New networks of power: on the emergence, diffusion and impact of alternative electricity system architectures

Rapidly falling costs of small-scale power generation, energy storage and information technology may induce a transition in the electricity system. In one future scenario, "smart grids" are central, that balance production and consumption. In a radically different scenario the importance of the grid is reduced and local storage creates a breeding ground for "grid defection". Currently, experiments are made that may lead in both these directions.

The goal of this project is to identify possible and probable development paths for the electricity system with a focus on Sweden and Europe; critical factors that influence the direction; and factors different actors can influence and when adaption is required. In three PhD projects, we will follow the emergence of new system configurations globally, study effects of the Swedish pilot projects on smart grids, and, using energy systems models, explore potential technical, economic and environmental impacts of different development paths.


Project resultsShow/Hide content

Rapidly declining costs for new technology such as small-scale renewable electricity production, energy storage, information technology and technology for high-voltage direct current are challenging the established electricity system and opening up new development paths. The purpose of the project was to follow this development and identify critical factors for the transition and how different actors affect and are affected by the direction of the change. The project was carried out in the form of three doctoral student projects at Chalmers University of Technology and Linköping University. The project was part of Forskarskola Energisystem. The subprojects used quantitative techno-economic optimization models, qualitative technological innovation system models and an STS approach.

In the project, we have identified several parallel trends that point in different contradictory directions: from the emergence of systems based on independent prosumers, to prosumers connected in smaller or larger smart grid, systems where cities develop greater independence from the rest of the grid as well as grids balanced at the continental or global scale. A crucial question is at which system level supply and demand of electricity is balanced through system integration, and how this is done. The new technical possibilities and new prospects for economic optimization at different system levels mean that the different and sometimes opposing interests of actors are becoming increasingly important. The direction of change becomes as much a question of culture and politics as of technology. The power over the system is at stake.

In this uncertain situation, many processes are underway where both new and old players seek knowledge and try to consolidate their positions or gain new ground. In our studies of experiments in Sweden, the USA and Australia, we see how established actors try to defend their positions while new actors struggle to establish alternative structures. A central question is about how experiments are designed, which political discourses govern these, which actors are allowed to participate and what learning is gained or lost. Another issue concerns how new entrepreneurs can take advantage of resources outside (or inside) the rigid structures of the local electricity system to create new solutions.

The result of this project is not an distinct answer to the question in which direction the electricity systems are heading in the world, Europe or Sweden. However, we believe that the project contributes with empirical results that show important driving forces and counterforces for development in different directions. The project has also generated new models for quantitatively evaluating optimization at different system levels, new qualitative innovation system models for analyzing the emergence of alternative technological systems and a new perspective on the role experiments and demonstration projects play and can play in the energy transition.

PublicationsShow/Hide content

Doctoral Thesis

Verena Heinisch (2021). Decentralization in energy systems - Low-carbon technologies and sector coupling on the household, community and city scales

Fredrik Envall (2021). Experimenting for change?: The politics of accomplishing environmental governance through smart energy pilot projects

Kristina Hojcková (2020). Emerging networks of power: Exploring socio-technical pathways towards future electricity systems based on renewable energy technologies

Journal Articles

Andersson, J., Hojcková, K., Sandén B. (2020) Clarifying the focus and improving the rigour of sustainability transitions research on emerging technologies. IST 2020 Conference paper.

Duvignau, R., V. Heinisch, L. Göransson, V. Gulisano, and M. Papatriantafilou. “Small-Scale Communities Are Sufficient for Cost- and Data-Efficient Peer-to-Peer Energy Sharing,” e-Energy 2020 - Proceedings of the 11th ACM International Conference on Future Energy Systems, 35–46, 2020.

Heinisch, Verena, Mikael Odenberger, Lisa Göransson, and Filip Johnsson (2019a). “Prosumers in the Electricity System—Household vs. System Optimization of the Operation of Residential Photovoltaic Battery Systems.” Frontiers in Energy Research 6.

Heinisch, Verena, Mikael Odenberger, Lisa Göransson, and Filip Johnsson (2019b). “Organizing Prosumers into Electricity Trading Communities: Costs to Attain Electricity Transfer Limitations and Self‐sufficiency Goals.” International Journal of Energy Research, July 25, er.4720.

Heinisch, Verena, Lisa Göransson, Mikael Odenberger, and Filip Johansson (2019c). “Interconnection of the Electricity and Heating Sectors to Support the Energy Transition in Cities.” International Journal of Sustainable Energy Planning and Management 24 (October 11, 2019).

Heinisch, Verena, Lisa Göransson, Rasmus Erlandsson, Henrik Hodel, Filip Johnsson, Mikael Odenberger (2020). “Smart electric vehicle charging strategies for sectoral coupling in a city energy system", submitted for publication (2020)

Heinisch, Verena, Lisa Göransson, Mikael Odenberger, and Filip Johansson (2021). ”The impact of electricity transfer capacity between city and regional scales on energy system decarbonization” (preliminary title), to be submitted for publication.

Heinisch, Verena (2021). Title to be decided. PhD thesis, Energy technology, Space, Earth and the Environment, Chalmers University of Technology. To be published in April 2021.

Hojčková, K., Sandén, B., & Ahlborg, H. (2017). Three electricity futures: Monitoring the emergence of alternative system architectures. Futures 98:72-89.

Hojčková, K., Ahlborg H., Morrison G., Sandén B. (2020a) Entrepreneurial use of context for technological system creation and expansion: The case of blockchain-based peer-to-peer electricity trading. Research Policy 49:104046.

Hojčková, K., Ahlborg H., Sandén B. (2020b) Building a global Supergrid: A sociotechnical analysis. Manuscript submitted to Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Hojckova, K. (2020b). The challenge of peer-to-peer electricity trading pilots: Review of innovation systemic problems in the US and Australia. Manuscript submitted to Energies’ special issue on Smart Local Energy Systems.

Wilkinson, S. J, Hojckova, K., Eon, C., Morrison, G., Sandén B. (2020). Is peer-to-peer electricity trading empowering users? Evidence on motivations and roles in a prosumer business model trial in Australia. Energy Research and Social Science 66:101500.


People in the projectShow/Hide content

Head of Research

Björn Sandén, Professor, Chalmers

Project participants

  • Harald Rohracher, Professor, LiU
  • Mikael Odenberger, Associate Professor, Chalmers
  • Helene Ahlborg, Docent, Chalmers
  • Dick Magnusson, Senior Lecturer, LiU
  • Lisa Göransson, Research Assistent, Chalmers
  • Kristina Hojckova, Chalmer, has defended her thesis
  • Fredrik Envall, LiU, has defended his thesis
  • Verena Heinisch, Chalmer, has defended her thesis

    Project partners

    • Chalmers
    • Linköping University

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