Smart grids in India
Successfully developing and implementing smart grids in rural India requires paying careful attention to socio-ethical factors.
To design and implement the technology in a way that is both socially and ethically acceptable requires insights in local context and giving a voice to the rural poor. The approach adopted by the project is studying, informing and adjusting the process of developing and implementing smart grids in a number of Indian villages which serve as pilot areas. Local insights will be used to develop a broader view on smart grids in India and the possibilities of up-scaling.
Smart grids are a promising innovation in a changing landscape of electricity generation, transmission, distribution and consumption. Smart grids come about by integrating electricity systems with information and communication technologies that optimally align demand and supply. This improves sustainability, operation, robustness and efficiency of the electricity system. India’s efforts in making their grids smart are underpinned by two major national challenges:
- India’s electricity demand is growing, while its electricity system is grappling with severe performance deficits.
- At the same time about 400 million Indians in rural areas have no access to electricity at all.
Smart grids do not only promise to improve the bad performance of the existing Indian grid, they can also play a role in decentralised rural electrification.
Studies on smart grids in Europe indicate the importance of considering users, their practices and values. But the majority of research on user practices has concentrated on the global north. In the global south contexts and energy practices are often fundamentally different, especially when (access to) modern energy has not yet become entrenched in people’s lives. Understanding people’s practices and designing suitable solutions is a key consideration in this project.
Ethical considerations are also of great importance. On the one hand, energy is a core human need, which makes addressing energy poverty an ethically urgent task. On the other hand, innovations for development can easily be hijacked by socially, economically and politically powerful stakeholders within and outside communities. This may lead to innovations exacerbating social injustices, rather than solving them.
Project activities will provide an answer to five interrelated questions:
- What are the technical requirements for smart grids for a rural Indian context?
- How can smart grids be embedded and commercialised in the rural Indian energy market?
- How do societal and institutional factors affect the viability of smart grid implementation and use?
- What are the ethical challenges in developing smart grids for rural India and how can they be addressed?
- What are the key factors that affect the potential for up-scaling of smart grids throughout India?
The design and commercialisation of the technology uses the action-oriented “hidden design innovation method”. This method raises the ethical issue that stakeholders are not asked if they consent to participating in the process. In collaboration with the ethicist, the designers have adapted the “hidden design method” in order to address this problem. This was done by developing a list of conditions under which involvement without informed consent of stakeholders can be ethically acceptable.
Technological aspects of the project involve the development of a customer adaptable architecture / network to facilitate optimal sharing of electricity in a micro-grid scenario. This includes the development of plug and play solutions for power sharing and identification of optimal energy resource for on-site generation. This is done on the basis of literature study and site visits to the pilot areas.
In order to map the opportunities and obstacles for smart grids as a way to realise an energy transition in India, the researchers are currently identifying relevant trends and stakeholders. They are paying specific attention to power and role shifts and to groups disadvantaged by or left behind in the process.
India, smart grids, rural poverty, growing electricity demand, growing electricity demand, developing countries, rural electrification, user practices, energy market, technical requirements, powerOfficial project title: