Accepted paper:

Smart grids: evolving relations between suppliers and consumers


Mark Lawson
Sandra Bell (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers the relationship between consumers and suppliers in the context of smart grids, proposing that smart grids comprise of both smart technologies and smart consumers. The paper explores the role electrical distributors play in promoting or restricting interactivity on the grid.

Paper long abstract:

It is expected that the transition to a low carbon future will involved major changes to the way energy is supplied and consumed [DECC 2009a]. At the centre of this change is the transformation of the electrical distribution system to a "smart grid", with the potential to enable consumers to become more active and engaged in the infrastructure of provision. [DECC 2009b]. Over recent decades electrical distribution networks have been designed around a passive mode of operation, scaled to meet system peaks and are based on the assumption that the needs of passive consumers are non-negotiable and incontrovertible. Embedded within the physical infrastructure is a representation of consumers' roles in the provision of electricity and how demand is managed [Vilet et al. 2005]. This mode of organisation is challenged by the new smart grid paradigm, which promotes a more active management of the network and represents an opportunity for utilities to draw consumers back into view and engage them as the co-managers of demand, rather than the passive beneficiaries of supply [Gellings 1996]. In this paper we explore how people's consumption shapes network development and how network development shapes consumption. We explore the concept of "smart" from the perspective of physical network technologies as well as its application to electrical consumers. We discuss how distributors conceptualise consumers. How these conceptions impact on the ways in which networks are designed and operated. We also ask how smart the electricity industry and energy policy makers might want consumers to become.

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Uncertain futures: the cultural dynamics of energy transition