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Challenges 2013, 4(2), 201-216;

Getting Smart? Climate Change and the Electric Grid

Environmental Science and Policy, Clark University-IDCE, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610, USA
Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, 301 19th Ave South, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA
Department of Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University, TAMU-2258, College Station, TX 77843, USA
School of Public Policy and Administration, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 7 July 2013 / Revised: 23 August 2013 / Accepted: 23 August 2013 / Published: 5 September 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Challenges in Alternative Energy)
Full-Text   |   PDF [311 KB, uploaded 5 September 2013]   |  


Interest in the potential of smart grid to transform the way societies generate, distribute, and use electricity has increased dramatically over the past decade. A smarter grid could contribute to both climate change mitigation and adaptation by increasing low-carbon electricity production and enhancing system reliability and resilience. However, climate goals are not necessarily essential for smart grid. Climate change is only one of many considerations motivating innovation in electricity systems, and depending on the path of grid modernization, a future smart grid might do little to reduce, or could even exacerbate, risks associated with climate change. This paper identifies tensions within a shared smart grid vision and illustrates how competing societal priorities are influencing electricity system innovation. Co-existing but divergent priorities among key actors’ are mapped across two critical dimensions: centralized versus decentralized energy systems and radical versus incremental change. Understanding these tensions provides insights on how climate change objectives can be integrated to shape smart grid development. Electricity system change is context-specific and path-dependent, so specific strategies linking smart grid and climate change need to be developed at local, regional, and national levels. And while incremental improvements may bring short term gains, a radical transformation is needed to realize climate objectives. View Full-Text
Keywords: electricity; mitigation; adaptation; smart grid; grid modernization electricity; mitigation; adaptation; smart grid; grid modernization

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Stephens, J.C.; Wilson, E.J.; Peterson, T.R.; Meadowcroft, J. Getting Smart? Climate Change and the Electric Grid. Challenges 2013, 4, 201-216.

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