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Innovation networks in the German energy industry: An empirical analysis of inter-organizational knowledge transfer

Michael Kolloch (University of Bamberg, Bamberg, Germany)
Fabian Reck (University of Bamberg, Bamberg, Germany)

International Journal of Energy Sector Management

ISSN: 1750-6220

Article publication date: 5 June 2017




This paper aims to focus on how different types of knowledge are exchanged within innovation networks in the German energy industry. External factors such as market pressure through liberalization, de-carbonization and decentralization challenge established actors in the industry. Answers to these challenges cannot be found by single actors but require networks to gather and concentrate innovation activities. This implies a need for knowledge transfer among energy providers. The authors aim at exploring knowledge exchange relations in-depth by treating them as multidimensional flows which can comprise technological, market, managerial or regulatory knowledge. In detail, the authors examine patterns of knowledge exchange on network-, dyad- and firm-level. Furthermore, first, empiric results are provided on how two of these patterns, namely, a firm’s propensity to form multiplex instead of uniplex ties as well as the composition of externally acquired knowledge concerning the four types, influence organizational innovativeness.


The authors address their research questions by conducting an in-depth investigation of the largest network of municipal utilities in Germany. The analysis is based on quantitative data collected via standardized online questionnaires drawing on socio-metric methods to reconstruct knowledge exchange networks as well as traditional approaches from socio-empiric research to evaluate firm innovativeness.


The findings indicate that while technological, market, managerial and regulatory knowledge represent different types of knowledge with different exchange patterns, these transfers are interdependent. In particular, the analysis reveals non-hierarchical relations of complementarity. The authors furthermore provide evidence for the existence of ideal profiles for attaining different types of innovation. One central tendency across all of these profiles is that outperformers acquire regulatory knowledge to a significantly lesser degree than other firms and focus more on the other types instead.

Research limitations/implications

This paper solely focusses on the largest network of municipal utilities whereby it is questionable how representative it is for the whole industry. Additionally, due to the cross-sectional design, the paper cannot fully rule out issues of endogeneity in the quantitative analysis.

Practical implications

This paper delivers valuable insights for managers in the energy sector who seek to either enter and manage inter-organizational networks or apply external knowledge to foster innovation. In particular, the authors reveal benchmark profiles for external knowledge acquisition which may serve as templates for strategic collaboration and innovation management.


To the authors’ knowledge, this paper presents the first innovation-related network analysis in the energy industry. Rather than operationalizing knowledge transfer as a simplex flow relation, the authors examine different types of knowledge, their patterns of exchange and their distinct effects on process, product and administrative innovations.



Kolloch, M. and Reck, F. (2017), "Innovation networks in the German energy industry: An empirical analysis of inter-organizational knowledge transfer", International Journal of Energy Sector Management, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 268-294.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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