How does the transition to a smart energy system take shape? What are the tensions and synergies that arise between existing organizations and structures, and new parties and developments influencing the future energy system? To answer these questions, DRIFT led the Transition Patterns Enabling Smart Energy Systems research project.


The research focuses on the energy transition in the Netherlands. At this stage, it is far from clear how the transition to a Smart Energy System will take shape. Demographic, economic and ecological developments are leading to an increasing destabilization of the incumbent centralized and predominantly fossil-fuel based energy regime, thereby increasing structural and systemic uncertainties for actors operating at regime, niche and landscape level. For the medium term, stakeholders need to cope with uncertainties. This means the energy sector must take an exploratory and evolutionary manner, where mutual learning takes center stage.


SES developments are at the core of this research project. Taking a transition perspective, a Smart Energy System is be understood as an emergent socio-technical system developing out of interacting dynamics between external societal landscape drivers, innovation within the current centralized energy regime, and emerging, decentralized energy niches that involve technological, social innovation and/or institutional innovation.


The project addresses:

  • the tensions, dynamics and challenges facing the incumbent regime;
  • the tensions, dynamics and synergies in and between niches;
  • their interaction patterns, institutional developments, and collective long-term challenges.


In close exchange with a variety of practitioners and consortium partner Alliander, we examine how synergies and conflicts emerge when top-down and bottom-up innovations meet, while conceptualizing the development of SES as a desired and mediated social learning and co-creation process between regime and niche actors and technologies. Subsequently, we will explore the possible challenges and opportunities for developing towards SES along the least disruptive of the possible transition patterns (the so-called ‘hybrid transition pattern’) and develop ideas and suggestions for institutional designs and actor strategies.


Duration of the project

The TRAPESES project runs from May 2014 until May 2018


Client(s)/Commissioning party

The project has been funded by a research grant of € 600.000 from NWO, the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research.



The project consists of a research consortium led by DRIFT and further comprises of IVM (Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University Amsterdam), Economics of Infrastructures Section, TPM (Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, TU Delft) and grid operator Alliander. Furthermore, the user committee involving 25+ societal stakeholders guarantees mutual learning between actors and researchers and valorisation of the results.



Rick Bosman, Antonia Proka