Workshop A2)
Social values in the development of smart energy systems

Hosted by Rolf Künneke (TU Delft)


Smart energy systems are considered an important contribution to the transition to a more sustainable energy supply and use, as they facilitate the growing deployment of, among others, renewable energies. They comprise the ICT enabled electricity grids, as well as smart heat and gas applications. Their primary purpose is to increase the energy system’s ability to cope with unanticipated fluctuations in generation from volatile renewable energies from e.g. wind and solar energy.

However, there are serious ethical concerns related to smart energy system implementation, for example concerning privacy, security, reliability, or affordability. Such concerns can lead to problems and delays during the implementation, thereby increasing risks for stakeholders that are willing to participate in such projects. To address these ethical concerns, there is a strong urgency to take social values increasingly into account when designing smart energy systems. Addressing them early in the design phase of systems can improve social acceptability, ultimately facilitating increased smart energy system implementation.

This workshop will address ethical concerns related to smart energy systems through the integration of social values into their technical and institutional design with a focus on acceptable design and socially responsible innovation.



The following speakers will contribute to the workshop:

Towards a value sensitive design of smart energy systems

Rolf Künneke (TU Delft)

Ethical concerns vis-à-vis smart energy systems are often expressed in terms of social values related to their use: Prominent examples are privacy, reliability, security, or affordability.

This presentation addresses the urgency to take social values into consideration of the design of the institutional and technical features of smart energy system, in order to increase their acceptability. The main challenge lies in how to design smart energy systems so that they take into account not only technical and economic values like efficiency or profitability, but also social values like privacy or affordability. The complexity of this challenge is enhanced by the nature of smart energy systems as complex socio-technical systems, in which technological innovations co-evolve with social developments, path-dependency is high, and value conflicts lead to acceptability problems.

To increase social acceptability of smart energy systems, we aim towards a normative, ex-ante approach for upholding social values with ethical importance. Thereby, we go beyond traditional social cost benefit analyses, which expresses values in monetary terms, and aim to connect social values to the discussion of technological and institutional change.

The presentation will outline first ideas how a specific ethical value theory – the Capability Approach – can provide a normative base to assess the acceptability of smart energy systems. It can provide the normative background to identify important values, which can be intersubjectively justified and which should be embedded in the design of acceptable smart energy systems.

An important question when striving for value sensitive design is whether and how conflicting and often incommensurable values can be taken into account. To provide a first insight, several different categories of value conflicts are discussed.


How to combine the social values of local energy initiatives with commercial values?

Erik ten Elshof (Ministry of Economic Affairs)

Smart energy systems can facilitate the participation of local communities in sustainable energy projects. Local energy can be consumed locally. But this goes further. See for instance the activities of the Dutch company ‘Vandebron’, who makes the connection between individual energy consumers and identifiable producers of sustainable energy.

The Dutch government expects a lot from decentral and smart energy systems, and is for the realisation of renewable policy targets depending on the willingness of local communities to accept sustainable energy generation in their environment.

The development of decentral energy technology and smart energy systems creates new opportunities. But the techno-economic perspective is not the only relevant, and may not even be the most important perspective. Not every  local community wants sustainable energy in its environment, and not everyone is willing or capable to make the necessary investments and changes in energy behaviour.

In the Netherlands we see an impressive growth of local sustainable energy communities. They are active in energy saving initiatives as well as in wind- and solar projects, but the scale of these projects is still relative small compared to the total national energy needs.

Large projects that need substantial invesments are often organised by commercial organisations. Local participation in these projects can create more acceptance for these projects, but this has a price. For instance in the case of wind energy, the benefits of the projects need also partly to go to the local community.

The presentation will focus on the role of social values and identify some important questions:

  • What are the opportunities and what are the difficulties that commercial organisations are facing in dealing with local energy communities?
  • What are the possibilities for local communities to organise their own bussinescase and where do they need other organisations?
  • How is this different for the different kind of energy initiatives (wind, solar, heating, energy saving)?
  • How does an optimal collaboration of local and commercial initiative look like? What is needed to realise this collaboration?


Alliander's experiences with 7 smart grid pilot projects

Jochem Garthoff (Alliander N.V.)

The last few years, Alliander has been involved in 7 smart grid pilots in order to investigate the direction of the energy transition in our society. This facilitates in-time adaptation of net infrastructure and helps society in the cost effective transition towards sustainable energy systems. These pilots have generated several beneficial technological insights, but also showed the importance to effectively connect with (local) movements and developments in our society. Especially, if you consider that the role of the end user in our future sustainable energy systems is one of the big unknowns.

What does this mean for Alliander’s way of working and its traditional interaction with society?  And how can we further improve this interaction in order to generate a cost effective sustainable energy system?