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Who ‘Uses’ Smart Grids? The Evolving Nature of User Representations in Layered Infrastructures


  • Antti Silvast

    () (Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, UK)

  • Robin Williams

    () (Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH1 1LZ, UK)

  • Sampsa Hyysalo

    () (Aalto School of Art, Design and Architecture, Aalto University, FI-00076 AALTO Espoo, Finland)

  • Kjetil Rommetveit

    () (Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, University of Bergen, 5007 Bergen, Norway)

  • Charles Raab

    () (Politics and International Relations, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9LN, UK)


This article addresses the anticipated use and users of smart energy technologies and the contribution of these technologies to energy sustainability. It focuses on smart grids and smart energy meters. Qualitative accounts given by European technology developers and experts reveal how they understand the final use and social impacts of these technologies. The article analyzes these accounts and compares the UK’s smart meter rollout with experiences from other European countries, especially Finland, to provide insights into the later adoption stages of smart energy and how its impacts have evolved. The analysis highlights significant differences in the likely intensity and manner of user engagement with smart grids and meters: depending first on whether we are considering existing technologies or smart technologies that are expected to mature sometime in the next decade, and second on whether the ‘user’ is the user of smart meters or the user of an entire layer of new energy services and applications. By deploying the strategic approach developed in the article, smart grid developers and experts can give more explicit attention to recognizing the descriptions of ‘users’ in smart-grid projects and to the feasibility of these expectations of ‘use’ in comparison to the possibilities and limits of energy services and applications in different country contexts. The examination of user representations can also point out the need for further technology and service development if some of the envisioned user profiles and user actions appear unrealistic for presently available technologies.

Suggested Citation

  • Antti Silvast & Robin Williams & Sampsa Hyysalo & Kjetil Rommetveit & Charles Raab, 2018. "Who ‘Uses’ Smart Grids? The Evolving Nature of User Representations in Layered Infrastructures," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(10), pages 1-21, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:10:p:3738-:d:176275

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hug March & Álvaro-Francisco Morote & Antonio-Manuel Rico & David Saurí, 2017. "Household Smart Water Metering in Spain: Insights from the Experience of Remote Meter Reading in Alicante," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(4), pages 1-18, April.
    2. Verbong, Geert P.J. & Beemsterboer, Sjouke & Sengers, Frans, 2013. "Smart grids or smart users? Involving users in developing a low carbon electricity economy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 117-125.
    3. Petra Mesarić & Damira Đukec & Slavko Krajcar, 2017. "Exploring the Potential of Energy Consumers in Smart Grid Using Focus Group Methodology," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(8), pages 1-17, August.
    4. James Stewart & Sampsa Hyysalo, 2008. "Intermediaries, Users And Social Learning In Technological Innovation," International Journal of Innovation Management (ijim), World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., vol. 12(03), pages 295-325.
    5. Darby, Sarah J., 2012. "Metering: EU policy and implications for fuel poor households," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 98-106.
    6. Harriet Bulkeley & Gareth Powells & Sandra Bell, 2016. "Smart grids and the constitution of solar electricity conduct," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 48(1), pages 7-23, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Murto, Pekka & Jalas, Mikko & Juntunen, Jouni & Hyysalo, Sampsa, 2019. "The difficult process of adopting a comprehensive energy retrofit in housing companies: Barriers posed by nascent markets and complicated calculability," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 955-964.

    More about this item


    expectations; infrastructure; Science and Technology Studies; smart grid; smart meters; sociology of user representations.;

    JEL classification:

    • Q - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products


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