Smart grids demonstration and the responsive electricity consumer.


This paper is concerned with the coming into being of a new type of consumer in the electricity sector which we choose to name “responsive consumer”. ‘Responsive’ echoes to ‘demand-response’, a term used by actors in the electricity sector in order to point at the possibility for the electricity demand – so, for the electricity consumer – to become reactive to price signals. This reactive consumer is a consumer amenable to price incentives, to contributing into peak load shading by shifting his/her demand and uses in time, so taking part into the balancing of the electricity grid.
“Responsive” also echoes to “responsible” which refers to the integration of an environmental concern that translate in a certain care towards one’s energy consumption. The responsive consumer might thus also respond to other non-price signals such as grid congestion signals, non-wind generated, polluted electricity signals, etc.
“Smart grid” is, in the energy sector, the key techno-economic object that supports the construction of the responsive consumer. Important investments have been undertaken by governments, energy companies and manufacturers on smart grids in Europe and in the United States. “Smart grid” designates a bi-directional grid, conveying both energy flows and real-time information both in top-down and bottom-up directions. The smart grid thus opens up new possibilities for grid management.
In the field of smart grid, a key dimension that has emerged since 2011 in EU policy documents is the construction of the future consumer, as a new entity that has to emerge in order for smart grid to become a viable technology. The construction of this future user of smart grids is at the heart of the visions about these grids and of the emerging business models around them. In France and the EU, these visions are operationalized through what is called “demonstration”. At the intersection of technology and politics, the demonstration aims at bringing R&D results on smart grids at the “industrial scale” in an effort to develop market out of research. While “demonstrators” are the sites whereby the processes to make up this new consumer take place, this making up is embedded in the broader RTD “demonstration” policy style and settings.
The contribution is a work in progress. It is an attempt at proposing an analytical framework which allows us to follow the construction of the responsive consumer through the situated processes of material agencements – the demonstrator sites – while accounting for the broader embedding of these agencements in the EU demonstration technopolitics.
The paper proceeds in three steps. The first part of the paper will present our material and analytical framework. The second part turns to analyzing the consumer / demonstration articulation in both EU and French smart grid techno-politics. The third part focuses on one specific demonstration space where a controversy arose around the scripting of the responsive consumer into one smart grid device (the meter).

KEY WORDS: electricity, responsive, consumer, demonstration, EU, France.

Social acceptance or socio-political, collective and market conditions for the development of innovations in the field of energy?

Pierre FOURNIER (University of Aix-Marseille /LAMES, UMR 7305, CNRS)
Frédéric RYCHEN (University of Aix-Marseille /GREQAM, UMR 7316, CNRS-EHESS)

We speak about social acceptance when technical and economic proposals that are supposed to address issues provoke strong opposition from users or potential users. The project leader tends to analyze this opposition as the rejection of a satisfactory solution according to his point of view. The notion of social acceptance is then mobilized to understand the « social » reasons for rejection and, after identification, to find bypass or compensation devices in order to cause binding to the proposed project that will lead to its implementation.

The strongest pitfall in this way of approaching the problem of social acceptability and in the way of mobilizing social sciences for that (often as intermediaries to solicit the support of public action) is the belief in the robustness of the technical and economic solution proposed and in hope that the addition of socio-political devices, such as information sessions or debate, injunction frames… could help to understand the profound rationality of the project and so to remove the major part of the opposition.

Our proposal, based on examples of difficulties around smartgrid projects and use of di-hydrogen to enrich fuel gas, is to consider that the social acceptability issue is more complex and often refers to the unilateral definition of solution and to poorly calibrated techno-economic features. The “social” acceptability of projects is multi-dimensional and include a socio-political acceptability, a collective acceptability and a market acceptability.
- The socio-political acceptability covers the involvement of support and promotion devices, the involvement of regulations devices that structure communication, regulatory environment and the incentives of all players around the project for changes in behavior.
- The collective acceptability is built by reference to the local effects of the project on a community that aggregate both its direct effects and all the externalities, positive and negative, benefits and complications, by which the conditions of life of some people are changed or affected by the project.
- The market acceptability refers to the expression of a demand and to the project’s ability to offer a clear added value in the form of uses, products or services corresponding to the satisfaction of unknown needs or corresponding to the improving the satisfaction of identified needs. Keeping in mind that the market gives their part to economic resource inequalities to obtain that satisfaction but forgets that the markings on social prestige or ethnicity, ethical recognition… may be other drivers of individual commitment to the new practice.


