The role of households in the smart grids

The energy system has traditionally been dominated by large, well-established companies and characterized by centralized and high-tech production, but the transition to an energy-efficient, low-fossil and climate-smart economy requires a more decentralized and open system involving society as a whole. 

In the energy system of the future, the focus must be on the citizens. This was stated by the European Commission in late autumn 2016. One of the proposals for measures that promote this development is to increase own production of electricity and the flexibility of demand in the electric system. According to the Swedish Energy Market Inspectorate's definition, demand flexibility is a voluntary change in demand for electricity from the electricity grid for shorter or longer periods as a result of some form of incentive.

Appealing to be self-sufficient

The opportunity to produce and store their own electricity to become more or less self-sufficient and thus less dependent on their electricity company is appealing to many consumers. The technical development required for this purpose are in principle already met, but there are few examples of research projects and commercial activities that combine the application of several different technologies for production, storage, measurement and feedback. This applies in particular to contexts that also involve the people who work and live in smart grids and decentralized energy systems. Our research program has the ambition to increase knowledge about what different categories of electricity consumers and prosumers can and want to do to contribute to the efficient use of local energy systems, what products and services they need, what role digitization plays in that context and which government instruments and financial incentives in the form of various business models that must be implemented to realize that vision. In this context, prosumer refers to an electricity consumer who also produces electricity on a smaller scale.

Social factors control consumption

Behavioral science studies have shown that energy awareness and knowledge do not necessarily lead to a direct reduction in energy use, but that it is to a very large extent social factors that govern our energy related behavior in everyday life. Among other things, it has proved difficult for people to engage in long term energy related behavioral changes, without having appropriate incentives and a clear connection to everyday life. In this context, another issue that the program addresses is how electricity consumers and prosumers relate to and interact with the energy system that surrounds them. What social factors motivate and hinder them and how do these affect their energy related behavior, both at home and at work? How do different digital services affect incentives to participate? How can smart grids be understood and designed to facilitate the development of sustainable lifestyles for many people and with their heterogeneous everyday life in focus?

The energy companies need to adapt

A more distributed electricity production – households and other micro-producers that account for an increased share of the total electricity generation – means that the core activities of electricity producers, electric grid owners and electricity traders – producing, distributing and selling electricity – are reduced in scope and changed. As the micro-production of electricity increases, the energy companies must change and supplement their operations in order to adapt to the new situation. The research programme's ambition is to increase knowledge about how this change affects the incentive structures in the electric system and what opportunities and obstacles it entails for the various actors and their respective activities. This knowledge is expected to form an important basis for decision-making for these actors' respective adaptation processes.