Envisioning Smarter Power Futures: UK Smart Grid Scenarios

Dr Peter Connor, University of Exeter,
Tom Watson, University of Westminster,
Nazmiye Balta-Ozkan, University of Westminster,
Colin Axon, Brunel University,
Lorraine Whitmarsh, Cardiff University,
Alexa Spence, University of Nottingham

We present a set of socio-technical scenarios for the development of smart grids (SG) in the UK. Our scenarios examine markets and the role of new actors, consumer choices and perceptions, the importance and uses of data and information, policy drivers and barriers, investment decisions, and technological solutions for network assets. Our interdisciplinary programme integrated strong multi-stage stakeholder consultation.

The UK offers an interesting test bed for smarter electricity networks in terms of policy, markets, regulation, and technology deployment. Heat and transport are expected to decarbonise through electrification, perhaps doubling demand to 2050; growth in renewable energy may improve security of supply yet introduce substantial intermittent capacity. It is unclear whether these drivers for smartness will be greater than the barriers, and the UK’s broken value chain may be a particular problem. The current network will need to become smarter, but at what rate? How can stakeholders be efficiently incentivised, and how can consumers share in the benefits?


Our interdisciplinary programme identified:

·     critical steps, interdependencies and contingencies in SG  development and their implications;

·     barriers and incentives to SG development as regards differences in fuel supply, geography, governance of investment and market access, investment complexity, environmental concerns and consumer values;

·     potential spatial variation in deployment.


This informed the development of four socio-technical scenarios for UK SG deployment to 2050, briefly characterised as:

·     Minimum smart

o    Substantial flexible generation and interconnection means SG are less necessary.

o    Consumers remain passive and eschew DSM.

o    Networks become smarter only as essential.

o    Substantial barriers remain to market reform and new market entrants

o    International permits and interconnectors are used to meet climate targets.

o    Energy prices keep rising


·     Groundswell

o    Strong consumer interest in home energy efficiency and renewable energy.

o    Communities adopt distributed generation, some moving away from grid reliance.

o    New market entrants in energy supply, aggregation, and energy services.

o    Few policy interventions, with policy largely playing catch-up with public attitudes.


·     Smart Power Sector

o    Passive consumers are largely resistant to DSM.

o    High volumes of renewable energy sources.

o    Network operators engage with innovation.

o    The supply industry deploys smart technologies and techniques.

o    Grid-scale energy storage and interconnectors essential to supply side.


·     Smart 2050

o    Strong commitment to renewable energy policy and associated infrastructure.

o    Competitive capital available.

o    Consumers actively engage.

o    DNOs develop widespread active network management techniques and technologies.


Smart grids may offer benefits in terms of differentiated tariffs based on use profiles, enabling more efficient use of energy infrastructure, and more effective integration of large amounts of intermittent and distributed renewables. All of these are important factors for UK energy and climate change policy goals. We show that scenarios with a wide range of degree of smartness are plausible. This raises issues for policy and research to address the long-term issues around risk, innovation and investment, as well as equity of the benefits for consumers and the power industry.



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