No smart networking without smart consumers

Increasing inter-connection between networks is likely to be an important feature of the electricity industry in Europe as the drive to maximise supplies of secure, low-carbon sources of energy increases over the coming decades. “Intelligent” networking can help us make the leap from marginal, intermittent power sources to steady, reliable base-load energy sources. However, unless so-called “smart grids” are adequately planned, funded and implemented, the supposed, inherent intelligent networking will collapse at the first dumb shortcoming.

Joining the dots... Image: OpenClipArt.org CC:BY

Like the nuclear power and the oil and gas drilling proponents before them, smart grid advocates are guilty of making unrealistic predictions to a political class eager to believe that nature’s complexity has been mastered. Smart Grids, without equivalent consideration of “Smart Generation”, additional transmission and storage capacity, “Smart Loads” (including energy efficient buildings and management processes),  reliable networks, “Smart Communities”, and most importantly “Smart Consumers”, are nothing more than continued technological hyperbole, and will only amount in another shameful monument to money.

Although great potential networking capability exists, information and communication technology should not be wasted on poorly considered and over-hyped, supply-side only responses, particularly when there are much more powerful and cost-effective energy saving solutions, using existing technologies and know-how.

The true future of power inter-connection will not be continued hierarchical, top-down, proprietary, closed and smart-in-nothing-but-name solutions, but transparent, distributive, collaborative and lateral networking responses. Moreover, the public have been underestimated for their impact to deliver on energy policy. There is strong evidence that by simply attempting new things, we become better at doing them.

Thus, it is only when behavioural change and distributed energy – where each home is an energy efficient dwelling, and a miniature-power plant – meets collaborative networks, will smart grids actually become a genuine, worthwhile utility.

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About Paul Parrish

Paul was the Policy and Advocacy Officer of the Sustainable Energy Security programme between November 2010 and November 2012.

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