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  • Nigel Hargreaves

Socially smart grids?

Socially smart grids? A multi-criteria mapping of diverse stakeholder perspectives on smart energy futures in the United Kingdom

Energy Research and Social Science, 2022

N. Hargreaves, T. Hargreaves, J. Chilvers


Smart grids have been heralded as means to build more efficient, connected and sustainable energy systems yet they bring forward many possible futures and potential downsides. Whilst most existing analyses have been technical in focus, emerging social studies of smart grids have separately considered their imagined socio- technical futures, generalised public perceptions, or micro-scale responses in domestic and community settings. In this paper we aim to address the ‘social smartness’ of smart grid research by connecting these hitherto distinct strands of work through a distributed appraisal of potential future pathways for smart grid development in the United Kingdom. We involved diverse system actors (n = 26) ranging from experts and policy makers through to interested citizens in a multi-criteria mapping process to systematically appraise a range of sociotechnical smart grid visions. We present the core criteria that respondents developed to determine what it means for smart grids to be both technically and socially smart. These were: technical feasibility, environment, supply security, data security, governance, finance, user engagement, and equity. We show how both citizen and specialist appraisals support more distributed smart grid visions and call for solutions that democratise the energy system through inclusive forms of ownership and decision-making. We suggest that the challenge of developing smart grids in ways that are both socially and technically smart requires processes of responsible innovation to become more distributed across scales.


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