When social practices meet smart grids: Flexibility, grid management, and domestic consumption in The Netherlands

Robin Smale*, Bas van Vliet, Gert Spaargaren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


This article seeks to analyse recent shifts in goals concerning domestic energy uses. Drawing on two Dutch smart grid projects, we observe that in the smart grid transition the balancing of (renewable) supply and demand in energy grids becomes the key priority of grid managers. This shift becomes translated at the household level through so called ‘teleoaffective structures’ of energy practices which motivate and direct the behaviour of householders towards flexible timing-of-demand. New grid objectives are codified in the rules of social practice concerning the use of flexibility instruments (notably time-of-day pricing) and are materialized in monitoring devices, smart appliances, and energy storage. We investigated which domestic practices are most open for flexible timing-of-use. Cleaning practices were found to be most suitable for demand-side response, whereas practices implied in ambiance regulation, leisure, cooking and eating, align only with some flexibility instruments. Next, an analytical focus on linkages between social practices was used to specify opportunities and barriers to sustainable domestic energy consumption. In the concluding section, we argue that householder engagement with sustainability goals should be safeguarded from the flexibility instruments, goals and strategies that seem to turn this engagement into grid management performed for financial benefits only.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-140
JournalEnergy Research & Social Science
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Demand-side management
  • Smart grids
  • Social practices
  • Sustainable energy consumption

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