The integration of intermittent renewable energy sources and decentralized energy production in existing electricity grids is a technical and organisational challenge. Moreover, the means to temporarily store this energy, as well as the expected use of large numbers of new types of energy products (for example electric cars and heat pumps) will pose big engineering questions in the next 10-20 years. Smart grids are an important promising solution – at transnational, national and local levels – supporting the transition from centralized energy generation to energy systems containing more distributed, intermittent energy generation with a high penetration of renewable energy systems and flexible options to manage energy flows via advanced ICT. This paradigm shift will lead to new requirements towards increased flexibility of power systems, increased network capacity and new innovative energy products and services.
Another big challenge in smart grids development is to understand and influence consumer behaviour in smart grids. Social acceptance and a more active role of energy consumers are of great importance for the success of smart grids. Currently however the sector is strongly driven by technical developments; to support a healthy market place for smart energy systems, the supply of innovative product-service combinations in smart grids must be more responsive to the demands and requirements of various stakeholders in terms of performance, costs, safety, robustness and comfort. At present a lot of uncertainty exists about what product-service combinations will be offered, and a better understanding of these issues is required. Existing smart grid pilot projects are a rich source of information regarding marketplaces for new innovative energy products and services and the adoption processes of various stakeholders, including utilities, consumers, and network operators, in these smart grid pilots. These are important factors that can contribute to the development and successful implementation of smart grids within Europe. By capturing critical stakeholders’ preferences and experiences, smart energy products and services can be developed in a more effective way than solely through technical approaches that mainly focus on increased energy performance and reduction of costs.
To overcome these technological and organisational challenges we suggest a co-evolutionary approach through which technology, marketplaces, emerging user needs and their adaption, as well as needs of stakeholders in business and governance will be merged.