Three electricity futures: Monitoring the emergence of alternative system architectures
The electricity system is in transition, but whereto? To large-scale global or regional grids or to self-sufficient disconnected prosumers? Although numerous studies have previously dealt with the future of the electricity system, there is a lack of studies that attempt to monitor the development of more complete sets of socio-technical system elements that support alternative futures. This paper addresses this gap by first identifying and characterizing three idealized electricity system futures: ‘the Super-grid’, ‘the Smart-grid’ and ‘the Off-grid’, and then using the characterization to monitor the emergence, accumulation and alignment of socio-technical elements indicating the initial formation of new systems. Besides tracing the ongoing structural build-up at the niche level, we explore how the emerging systems relate to the existing electricity regime, other sectors and discourses. While the final outcome is undecided, the findings indicate that all three of the investigated systems have gained momentum over the last decade, partly relying on growth trends in shared elements such as the rise of renewables and climate change concerns, but also building on different technologies, actor networks, related industries and political and cultural discourses.
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