Scenarios for the development of smart grids in the UK

Funded by: UK Energy Research Centre


October 2011 to September 2013

Background, summary and aims

Background, Scope and Aims

Smart Grids (SGs) offer clear potential to contribute to a number of UK policy goals including the transition to a low-carbon economy, energy security and affordability. SGs could do this by transforming the ways we produce, deliver and consume energy. SGs could even change our conception of these services. As yet, there is little in-depth research into what factors might influence this potential, how such a grid can develop from today to 2050 and who might be the winners and losers in this process.

The specific project objectives are:

  • To conduct a programme of interdisciplinary research, informed by stakeholders, literature and case-study evidence, in order to identify:
    • Critical steps, interdependencies and contingencies in the development of SGs and their financial, regulatory, organisational, societal and behavioural implications;
    • Barriers and incentives for the deployment of SGs in the shape of differences in fuel supply, geography, regulatory governance of investment and market access, funding complexity, environmental concerns, and consumer values and capabilities;
    • Spatial variation in the transition toward a UK-wide SG (including urban versus rural disparities).
  • To develop and evaluate socio-technical scenarios for UK SG deployment towards 2050, utilising an approach that integrates expert and stakeholder perspectives, narrative storylines, quantitative modelling and spatial-temporal modelling.

Project Design

Given the strength of scenarios for organising economic, technological, competitive, political and societal information and translating it into a framework for decision-making, they are well suited for analysing and informing SG development. Existing scenarios highlight social, economic, policy and technological drivers of change within energy and related sectors.

However, little work to date has examined the roles and priorities of different actors, spatial variation (eg, urban/rural, existing energy infrastructure) or behavioural issues. A significant innovation of this project will be to incorporate these important dimensions into specific SG scenarios, and to include stakeholders’ assessments of the uncertainties and key indicators associated with SG development.

The project will use the following methods to develop and evaluate a set of UK smart-grid scenarios:

1)      Policy Delphi – an iterative stakeholder/expert elicitation procedure to expose areas of agreement and disagreement about how smart grids will and should develop and what indicators should be used to assess this development;

2)      Morphological Analysis/ Field Anomaly Relaxation (MA/FAR) – this scenario-development method allows various factors (eg, economic growth) and alternative states (eg, high vs low) to be combined in a systematic multi-step process;

3)      Expert and deliberative public workshops – by consulting with a range of expert and public groups, we will further elucidate responses to smart grids and refine and evaluate our initial scenarios;

4)      Modelling and GIS mapping – using robust quantitative tools, we will visualise and assess the development and impacts of smart grids across the UK.

Importance of Research

This project aims to advance understanding of SG deployment and utilisation through a programme of novel empirical research, developing and evaluating a number of socio-technical scenarios. Particular consideration will be given to key transition points – rather than mere end points – in alternative possible scenarios, and spatial differences in the deployment of SGs and related technologies, from the imminent 2020 target to 2050. The work will build the interaction of different actors into the scenario-development process to incorporate pace and scalability of technology deployment, cost and finance, organisational business models involved, regulatory style, the role of users, and international drivers and linkages.

Project website

Scenarios for the development of smart grids in the UK

Related publications / project outputs

Scenarios for the Development of Smart Grids in the UK: Synthesis Report

Scenarios for the Development of Smart Grids in the UK: Literature Review