All Smart Grids meet the same goals and trends. But Smart Grids themselves differ according to market structures, network topologies or human or economic geography.
More than the smart grids themselves, the way they are built and made to emerge varies greatly.
The major cultural trends observable on each continent, with nuances by country, are reflected in the way Smart Grids projects are designed.
In North America, especially in the United States, “everything is possible”. Here, we are able to invest and deploy large-scale initiatives. It’s not just about the size of the market, it’s about having a very strong ability to take risks, think big, aim for success. The result is significant achievements, if not always perfect (i.e. Silver Spring Networks or EnerNoc, the demand response leader etc …) and painful failures (Betterplace). In North America, actors are able to go fast, be passionnate for a new project and turn it into a success.
In Europe, “everything is to be defended”. The defence of established activities is, if not a priority, as in France, an important objective. Some European countries, which feel they may have less to lose than others, are highly innovative (Finland, Estonia). Smart Grids projects are usually shy; they start with technological tests to prove the viability of a technology, are followed by demonstrators to demonstrate their viability on a larger scale, pilot projects to verify viability in real conditions and finish, if necessary, by a deployment in several phases. This process, under cover of prudence and professionalism, leaves all the time necessary to the actors wanting to deploy a defensive strategy, to slow down the movement or even to kill the new initiatives in the bud.
In China, it still predominates the feeling that “everything is to be done”. Outside of a few historic urban areas, energy companies have no heritage to manage. They deploy without constraint the most advanced technologies. Projects must immediately “think big” because the scope is often larger than anywhere else. They must be fast to follow the overall movement.
Africa is a crossroads where the influences evoked above are mingled.
The speed and scope of Chinese projects, the structure of European projects, the audacity and ambition of certain American projects are qualities that can be decided to be incompatible or complementary.
If we consider that we have common objectives in terms of energy, such as the preservation of the environment or a fair management of our natural resources or a certain level of interconnection of our energy systems, we have in this diversity of approaches all the ingredients for future success, combining innovation, controlled risks, speed of execution and ability to be deployed widely. At different levels, research, operational projects, we need to build stronger forums or mechanisms for cooperation.
The main challenge will then be to remain flexible and that these mechanisms really bring value to all stakeholders.