First Advisor

Loren Lutzenhiser

Date of Publication

Fall 9-30-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Smart power grids, Technological innovations -- Social aspects



Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 273 pages)


In the face of challenges of energy security, decarbonization, resilience, and the replacement of aging infrastructure systems, federal, state, and local actors are facilitating the development of smart electricity networks to transition towards a more sustainable electricity system. In the United States, development of "smart grids" is being pursued as a national policy mandate and goal, promising that the deployment of smart grid technologies -- referring in general to digital information and communication technologies that sense, monitor, control and manage the electric grid -- will make electricity systems more environmentally sustainable and reliable, and at the same time, provide opportunities for growth and innovation.

This dissertation examines and analyzes three interconnected issues relating to these sociotechnical changes in electricity infrastructure: the material and discursive construction of the smart grid, urban smart grid experimentation, and the mobility of smart grid models and knowledge. A conceptual framework is proposed for investigating sociotechnical transitions that accounts for dimensions of power and politics that are commonly overlooked in conventional analysis, and highlights how governance regimes shape and are shaped by sociotechnical change. Utilizing Foucauldian discourse analysis and relational comparative case study methodology, this dissertation analyzes the development of the smart grid as a governmental program highlighting its rationalities, techniques, and imagined subjects.

The findings of these analyses suggest that the transition to a smarter grid involves much more than top-down policy mandates; significant urban experimentation is involved, as well as inter-city learning that is shaped by local political economy and broader political rationalities. This dissertation also argues for a synthesis between policy mobilities and sociotechnical transitions theory, highlighting through case studies how urban smart grid experiments are influenced by experiences and knowledge generated from "vanguard" cities. The conclusion of this dissertation is that the creation of the smart grid is far from a purely technical infrastructural intervention, and instead, requires significant changes in the everyday social practices and conduct of energy consumers, while also reconfiguring the city, engaging in a material politics in order to govern energy transitions.


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