What do experts talk about when they talk about users? Expectations and imagined users in the smart grid
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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OriginalversjonEnergy Efficiency. 2017, 10 (2), 283-297. 10.1007/s12053-016-9456-5
This is a study of the visions and expectations which have been put forward by experts about smart grids. Within the sociology of expectation, such visions are given performative significance, and as such these expectations can provide us with an idea of where smart grid development is intended to take us. In order to gain insight into these issues, this paper first undertakes a literature review of 40 smart grid research papers. Thereafter, the paper reviews the self-reporting of 19 smart grid demo projects within the ERA-Net research framework of the EU. The findings suggest that there are three distinct expert smart grid narratives about users, one economic, one technical, and one which consists of a social science critique. The first one seeks to facilitate for user rationality by economic incentives, whereas the second seeks largely to automate the consumption and thereby bypass the question of active users. Social science critique is found to evaluate imagined users and their potential correspondence with real ones. When actual failure of economic incentives is recorded in demo sites, the economic rationale narrative exhibits surprising resilience within the frameworks. Technical narratives reinforce the argument for bypassing the user with the aid of technology, thereby suggesting performativity at work. The discussion raises the question of the actual and perceived need for active users in the smart grid, and suggests that strategies for non-participation of end users in the smart grid are both relevant and necessary.