Mesurer, tarifer, vendre l’électricité. La place du client particulier dans les processus de conception et de gestion du compteur d’électricité communicant.


The liberalization of electric markets gives a key role to customers in the organization and production of energy system. With the example of new experiments and digitalization of the meters in France (« smart meters »), the paper focuses on the relationship between electric meters and daily uses. Observing the uses of the electricity meter, many elements are striking. The electricity meter seems trivial in most social practices: it is a “black box” and that doesn’t attract the interest of the user. Nevertheless, public authorities, industrials, energy suppliers or consumer organizations try to encourage new uses of electric meters. Indeed, the infrastructure is often presented as a customer tool to save energy and money. At the same time, with new experiments (2010-2011), electric meters were the source of multiple conflicts between customers and energy companies, and others (local authorities, centralized administration): overbilling, health risks, refusing to cooperate).
We put the question from the point of view of electric organization in charge of the professional use of the electric meters and energy distribution. From design process to daily uses in the houses and the small companies, the electric meter seems the result of the co-construction of the customer satisfaction and others daily work commitments. Contrary to another devices and goods, the electricity is distributed to 35 million customers (town offices, households, craftsman, etc.). The mass consumption of electricity is measured and billed with meters, which are settled by customers, and far away to the energy companies.
We will pay attention to the technical developments and a few daily uses of electric meters thanks to an extensive field doctoral survey through the “social worlds of electric meters”. The analyse exposes an unexpected light to the mass consumption of electricity through meters, which the aim is to sustain in domestic spaces and small companies. From the perspective of the organization, the smart meter finally appears as a tool of « customer satisfaction » which gives answers to the professionals in “front office” to resolve customers’ problems. The installation of new smart meters removes the “old” and hacked meters. At the same time the e-maintenance of the electric meter by the back-office employees enhances liability and billings precision, one of many reasons of the customers reclaiming. Furthermore, rather an energy transition tool, the electric meter appears to a tool to moralize the billing of electricity, through the uses and technical content of smart meters.

KEY WORDS: smart meters, design process, uses, conflicts, customer satisfaction.

Technology is the answer. But what was the question?

Marie-Haude CARAËS ( Graduate School of Fine Arts of Tours)

Electric network have being using for a long time, in a dedicated and closed form electronic communication and information systems for data transmission, useful for production management, transport and distribution of energy. The challenge now is to create communication and exchange networks based on decentralized and open approach to develop a more flexible management, more agile in electrical energy production in real time to the end consumer – the smart grids. Communication should be two-way, producers, distributors must be informed of the request in real time and end customer must be informed of network status to make decisions: launching the washing machine later on, turn off appliances, etc. This approach relies on two sides: the development of interfaces between communications systems, information and production supply on one side and demand on the other side . « The smart grid approach requires a layer of services and applications that provide for network users accessibility to information, relevant analyses, logging and the ability to react by activating appropriated functionalities or by adjusting the behavior of power consumption in real time. »
Energy interfaces existed before smart grid. If their existence precedes the smart grid, they are nevertheless to grow and become more complex in the infrastructure of smart grid. What is the role of the different interfaces? Where are they installed? What forms do they take? What data do they collect? What information does they transmitted? How these devices are used ? Is What actions of control could they be able to engage. How does the actual development of interfaces (information design, gestures, etc.) influenced the design of energy interfaces? The state of the art in energy interfaces carry out from the creative disciplines, which a synthesis will be presented in this communication aims to/give answers to these questions by identifying, describing, sorting and classifying the energetic interfaces most innovative internationally – those already effective and those to be in the deployment of smart grid strategy: domestic interfaces (part 1) and collective interfaces to the scale of the building and the urban(Part 2). This state of the art inform at the end the smart grid technical-social stake via the inventory of projects that organize the data processing harvested and transmitted (part 3).


Eco-behaviours and practices.

Farid ABACHI (Union Sociale de l’Habitat)

As part of the implementation of its commitments to new construction and renovation of existing buildings in a heritage high environmental quality and high performances, and in a context of high economic and social crisis affecting the poorest tenants, the Movement of social housing organisation is strongly mobilized to conduct operations including cost control related to energy issues, particularly for its poorest tenants.

