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Uncertainty, vision, and the vitality of the emerging smart grid

Abstract : This paper answers an important question consensually identified as crucial for smart grid roll-out. Our objective is to highlight the reasons for economic, technological and regulatory uncertainty continuing in the smart grid sector. The argument of this paper is that to face uncertainty, actors adopted strategic positioning but not systematically favoring the emergence of a structuring and shared vision of smart grid. However, converging visions are necessary to limit uncertainty and thus secure the sector's development and durability in the coming years. The results presented here are based on two methodological approaches. First, a social network analysis of worldwide relationships between smart grid actors has been performed to characterize the actors' positioning strategies. The paper identifies four categories of actors: local observers, global observers, experimenters, and central actors. Second, a qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with approximately 30 French smart grid stakeholders gave us information on discourses and perceptions of the sector's reality and constraints. It appeared that smart grid merges both long-established actors in the smart grid focal sector, i.e., energy, promoting a highly accurate but strictly energy-oriented perception, and new entrants coming from related sectors such as ICT, offering an open but indistinct perspective. Therefore, stakeholders diverge on the definition and potential source of added value. These results help to elucidate the transition of socio-technical systems. Indeed, at this very moment when contextual uncertainty remains high, it appears that actors from the focal sector play a crucial part in driving the current sector development, whereas new entrants remain unable to modify the sec-tor's regime decisively. One can interpret this situation as a sign of the failure of the smart grid sector to emerge as such. Conversely, one can see here an evolution of focal actors' strategies regarding uncertainty in an innovative socio-technical system in transition. To solve this issue, further studies should be conducted both on the smart grid sector to see how it will evolve and on other sectors to search for similar trends.
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Aurelie Tricoire. Uncertainty, vision, and the vitality of the emerging smart grid. Energy Research & Social Science, Elsevier, 2015, 9, pp.21-34. ⟨10.1016/j.erss.2015.08.028⟩. ⟨hal-02351994⟩

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