Designing a Socialtechnical Value Map for smart grid technologies in India

This socialtechnical value map was a part of the the course Technology Dynamics MOT1412, led by Udo Pesch and Claudia Werker. It is part of the graduation courses of the master Sustainable Energy Technology at the TU Delft, which were meant to prepare for thesis project I am currently conducting. The assignment has helped in creating a strategy for communication with stakeholders in the innovation system of rural energy technology. The assignment was set up to be a small abstract.

Technology adoption in developed countries is hardly ever limited by the ability of the technology to perform its task. Mostly, the technology is not accepted by the public because it fails to address issues from the perspective of the public. A recent initiation by Greenpeace India, that installed a solar powered microgrid in a village in Bihar, did not get the response they expected. In this particularly issue the public took the role of a protester, blocking the innovation.

The call for the need of responsible innovation that includes public values is rising. This abstract will try to address this need for the development of smart grid technologies in the region of Bihar, India.

In order to assure a responsible innovation process, several methods are available to guide the process. [1][2][3][4] Due to the limitations on size, it will not be thoroughly examined. Instead only the framework is presented that is used is to receive a socio-technical value perspective for smart grid technologies in Bihar, India. Rohracher introduced the sociotechnical value map (STVM),which is composed of elements of Constructive Technology Assessment (CTA) and Value Sensitive Design (VSD). Figure \ref{fig:stvm} shows how the STVM is constructed. Smart grid technology is still in development, which makes it suitable for STVM analysis, according to the requirements by Rohracher.

A socialtechnical value map (SVTM)

Smart grid technology is composed of different disciplines. Below figure shows a categorisation of the several technology regimes that can operate in a smart grid. Distributed generation, as an alternative to the conventional centralised generation such as coal or nuclear power plants, is generally composed of solar panels, wind turbines, biomass and small hydro power installations, or in other words, renewable energy technologies. The capacity share of renewable sources has risen from 9.4 MW in 2007 to 34.4 MW in 2015, which makes it the most successful smart grid component. Apart from electricity lines, which are fairly straightforward, the rest of the technologies are still waiting for breakthroughs in the field, making them reverse salients of smart grid technology. Storage specifications are not yet economically viable for all solutions and will require some more time to develop. Advanced metering infrastructure is waiting for Internet of Things networks to fully emerge. Control operations are even more complicated, depending on the topology of the network and demand response techniques required to balance power levels. It seems that the promised benefit of a smart grid, its highly interconnected and dynamic environment, also proves its weakness during the implementation phase, where interoperability between its components is difficult to establish.

Components of smart grid technology

The landscape that smart grid technology is operating in, heavily influences its design. Wealth is increasing and demand for electricity rises with it. This is putting a lot of stress on the electricity system. The Government of India (GoI) has been installing new policies for many years, acknowledging this problem. It has resulted in a vertically and horizontally unbundled electricity sector. The electricity generation segment is living up to the targets that were set, however, electricity distribution is lacking in development, resulting in it being a reverse salient for the sector. There are more landscape characteristics that influence the introduction of smart grids. When prices of fossil fuels are low, centralised generation can be favourable. Prices of resources are of importance such as rare earth metals, used in batteries or solar panels and the increasingly expensive copper used in electricity lines. Also weather influences, such as heavy rainfall that increases hydro power or abundant sunny days to increase solar power. The nature of power grids, covering wide areas, being interconnected and dynamic, makes it that there are numerous external activities that influence the implementation of the technology. These are too many to cover in this small report, but is extensively done by Verbong in a multi-level analysis of the Dutch electricity system.

The Quintuple Helix model of knowledge and innovation [Source]

Because of the extensive coverage of smart grid technologies, it is difficult to find a compact way of exposing stakeholders. In order to do this an innovation systems approach is used to identify important roles. The Quintuple Helix model, as a proposed extension to the Triple Helix, will serve as the base for the stakeholder analysis. Above figure shows the innovation system according the model. For the region of Bihar, a stakeholder from each subsystem will be defined, assuming that, when all systems have a stakeholder that interacts with the rest of the system, sustainable development will follow. The emergent public is internalised in this system, due to the inclusion of the media- and culture-based public. Outsiders can be defined by by adding a spacial dimension, which the quintuple helix allows. Because of the overlay of the technology on the society, one becomes more of an outsider when further away, following the proximity principle. So let’s define the stakeholders according to the system:

Political stakeholder : The GoI has appointed State Nodal Agencies to carry out the village electrification programmes in States and in the State of Bihar it is the BREDA organisation that is in charge of this.
Academic stakeholder : The local university that teaches electrical engineering is considered, namely the Aryabhatta Knowledge University. Economic stakeholder : Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) are responsible for the economic exploitation of the smart grids, defined by a draft microgrid policy. In this report we take Rural Spark.
Natural system stakeholder : An organisation was found that sees to the interest of the natural capital of Bihar, which is the Centre for Environment Education.
Public stakeholder : The public can be represented by the Village Energy Committee (VEC), that will be democratically chosen by the population, as a draft policy on microgrids by the Government has proposed.

Design for Values
To assure smart grid technology to be adopted, its incorporated values must be synchronised with them of the technology users, which in this case is the whole of society. It is assumed that values in Bihar represent general Indian Values. So what values bind the people of India?

A study on Indian values was done, that exposes numerous ways of thinking on different subjects. Three values are of interest when talking about smart grids. Firstly, the distrust and low empathy of people because of their views on human nature. When connecting your electricity system to your neighbours you want to trust them to handle it with care. Also when trading of energy comes into play. Secondly, the time orientation of Indians that explains the low planning culture is not favourable in the set-up of such a complex technical system as a smart grid. Thirdly, however, is the Indian view of the group before the individual, which does make a case for the adoption of smart grids.

How can be designed for these values? Blockchain technology will prove a valuable addition to smart grid technologies, since it allows for groups of people that do not trust each other to perform transactions and will make the trading system much less complicated, allowing for less planning needed, because of automation. Also see my other 3-piece story on Blockchain for a more extensive story on Blockchain for rural energy access [1][2][3].

Discussion & Conclusion
Since smart grid technology is composed of many different disciplines and stakeholders in society, it is difficult to include all perspectives. It is even questioned if VSD, and therefore STVM, is even suitable for this technology.

While the length of this abstract is nowhere near sufficient, it has exposed the technology, the stakeholders and their values for the region of Bihar, India. Especially the low degree of trust that Indians have of each other can prove a problem in setting up these networks. Blockchain technology can help solve this trust issue, assuring secure transactions in the network. Still, many problems and issues are facing smart grid technology adoption in India. Unfortunately the setup of this report did not allow for further deepening in these subjects and are therefore considered for further research possibilities. Follow me on medium to stay updated on more stories within the subject of energy technologies for rural areas that delve deeper into the matter.

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