Beyond technical smartness: Rethinking the development and implementation of sociotechnical smart grids in India

Beyond technical smartness: Rethinking the development and implementation of sociotechnical smart grids in India

Energy Research & Social ScienceVolume 49, March 2019, Pages 158-168



How smart grids are understood and defined will influence the kinds of smart grids users will encounter in the future and their potential impacts. Practitioners and policymakers largely perceive smart grids as technological interventions. However, a number of social, financial and governmental interventions can also make grids smart, i.e., more efficient, more responsive, more inclusive and more robust. Drawing on qualitative research done using elite interviews, site visits and document analysis of eight micro-grids in India, this paper provides concrete examples of what could be understood as social, financial and governmental smartness, and in doing so, broadens the knowledge on smart grids beyond the technical understanding.

This paper argues that social, financial and governmental interventions are central to ‘smartness’, and that multifaceted and relational sociotechnical approaches will build cheaper, just, more democratic and sustainable smart grids. The paper observes that smart grids are not conceived as smart grids but rather develop incrementally. An incremental approach, rather than pushing a premeditated set of ideas and technologies, reduces adoption of non-contextual interventions as well as unnecessary investments in new technologies. The paper recommends that policymakers and practitioners should understand and develop smart grids as sociotechnical and incremental grids.

Link to open access article:

तकनीकी स्मार्टनेस से परे: भारत में सामाजिक-तकनीकी (सोसियोटेक्निकल) ग्रिड के विकास और कार्यान्वयन पर पुनर्विचार

खंड 49, मार्च 2019, पृष्ठ 158-168


स्मार्ट ग्रिड को कैसे समझा और परिभाषित किया जाता है, इसका प्रभाव भविष्य में उपयोगकर्ताओं और उनकी संभावनाओं पर होगा। प्लानरों और पालिसी निर्माताओं ने अभी तक स्मार्ट ग्रिड को तकनीकी हस्तक्षेप के रूप में  समझा है। हालांकि, कई सामाजिक, वित्तीय और शासन संबंधी हस्तक्षेप भी ग्रिड को स्मार्ट बना सकते हैं, अर्थात्, अधिक कुशल, अधिक उत्तरदायी, अधिक समावेशी और अधिक ठोस। भारत में आठ माइक्रो ग्रिडों के मैनेजरों के साथ साक्षात्कार, उनके वेबसाइट का दौरा और दस्तावेज़ विश्लेषण का उपयोग करके किए गए गुणात्मक अनुसंधान पर आधारित, यह पेपर सामाजिक, वित्तीय और सरकारी स्मार्टनेस के ठोस उदाहरण प्रदान करता है, और ऐसा करने में, स्मार्टनेस पर ज्ञान को व्यापक बनाता है।

इस लेख में तर्क दिया गया है कि सामाजिक, वित्तीय और सरकारी हस्तक्षेप ‘स्मार्टनेस’ के लिए ज़रूरी हैं, और यह कि बहुपक्षीय और सामाजिक-तकनीकी (सोसियोटेक्निकल) दृष्टिकोण सस्ते, अधिक लोकतांत्रिक और टिकाऊ स्मार्ट ग्रिड का निर्माण करने में मदद कर सकता है। लेख समीक्षा करता है कि स्मार्ट ग्रिड को स्मार्ट ग्रिड के रूप में कल्पना नहीं की जाती, बल्कि वो वृद्धिशील रूप में विकसित होते है। वृद्धिशील दृष्टिकोण गैर-संदर्भीय हस्तक्षेपों और नई प्रौद्योगिकियों में अनावश्यक निवेश को कम करता है। पेपर की सिफारिश की गई है कि नीति निर्माताओं और प्लानरों को स्मार्ट ग्रिड को सोसियोटेक्निकल और वृद्धिशील ग्रिड के रूप में समझना और विकसित करना चाहिए।

ओपन एक्सेस लेख के लिए लिंक:



Justice and politics in energy access for education, livelihoods and health: How socio-cultural processes mediate the winners and losers

Our team member Dr Ankit Kumar recently published a new open access article on the role placed by local socio-cultural processes in access to energy in the global South. This study also illustrates a need to engage in more in depth ethnographic work to grasp the nuances of energy access and impacts of energy access interventions.

Justice and politics in energy access for education, livelihoods and health: How socio-cultural processes mediate the winners and losers

Energy Research and Social Science, Volume 40, June 2018, Pages 3–13

The rhetoric on development benefits of energy access often focuses on education, livelihoods and health. Using case studies of two energy access projects in India, this paper demonstrates that these claims, while true in part, are neither simple nor straightforward. It argues that pre-existing socio-cultural processes mediate the development outcomes of energy access projects. In particular, the roles of gender, socio-economic positions and the local economy are vital in understanding the links between education, livelihoods, health and energy.
This paper is important for two reasons. First, working with culture as a mediator, it provides nuanced insights into relationships between energy access and three key development goals. Second, by presenting this analysis, the paper identifies a need for further research on the relationships between socio-cultural processes, development and energy access and, how by keeping these processes in mind, the benefits of energy access could be extended to less privileged social groups. This paper is based on a nine-month long ethnographic research in five villages in India’s Bihar state. Home tours, interviews, participant observations and group discussions were used to collect the data.

Please read this in conjunction with his previous article on Cultures of Lights.

Link to open access article:

energy politics

Justice and Politics: With access to modern lighting the boy of the household gets to study while the girl has to cook on a hazardous and polluting wood fired earthen hearth

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Demystification and localization in the adoption of micro-hydro technology: Insights from India by Johanna Höffken

Our team member Johanna Höffken has just published an article titled ‘Demystification and localization in the adoption of micro-hydro technology: Insights from India’ in Energy Research and Social Sciences journal.

Here’s the abstract:

The phrase ‘small is beautiful’ holds true for the micro-hydro plants discussed in this article. Micro-hydro plants can convert the energy of falling water into electricity. In India, access to electricity cannot be taken for granted, especially in rural areas, which do not yet have grid extension or where it is too costly or infeasible. In these cases, micro-hydro plants are a welcome solution. Here I discuss the efforts of two non-governmental organizations, a private company, and a government agency, to facilitate micro-hydro projects in India, thereby increasing the socio-economic empowerment of rural inhabitants without electricity access. Based on extensive ethnographic data and constructivist conceptualizations of scale and consequences I find that these projects can indeed be described as “beautiful” technology interventions. In line with the common discourse on “small is beautiful,” the projects emphasize community engagement, control, and locality. Yet, importantly, they are “beautiful” in diverse ways. The actors set different priorities when implementing their small-scale technology interventions. Highlighting these priorities is important because they can empower people to acquire different roles, ranging from engaged consumers to prosumers. Instead of solely concentrating on the (small) scale of a technology I plead to consider the significance of implementing these interventions.

You can find the full article here:

Upcoming session on energy access at Royal Geography Society annual conference

Our team member Dr Ankit Kumar is co organising a session with colleagues from Durham University on defining energy access at the Royal Geography Society Annual Conference 2016. The conference will be held in London from 30 August – 2 September 2016.

This session on energy access is scheduled for Thursday 01 September 2016, Session 2 (11:10 – 12:50).


Photo: Ankit Kumar

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