Unlocking the potential of smart grids: a partnership to explore policy dimensions

Carleton research team: James Meadowcroft, Glen Toner, Alexandra Mallett and Daniel Rosenbloom

In 2012, a Carleton-based research partnership was awarded funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to explore the policy dimensions of smart grid development in Canada. Smart grids – defined broadly as the incorporation of information and communication technologies into systems of electricity provision – have the potential to transform the way societies distribute, produce and consume electricity. They offer an impressive array of economic, social and environmental benefits, enhancing energy security and efficiency, promoting economic development, accelerating the deployment of renewables, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Despite their potential, smart grids pose numerous challenges for public policy, including difficult choices about the timing and appropriate level of public investment, divergent perspectives on priorities and the distribution of benefits, privacy and security issues, and public resistance to the rollout of smart grid technologies.

This research partnership addresses these challenges by bringing together a multidisciplinary group of researchers, experts and stakeholders from multiple sectors to explore the social, economic and political contexts of smart grid development in Canada. Co-directed by Professors James Meadowcroft (Carleton University) and Ian Rowlands (University of Waterloo), the project involves research teams at Carleton University, University of Waterloo, York University, Simon Fraser University and the Université du Québec à Montréal. Building upon earlier international collaborations, including a smart grid workshop co-hosted by Professors James Meadowcroft and Elizabeth Wilson (University of Minnesota) in 2011, the partnership develops linkages with an ongoing National Science Foundation-funded smart grid research project based at the University of Minnesota, Texas A&M University and Clark University.

The principal focus areas of this research partnership include:

  • smart grid development in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia;
  • interactions and comparisons with smart grid development in the United States;
  • the framing of smart grid and its associated technologies in the media;
  • and, topics surrounding the integration of renewable energy technologies, community energy solutions, social acceptance and the electrification of transportation.

The collaborative is expected to yield important contributions to academic knowledge, valuable insights for policymakers and industry actors, as well as build Canadian research capacity with respect to smart grid development. In particular, the partnership will create an ongoing forum for the discussion of innovative smart grid research by hosting three workshops across Canada, the first of which will take place at the historic Moulin Wakefield Hotel in May 2013.

Prepared by Daniel Rosenbloom

Research Associate in Sustainable Energy Policy

Master’s in Public Policy and Administration

Innovation, Science and Environment