Smart grids will be essential in future energy systems to allow for major improvements in energy efficiency and for the integration of solar energy and other renewables into the grid, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability at large. End-users will play a crucial role in these smart grids that aim to link end-users and energy providers in a better balanced and more efficient electricity system. The success of smart grids depends on effective active load and demand side management facilitated by appropriate technologies and financial incentives, requiring end-user, market and political acceptance. However, current smart grid pilot projects typically focus on technological learning and not so much on learning to understand consumer needs and behaviour in a connected living environment. The key question thus remains: how to engage end-users in smart grid projects so as to satisfy end-user needs and stimulate active end-user participation, thereby realizing as much as possible the potential of energy demand reduction, energy demand flexibility, and local energy generation?
The aim of European S3C project is a further understanding of engaging end-users (households and SMEs) in smart grid projects and ways this may contribute to the formation of new ‘smart’ behaviours. This research is based upon three key pillars: 1) the analysis of a suite of (recently finished or well-advanced) European smart-grid projects to assess success factors and pitfalls; 2) the translation of lessons learned to the development of concrete engagement guidelines and tools, and 3) the further testing of the guidelines and tools in a collection of ongoing smart grid projects leading to a finalized ‘toolbox’ for end-user engagement. Crucially, it differentiates findings for three key potential end-user roles: ‘Consumer’ (a rather passive role primarily involving energy saving), ‘Customer’ (a more active role offering demand flexibility and micro-scale energy production), and ‘Citizen’ (the most pro-active role involving community-based smart grid initiatives).
EnergyVille is overall project coordinator and led the development of the theoretical research framework. Furthermore, EnergyVille contributed to the various other project activities, including the analysis of ongoing smart grid projects, the identification of cross-cutting success factors, and the development and testing of guidelines and a toolkit for practitioners. EnergyVille also played an active role in evaluating end-user experiences in the Flemish smart grid project Linear.