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Fostering active network management through SMEs’ practises


Managing the electricity network through ‘smart grid’ systems is a key strategy to address challenges of energy security, low carbon transitions and the replacement of ageing infrastructure networks in the UK. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have a significant role in shaping patterns of energy consumption. Understanding how their activities interrelate with changes in electricity systems is critical for active network management. A significant challenge for the transformation of electricity systems involves comprehending the complexity that stems from the variety of commercial activities and diversity of social and organizational practises among SMEs that interact with material infrastructures. We engage with SMEs to consider how smart grid interventions ‘fit’ into everyday operational activities. Drawing on analysis of empirical data on electricity use, smart metre data, surveys, interviews and ‘energy tours’ with SMEs to understand lighting, space heating and cooling, refrigeration and IT use, this paper argues for experimenting with the use of practise theory as a framework for bringing together technical and social aspects of energy use in SMEs. This approach reveals that material circumstances and temporal factors shape current energy demand among SMEs, with ‘connectedness’ an emergent factor.

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This work was supported by Ofgem, the UK’s energy regulator, under the Low Carbon Network Fund (LCNF). The research was conducted as part of a collaborative research project undertaken by the authors from Durham and Newcastle Universities with colleagues from Northern Powergrid, British Gas, EA Technologies and National Energy Action whose contribution and support we would like to acknowledge. The authors would also like to acknowledge that the development of the paper benefitted significantly from the detailed review process but any weaknesses that remain are the responsibility of the authors.

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Correspondence to Sandra Bell.

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Powells, G., Bell, S., Judson, E.P. et al. Fostering active network management through SMEs’ practises. Energy Efficiency 9, 591–604 (2016).

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  • SMEs
  • Smart grid
  • Network management
  • Practise Theory
  • UK