This article analyzes ‘rules of the game’ that influence decision-making concerning the introduction of smart energy systems. Smart energy systems are considered as a solution to optimize and make energy systems ‘future-proof’. Their introduction, however, is challenged by a complex multi-stakeholder configuration, and by ‘rules of the game’ (institutional conditions) which are essential for the cooperation between stakeholders but perceived to be outdated. To address this issue, the central research question in this article is: ‘which institutional conditions enable or disable decision-making processes regarding the introduction of smart energy systems in selected city district development projects?’ We conducted in-depth interviews and collected secondary data for four case studies in the Netherlands. Data were analysed, and cases were compared using the Institutional Analysis and Development framework, and the method of causal process tracing. The results reveal that only stakeholders in the position of project leader were actively pursuing the projects’ goals (position rules), legal barriers as well as path dependency of previous decisions limited the available choices (choice rules), and agreement was lacking on sharing costs and benefits (aggregation rules). As ‘rules of the game’ for decision-making continue to present a challenge for the introduction of smart energy systems, future research and policy-making should pay attention to the creation and adequate orchestration of such rules.
- Smart energy system