Accepted Paper:

Designing solidarity between smart grids and their users  


Georgia Gaye (IGEAT - Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Grégoire Wallenborn (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Paper long abstract:

Our paper explores how uses of electricity might be re-configured through the design of new interfaces between the grid and its users. Smart metering, flexibility, demand response, smart appliances… All this terms have been recently linked to "smart grids" and mark the possible advent of consumer engagement into grid management. Consumers remain, however, one of the main unknowns of smart grid future. They are often considered as important actors, although it is not clear how this "material participation" (Marres 2012) would occur.

In order to analyse the solidarities between users and electricity grids, we consider electricity as an actor-network. Electricity is materialised and made possible via a wide range of infrastructures and institutions. The grid consists of a multitude of actors who have each a role defined. The advent of smart grids redistributes the roles of all these actors. From the end user perspective, electricity flows invisibly, although it makes possible a series of actions and practices. Making electricity "visible" mean to unfold the network that compounds it, and to highlight relevant elements.

The paper will present results from co-design sessions in which users have been enabled to configure what are the relevant solidarities with the electricity grid. In our co-design sessions we have adopted a bottom-up approach that allows us to investigate new solidarities, beyond the common units of kWh and Euros. The role of the interface is to enable the user to become an actor of the grid reconfiguration. Therefore, the interface translates a broad socio-technical network, reflecting the electricity grid infrastructure and its current state.

Panel L4
Energy controversies and technology conflicts