Evolution of ‘community energy’ in smart grids in India and the Netherlands

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


Smart grids have emerged as a global phenomenon. In different countries they are being mobilised by different logics. In India smart grids are driven by a need for wider energy access and grid performance improvements. In the Netherlands they are about efficiently managing current infrastructures, renewable energy integration and peak management. However, energy transitions is at the heart of these divergent efforts. In India this is a transition from traditional energy like kerosene to modern energy like electricity. In the Netherlands the transition is from fossil fuels and inefficient energy use to cleaner and more efficient energy systems. Keeping these in mind, this paper asks – How and why do conceptualisations of smart grids differ in India and the Netherlands? What can they learn from each other? In both India and the Netherlands interest in smart grids is rapidly rising. There is rising interest among Dutch firms and the government in exporting technologies and knowledge to India in the smart arena – grids, cities, mobility. In addition, we identify aspects of smart grids in India like community payment systems that could benefit the Dutch smart grid. Keeping these in mind, this paper aims to conduct a comparative study to unravel the convergences and divergences in smart grids in India and the Netherlands. This will open pathways for south to north and north to south cross learning and pollination of ideas. We use practice theories and political ecology to understand and analyse issues around smart grids. Smart grids aim to transform energy networks and social life. A practice theory approach helps “attend to processes of ongoing transformation, feedback and related circuits of reproduction” (Shove & Walker 2010: 476). They also help decentre the focus of attention from individualistic and structural accounts (Hargreaves 2011; Strengers 2012). At the same time political ecology helps with a “deeper consideration of the role of knowledge, diversity, power, geography, and non-material circumstances in shaping transition dynamics” (Lawhon & Murphy 2012: 371). We employ political ecology especially to understand the power and politics in smart grids. This paper uses data from three ongoing research projects – Developing and Implementing Smart Grids in India, Standard Grid Smart Homes and Emerging Energy Practices in the Smart Grid. The first focuses on Indian smart grids and the second and third on Dutch smart grids. The paper looks at three types of smart grids. First, the off-grid sector smart grids in India. Second, the efforts to transform the Indian national electricity grid into a smart grid. Third, the transformation of the Dutch national electricity grid into a smart grid. It draws on data collected through interviews, observations and websites and reports of government, policy advocacy and private organisations in India and the Netherlands. This data is analysed qualitatively using NVivo, discourse analysis and grounded theory approaches. We have traced a number of issues across the Indian and Dutch smart grids. Some issues like real time monitoring and control and lowering generation and transmission expenses are consistent in both countries, albeit driven by different logics. Other issues like a push towards energy access and customer privacy are present in one country and either absent or emergent in the other. We have filtered these issues under 4 key themes – energy equity, greening the grid, control and performance and monetary matters. We find that energy equity is a dominant theme for smart grids in India. About 400 million people lack access to electricity in India. Smart grids are expected to play a key role in the Indian state’s strong push for universal energy access. Energy equity is not prominent in the Netherlands yet. However, grid connected solar rooftop systems and feed-in-tariffs raise questions of fair allocation of cost-benefits. In addition, with the growing energy poverty discourse in Europe, equity issues may further strengthen in smart grids in the Netherlands. Greening the grid is a theme in both Indian and Dutch smart grids. In India the primary driver is a need for more energy compared to a need for low carbon energy in the Netherlands. A key element of green grids in India is the micro-grid smart grid sector. This sector is overwhelmingly dominated by low carbon energy. In the Netherlands, the micro-grid smart grid sector does not seem to exist. However, there is a growing tendency to develop local level systems through energy movements, islanding systems and use of batteries while staying connected to grid. Control and performance is also a theme in both countries. Within this, monitoring, customer data collection and control figure prominently in both countries. In the Netherlands resistances are also emerging with issues of privacy, data ownership and data security gaining strength. In India, data and customer privacy have not emerged as important discourses yet. Finally, in monetary matters, new ways of revenue collections have emerged in smart grids India. This is because electricity bill collection has been a long standing problem in India. Some innovations like community payment systems also assure continued energy access to the customer even when she is unable to pay her bills temporarily. In the Netherlands such issues were pertinent some decades ago but have long since disappeared. However, again with energy poverty becoming more pervasive, such mechanisms could be a useful import. On the other hand, time of day tariffs could be an important learning in the other direction.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Event8th International Sustainability Transitions Conference, IST 2017 - Chalmers University of Technology , Gothenburg, Sweden
Duration: 18 Jun 20176 Jan 2018
Conference number: 8


Conference8th International Sustainability Transitions Conference, IST 2017
Abbreviated titleIST 2017
Internet address


  • Energy transition
  • cross-leaning
  • India
  • Netherlands
  • Smart grid
  • community energy


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