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The German ‘Energiewende’ is characterised by an increasing amount of volatile energy supply flowing into the grid that poses several challenges for the existing electricity infrastructure. Shifts towards a more sophisticated electricity system that encompass information and communication technology are trailed in smart grid pilot projects to overcome such challenges. Even though, plenty of efforts have gone into smart grid demonstration projects, the implementation of smart technologies has been rather slow. Moreover, it still remains unclear how a smart grid should look and how it can be implemented. From a sociological perspective the implementation of smart grids implies alterations to current institutional arrangements by challenging existing rules, norms, and beliefs. Current research tends to insufficiently examine the role of institutions within such change processes, in particular, associated practices amongst the organizations involved aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions. Drawing on new organizational institutionalism and qualitative analysis of a German smart grid pilot project, this paper aims to shed light on the institutional change processes linked to smart grid developments in two ways: first, by showing how actors’ existing roles and beliefs are challenged (or not) through the introduction of smart grids and second, how actors attempt to influence/steer institutional changes. The paper aims to make contributions to existing research on smart grid developments in Germany and wider debates on energy system changes worldwide.
Friederike Rohde studied sociology with a focus on Science and Technology Studies (STS) at the Technische Universität Berlin. During her studies, she gained research experiences at the Institute for Ecological Economic Research (IÖW) and Comisión Nacional del Medio Ambiente (CONAMA) in Santiago de Chile. After finishing her studies, Friederike worked as a consultant for the Institute for Sustainability, advising utility companies on topics such as smart city, corporate social responsibility and urban energy efficiency. Since 2015, Friederike has worked at the Center for Technology and Society (ZTG), Technische Universitaet Berlin on the “Energienetz Berlin Adlershof” project. Her current work focuses on smart grids and institutional change as well as the multifaceted negotiation processes between the organizations involved. Her research interests include Smart Sustainable Cities and the social dimension of the digitalization of energy systems.