 2050. The main vision of VLOTTE was to establish an e-mobility model region and therefore prove the suitability for daily use of e-vehicles. In the early days, VLOTTE did not have a specific focus, but applied a rather broad approach: new plants for renewable energy were built, charging infrastructure was established and early e-vehicles were brought to Vorarlberg. In this early phase, e-vehicles were not common and mass-produced electric vehicles did not exist. Therefore, experimental e-vehicles and conversion vehicles came into use. The project started with four Th!nk City from the Norwegian company Think Global.
The target group was composed of 40% public administration, 40% businesses and 20% private customers. However, in the beginning, public administration institutions and businesses were the most interested due to the risks and the high costs and perceived as forerunners in the e-mobility innovation process. After the launch of EV models like Mitsubishi i-MiEV private persons were addressed to a greater extent. In 2011, 44% of all new registrations of e-vehicles registered in Austria were within the project VLOTTE (279 e-vehicles). After the publicly funded project phase, Illwerke vkw turned VLOTTE into a business model, which is still operative today. The early business model of VLOTTE was built around a mobility card (Mobilitätskarte), which costs around 500 €/month. It covered the lease of an EV, maintenance costs, a ticket for public transport in Vorarlberg, unlimited access to charging stations and membership in the Austrian automobile club with roadside assistance offered by a large national automobile association. After four years of use, the customers could buy the e-vehicle for 25% of the original price. This was followed up with e-stations where e-vehicles, -scooters and -bikes could be rented. From 2011, it was possible for business and public administration customers to return the car to the leasing company, which cooperated with the VLOTTE project after five years of use. Another important part of the development was establishing an e-mobility centre that, in addition to be a meeting place for vendors, businesses and the public, actively fostered positive attitudes with comprehensive consulting and technical services for e-mobility.
Thus, the VLOTTE project has in fact undergone many iterations moving from being publicly funded into being supported by a viable business model, and the articulation of expectations and visions has been maintained and adjusted accordingly during these different phases. It started out with a broad, but still clear vision to develop an overall mobility concept for the region and prove the suitability for daily use of e-vehicles, later as part of the plan for Vorarlberg to become energy self-sufficient by 2050. Today the vision, representing a marketable e-mobility solution that is affordable and supported by a strong charging infrastructure, is shared by many of the members of the community. Thus, it is both robust and it is deeply grounded, substantiated by ongoing experiments and research projects.
The final stage of VLOTTE has focused heavily on building social networks and the enrolment of a growing number of actors. With the last iteration, business and restaurants have been enrolled to make them able to offer e-parking and charging. While the first phases were focused on disseminating e-mobility through relevant infrastructure upgrades, the latter stages have been business- and user-oriented. A concrete example of this is the transformation of the company’s own vehicle fleet. Here, the company aimed to show how a vehicle fleet could be converted step by step to e-mobility using only renewable energy sources with distinct spill-over effects to the local regional community. The project also includes an existing car park and integrates a large on-site rooftop PV system. However, a reinforced grid connection was deliberately omitted in the process—thus, adding a realistic incumbent regime constraint. Instead of a stronger network connection, the problem of charging many electric vehicles at the same time was solved by developing an online-based reservation system and an intelligent load management system.
Another example is where a business owner approached the VLOTTE team requesting that public charging infrastructure to be built at their car park facilities, which incidentally is also the parking space for a nearby shopping centre. Eventually, a fast-charging station was built that is available to use for the company that requested it, but also for any citizen holding an e-mobility card (vkw Mobilitätskarte). This project made use of the knowledge and experience gained from their own fleet project and represents a concrete step towards the dissemination of electric vehicle fleets in the region. Together with the customer and the local network operator, which is closely linked to the VLOTTE project via the common holding company (illwerke vkw), VLOTTE staff developed a cooperation model from which both sides benefit financially. It enables the electric vehicles of the client fleet to be charged quickly. At the same time, the necessary investment costs on the part of the network operator could be kept low.
Thus, we can clearly see that the social networks of the VLOTTE case have been broadened as the pilot have targeted more and more actors from different sectors and that the resource commitment of the operators of VLOTTE is deep to refer to the terminology of Naber et al. [20
]. This is related to another dimension that have been very important for the upscaling of the VLOTTE case; the social learning happening in the pilot.
When the Illwerke vkw began to convert its own vehicle fleet to electric vehicles it was configured in such a manner that the cars in the fleet can be easily booked by the employees and at the same time necessary data for the state of charge is collected. Introducing e-mobility in this way constituted a stepwise learning process, which is still ongoing today, but is proving successful in introducing e-mobility on the company level. The learning takes place on several dimensions. In relation to the technical design an automated booking system makes sure the cars are given time to charge, and makes sure the load constraint in the local system is balanced with demand response capability. Thus, the company is also learning how to balance the local grid as part of this solution. This is important since the car park still has a limited grid connection, although in this case it would have been easy to have the network connection strengthened by the participating network operator. To maintain this balance the system can leverage the 60 kWp rooftop solar PV and two Zebra batteries taken from decommissioned Th!nk electric vehicles. Altogether, this has also added a symbolic component to the learning process, because the company, which had been involved in several eco-related projects, and the employees report that their efforts to green up their transportation has fostered a pride in their workplace. Driving around with their EVs has, according to the employees, had a positive effect by bolstering the good name and reputation of the company.
In sum, the experiment and demonstration activity fostered by the VLOTTE project has proven that load management in the car park works well and helps to charge a larger number EVs without the need to expand local load capacity. EVs are charged when needed and at the same time additional financial investments in network infrastructure were avoided. When it comes to social network building, a significant part of the success of VLOTTE is based on the strong connection between Illwerke vkw and the regional government. As with the ASKO case, political visions directly influence the strategic orientation of the company and vice versa, giving evidence of ambitions to transform at least some features of the existing system. The cooperation with customers and the meeting of customers’ demands has been positive, as exemplified in the tailor-made company e-fleet solution. VLOTTE have succeeded in preparing a favourable and well-working environment for e-mobility including charging infrastructure expansion (e.g., it is today the region with the highest number of charging points per capita in Austria), a broad range of consulting services (e.g., tailor-made energy solutions), new business models (e.g., public–private charging station) and products (e.g., virtual electricity storage using existing pumped-hydro facilities). Thus, we see that reflexive learning processes have been an integral part of contributing to the upscaling of the pilot, adjusting the project in accordance with functions, or desirability of solutions along the way.
We also see that the VLOTTE case has been growing as the experiment continues and more actors participate in the pilot, the market demand has increased, and the pilot has grown in both size and activity. In addition, the pilot has been linked to other experiments (such as field tests with stationary batteries in private households) and some of the achievements of the VLOTTE project have been replicated at other locations. Today, Vorarlberg is the region in Austria with the highest penetration of EVs, and the expansion of VLOTTE to Salzburg is also due to the successful implementation of e-mobility in Vorarlberg. Thus, we see that the pilot has been scaled up in several ways: it has grown, become more diversified and comprehensive, accumulated and contributed to transforming the regime selection environment.