The Struggles of Smart Energy Places: Regulatory Lock-In and the Swedish Electricity Market

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Darcy Parks

Visions of smart energy systems are increasingly influencing energy systems around the world. Many visions entail ideas of more efficient versions of existing large-scale energy systems, where smart grids serve to balance energy consumption and demand over large areas. At the other end of the spectrum are visions of smart energy places that represent a challenge to dominant, large-scale energy systems, based on smart microgrids that facilitate the self-sufficiency of local, decentralized energy systems. Whereas smart energy places do not necessarily aim to create completely isolated microgrids, they generally aim to strengthen the connection between energy consumption and production within delimited spaces. The aim of this article is to better understand how visions of smart energy places are translated into sociomaterial configurations. Smart Grid Gotland and Climate-Smart Hyllie were two Swedish initiatives where notions of place were central to the attempts to reconfigure the local energy system. Several solutions proposed within these smart energy places struggled because of regulatory lock-in to the existing spatial arrangements of the electricity market. There was a mismatch between the larger spatial scales institutionalized in the Swedish electricity market and the smaller scales introduced in these smart energy places. The conflicting spatial arrangements between electricity market and these initiatives suggest that demonstrations of smart energy places require some degree of protection from market regulations. Without this protection, visions of smart energy places might instead result in incremental changes to existing large-scale energy systems. Key Words: energy systems, place, smart cities, smart grids, visions.

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