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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details for Professor Harriet Bulkeley

Bulkeley, H., Powells, G. & Bell, S. (2016). Smart grids and the constitution of solar electricity conduct. Environment and Planning A 48(1): 7-23.

Author(s) from Durham


In the face of challenges of energy security, low carbon transitions and the replacement of aging infrastructure networks, new logics for the development of smart electricity systems are emerging amongst utility providers and public authorities. Whilst often portrayed as a technical matter, orchestrated through the top-down intervention of major corporate or government actors, such shifts in the system of electricity provision also entail efforts to fundamentally reconfigure relationships between providers and consumers, and rearticulate energy practices so that they are aligned to new governmental rationales. In this paper, we draw on theories of governmentality and social practice to consider the ways in which the smart grid is serving to constitute new forms of energy conduct, which in turn are vital to the ways in which smart grids are realised. Through the analysis of the first findings from an industry regulator–funded project in the north of England, we consider how and with what implications households that have installed solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies are fitting smart grid techniques and devices into their everyday practices. We argue that in contrast to households where solar PV has been regarded primarily as a device to deliver new flows of finance, the introduction of smart grid logics through the installation of in-home displays and hot water storage has served to rearticulate what ‘good’ electricity conduct entails and to reconfigure the ways in which energy-intensive practices are undertaken in households. We find these new forms of ‘governing the self’ to be critical in shaping how, and to what effect, the smart grid is taking root.