Smart grids – history, present and futureShow/Hide content

The first electric grids was formed in the 1880s as local networks around individual power stations. At an early stage, there was great uncertainty about which development path would dominate, which is clearly illustrated by the war between direct and alternating current. Over time, the electric grids grew into a complex collaboration between scientific and technical knowledge, access to new materials, new forms of organization, urban development, power struggles, social relations and political and cultural visions. During the 20th century, access to electricity and the structure of electric grids have characterized society's development from micro to macro level. In retrospect, development may seem obvious, but in a non-deterministic world characterized by increased complexity and a variety of sociotechnical mechanisms and dimensions, we may consider it probable that minor shifts could lead to completely different paths of development. The same applies today, the future is not locked but offers different paths.

To understand the current situation and the importance of different courses of action, we need to become familiar with both alternative visions of radically different future electric systems and the mechanisms that guide development in one direction or another. This highlights the broad and time stretched lines in the development of electric grids. To understand the mechanisms and gain perspective on our own time, we can look back and get an idea of the history of electric systems, why they became what they became and what alternative paths were never taken. We need to understand the interplay between society, culture and technology. How has the view of humans within the energy system changed over time and what do the insights mean for sustainable societal development? Which stakeholder groups are included and excluded? What makes certain discourses and visions gain strength? What role does scientific development play as an enabler in relation to established industrial structures and economic interests?