The Smart Grid

With goals set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining security of electricity supply to end-users, renewable energy technologies are projected to be widely deployed by the middle of this century. A paradigm shift in electricity supply is required because the traditional centralized way of generation, transport and one-way distribution through the grid will be changed toward decentralized systems and two-way distribution. This will involve and impact all stakeholders in the chain from generating companies, system operators and consumers. Especially with decentralized electricity generation units such as photovoltaic solar energy modules and micro combined heat and power units, the traditional consumer can now act as a generating company and even sell or trade his electricity on the market. Here, ICT and artificial intelligence embodied in ‘smart meters’ will play an important role in the emerging technology of smart electricity grids. Where in the past the consumer could solve an electricity failure at home by just replacing a fuse, (s)he may now need the assistance of a software engineer or a helpdesk. In other fields, consumer dependence on high-tech helpdesks has turned already into nightmares for low-tech consumers. If such concerns are not taken on board adequately upstream during the early stages of the smart net innovation, it may turn the whole technology into a failure in the implementation phase, which we cannot afford in view of the desired transition to a large scale decentralized renewable energy system. Within EPINET the focus will be in the area of consumer interaction with both the smart meter and its possibilities of control of her/his demand. We aim to elicit the conditions that need to be met for a smart electricity grid to be a socially robust and socially acceptable technology. This also involves legal dimensions related to privacy, data access, but also to discrimination and unfair exclusion. New economic models of electricity tariffs may tempt the consumer to adapt his electricity usage so as to minimize his electricity bill, by, e.g., delivering his surplus electricity to his neighbor or local electricity cooperative or a nation-wide electricity trader or producer.

Assessment methodologies involved: media analysis, risk and uncertainty analysis, vision assessment, multi-scale integrated assessment, ethics and law.