The results of previous studies show a significant reduction in energy consumption through optimal combination of three factors:
- Passive technical components through an enhanced quality (insulation …)
- Active technical components with the establishment of efficient equipment to control effectively,
- A behavioural aspect by the awareness of tenants and local stakeholders, by their ability to control energy demand.

The implementation conditions showed the limits of overbidding of the performances oriented towards intrinsic technical efficiencies only. Therefore, it is necessary to take into account the behavioural components in devices for controlling energy consumption. However, initial feedback has shown the impact of these active and passive innovative solutions on behaviours for a « good » use of the new equipment installed: they disrupt the customs, lifestyles and habits acquired. It requires a real ownership of the devices by tenants in these high-performing building at risk of cancellation of expected gains (« rebound effect » or expression of new aspirations of comfort, malfunctions, sanitary and technical risks).

Therefore, it is necessary to take into account the behavioural components.
Many social housing organisations have initiated devices awareness and accompaniment of their tenants, for controlling energy consumption. A first view have showed the range of these actions, between those aimed at realise of the increased performance of a building by its users, those that form the tenants at proper functioning of equipment and those that show « good « actions and behaviours to follow – at the risk of resistance in behaviour and deviance in use.
Union sociale pour l’habitat and Caisse des Dépôts et Consignation launched a study to complete a panorama and evaluate these actions, led by social housing organisations to their tenants. What are the expected, their scope, relevant indicators, risks and limits…?

Our contribution will present the findings of this study, which aims to support the social landlords in the implementation of such devices to their employees and tenants.

MOTS CLÉS : Accompaniments, Social Housing Organisation, tenants, mastery of energy consumption, Fight against the rebound effect.

A view of household energy consumption and reflexivity: building a culture of domestic energy use through information..

Christèle ASSEGOND (University François Rabelais-TOURS/CETU ETIcS ; CITERES)

For a long time seen as a passive or even an ignorant posture, the citizen consumer is today given notice to take an active part in energy transition. But how to involve them in a process which certainly concerns them, but whose collective issues are most of the time too vague for them? One of the ways being actively explored is based on the hypothesis that access to information on the consumption of energy will contribute to modification of the perception of households and lead in an almost mechanical manner to energy conservation. From an institutional point of view, the performance of this information distribution is generally evaluated through a unique technico-economic criteria whose pertinence is widely debated. Researchers attempt today to qualify more closely the links between information and an understanding of energy issues. Studied from a sociological observation of the receptivity, over the long term, of a technical device which shows electrical consumption, the collaborative research project AffichEco conducted from 2010 to 2013 in the Center region (France) shows some details which elucidate these links. Thorough interviews and observations of thirty households show that the information did not act as a stimulus calling for simple action in return but that the information engages processes of a complex nature which participate largely in the construction of a culture of Energy. If it does not lead to immediately perceptible energy conservation, this culture does constitute an indispensable beginning to an understanding of energy issues by the households, and, in fact, to their active engagement in an attempt to control energy consumption. These results invite us to consider the evaluation of the efficiency of these devices which show energy consumption no longer only from the angle of energy conservation in the short term but equally from that, much more strategic, of the long term, from assistance to change.

MOTS CLÉS : information, energy consumption, culture of energy.

A view of household energy consumption and reflexivity: building a culture of domestic energy use through information.

Violeta RAMIREZ (Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense University)

Contemporary lifestyles are energy-greedy and fossil energies-dependent: they have serious consequences on our present environment and on the quality of life of future generations. Some people however have realized that a model premised on perpetual growth is illusory and harmful. In order to lessen the impact of their actions on the environment, they have changed their everyday habits concerning housing, transport, food supply, waste management, and turned to alternative and frugal practices.
Using visual anthropology methodological tools, I carry out a filmed ethnography of these individuals, avant-gardist in terms of their environmentally-concerned lifestyles. I film and interview these people about their daily practices: food and objects supply, waste management, transportation, generation of renewable energies, etc. In this paper, I’ll present three individual profiles involved in energy sobriety, with the aim of describing their practices, analyzing the personal motivations behind the adoption of this lifestyle and understanding the imaginaries of future underlying these practices.

MOTS CLÉS : Degrowth, energy sobriety, visual anthropology, filmed ethnography, ecological crisis.