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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Will the Design of the Smart Grid incorporate Social and Cultural considerations?

The Smart Grid of the future has been described in many ways. The most widely accepted vision of the future grid is that of an electrical grid that is highly automated, managed, controlled and optimized by Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). There is one catch in this description; the grid of the future will not be the existing grid that is ICT enabled.  There will be fundamental differences to its design which will change the way we live our lives and interact socially and culturally.

These Social and Cultural considerations include topics like Privacy and Equity to name just a few. Sadly enough Technology designs and especially ICT designs typically fail to incorporate social and cultural view and viewpoints as critical requirements. This is not a new phenomenon. The technological landscape is cluttered with the remains of huge IT projects which either failed outright, or cost orders of magnitudes higher than originally estimated due directly to the inability of organizations to take into account the impact to the most important stakeholders, the people impacted by the design not just the perceived users.

We are now designing a Smart Grid which will take decades to build and implement and cost trillions of dollars. This means now, more so than any other time in our history, we have the time to get things right and design a grid that will propel our cultural and society into the future. Can we even imagine designing an electrical grid for the future that will be used by 300 million or more Americans and may even be a model for the world without looking at these impacts?

How do we do this? We need to start asking social and cultural impact questions like: Do we really want our personal data regarding our electrical usage available to everyone? How can we make energy become an affordable commodity to everyone versus and expensive service? How will my life change when I as a consumer may also be a producer of electrical energy and can now pick how I consume or market energy to others? How will the social responsibility mechanisms of policy and regulation continue to protect the weak and poor? These kinds of questions then can be incorporated as requirements and be used to extend our existing business and technical architectures from which we can map and build thoughtful technology designs that will be robust and flexible.