Managing the complexities of power supply, demand
In the Phoenix metropolitan area, temperatures can top 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Ensuring a reliable power grid — and air conditioning — for its more than 4 million people could quickly become a life-or-death situation. As we move into the future, if population and temperature extremes continue to increase as they’re expected to, so will pressures on Phoenix’s power grid.
New technologies, such as electric cars and rooftop solar panels, as well as citizens’ access to them, are also influencing the flow of energy in and out of grids.
While innovations are helping to create “smarter” grids that enable utilities to better monitor, manage and adapt to these changing energy flows, innovations also introduce new issues related to citizens’ rights and responsibilities when it comes to consuming and producing power.
“You’ve got a number of social and technical issues floating around, some of which matter to some actors more than others,” said Erik Fisher, associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “Utilities, government planning offices, private companies and academic and national research labs — they’re all thinking about and trying to be responsive to these things, but they’re not necessarily reflecting on them in a coherent, systematic or comprehensive manner.”
To help better understand how to illuminate and cope with this complexity, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded more than $300,000 to social scientists with the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU and the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University to collaborate with those working at all stages of “smart” grid design, development, and deployment.
“We want to help all of these different professionals, experts and specialists to have a more systems-thinking approach to what their immediate goals are, what they’re trying to accomplish collectively and how these things might play out in the future,” said Fisher, who is principal investigator for the project. “We also want them to be able to increase their awareness of other stakeholders that are operating along side of them at the same time.”
This project is a follow-up to the successful Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) project, also funded by the NSF, in which social scientists and humanists were embedded in 30 laboratories around the world to help determine how laboratories might comply with increasing pressure to consider social responsibility with their research. STIR researchers observed laboratory operations and then facilitated semi-structured collaboration and reflection sessions with the laboratory workers over a 12-week period. Lab researchers considered such things as their technical decisions, procedures and the potential long-term societal impacts of their work.