The Pursuit of Smart Grid: New Tools of the Trade
Scott, Lauren Nicole
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This study examines the perspectives of electricity industry experts regarding the electricity industry’s pursuit of Smart Grid—a term used to signify the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in grid operations. The research draws on data gathered through participant observation and 56 semi-structured, in-depth, interviews with electricity industry experts from organizational entities throughout the industry. Engaging with field theory, I analyze the perceived drivers of, and responses to, industry change. According to the project’s data, drivers of change include technological innovation from the telecommunications field, a shift away from ever-increasing electricity demand, and societal concern for the industry’s impact on the environment. Emerging from this analysis is evidence of industry incumbents, rather than challengers, articulating and leading efforts to cultivate the Smart Grid as a response to resource constraints and society’s environmental concern. I also analyze the perceived implications of ICT for industry risk, and experts’ accounts of risk management strategies for Smart Grid through the lens of Normal Accident Theory and High Reliability Theory. While interview participants tended to emphasize Smart Grid’s potential for greater reliability, efficiency, and environmental sustainability compared to the traditional grid, they also described it as more prone to unintended failure. To maintain grid reliability, experts described engaging in structural approaches to risk management and practicing the behavioral and attitudinal techniques of highly reliable organizations. Despite addressing the limitations of each management technique, experts overwhelmingly conveyed a sense of optimism regarding their ability to maintain grid reliability and safety throughout the grid modernization process.