On November 2nd 2015, smart grid researchers from the across Asia, Europe and the US came together at Hong Kong Baptist University for the First Asian Energy Conference: Smart Grids, Sustainability Transition, and Innovation in Governance. In attendance were Chinese and Hong Kongese energy and grid policy-makers, representatives of grid operators, NGOs, consultants, and other researchers. The event was hosted by the Asian Energy Studies Centre and the Department of Geography, who 'aimed to provide a forum for academics to share new policy and governance practices of smart grid development from Asian perspectives.' On my Twitter I tried to capture the core of several presentations (a key slide and a quote).
In three sessions, Asian, European and North American perspectives on smart grids were exchanged. We learned that the energy markets in each country operate very differently, with different actors leading the charge in smart grid development, and different roles for consumers being imagined in smart grid configurations (I will not summarize these differences here, but instead refer to the videos on the AESC YouTube channel). In addition to that, some researchers approach the topic from a business angle, others a political, socio-psychological or sociological one, and yet others focused on renewable energy policy. In spite of this, or maybe because of this, the Q&As and panel discussions addressed some fundamental questions about smart grid development: who should take the lead in developing smart grids? What role do consumers play? How liberalized should the energy market be? And what can the smart grid really mean for sustainable development?
Dr. John Cheng: 'The irony of highly reliable grids is that they leave people completely unprepared for breakdown'
Dr. Alice Siu proposes 'deliberative polling' as instrument for democratic engagement in smart grid public debate
Prof. Elizabeth Wilson: 'That 70GWs of wind power that was going to destroy the grid, is now managed as just another resource'
Prof. Kenji Tanaka: at Okinawa pilot at least 70% of EVs were always parked; lots of energy storage available for V2G
What actually made communication between different researchers difficult on occasion, was that some researchers focus on what smart grid developments mean now, concretely, to solving grid problems and combating climate change; and other researchers explore visions of smart grids, and explore their technological, business, and social futures.
For me it was particularly valuable to learn about how smart grids are being framed, developed, and discussed about in the Asian context, which differs wildly from Europe's. Highlights for me therefore included Dr. Daphne Mah's own contribution to the conference, on smart grid governance in China and Japan (available to watch here); Dr. John Cheng's excellent helicopter view of Asian smart grid development (watch here); and Prof. Kenji Tanaka's presentation on the Okinawa Green Island Project, titled Smart Grids as a Social System Innovation: Experiences from EV Rent-a-car Project.
My own presentation at the conference covered my own research so far, as well as that of my ENP PhD colleague Joeri Naus. I believe it was a useful contribution to the conference, adding some depth on the topic of consumer involvement in smart grid configurations.
Energy research seminar series
In the days following the conference, I joined Daphne, Victor and Ma Man at the Asian Energy Studies Centre's office as their first visiting research scholar - an honour! And a very valuable experience. Aside from the many interesting conversations I had with them and other researchers at the Department of Geography, I presented one of the three Energy Research Seminars. Prof. Taedong Lee presented about Seoul's ambitious One Less Nuclear Power Plant Policy, a complex of far-reaching Mayor-led policy-measures aimed at reducing Seoul's reliance on nuclear energy and mitigating climate change (part one of Prof. Lee's seminar). Prof. Elizabeth Wilson introduced us to a crucial actor in US energy market & electricity grid governance: Regional Transmission Organizations.
My own seminar - see the three videos below - was titled 'Domestic Energy Consumption in Perspective'. I discussed the tension between socio-psychological and practices theoretical interpretations of energy consumption behaviour, and to what different perspectives on behavioural change they lead. In the final part of the seminar, I attempt to reconcile the two opposing streams of research. I think the presentation was well received, and I believe it accomplished its purpose of getting some perspective on the study of energy consumption. Some interesting questions followed, see the third video; I was particularly pleased that a social-psychologist in attendance enjoyed the seminar greatly.
Overall, I am more convinced, now more than ever, that international exchange of smart grid research is vital for reducing uncertainty about its future development. The Asian Energy Studies Centre provided and will continue to provide a great platform for this exchange, and I am happy that they actively pursue this role with such enthusiasm, energy, vision and skill. In some way, the organization of the Second Asian Energy Conference has already started: AESC is compiling the research agenda of the speakers into a thought piece, which may also form the basis for the next conference. Exciting! And above all, thanks to Daphne, Victor and Manyi in particular for welcoming me in Hong Kong with open arms, and I look forward to working together in the near future!