Digital Platforms and the Future of Energy Provisioning: Promises and Perils for the Next Phase of the Energy Transition
In this Perspective paper we call for attention to the rise of digital platforms in the energy field. The smart grid has laid the ground for – and is increasingly swept up by – attempts to apply the economic, social and technological model of the platform to energy provisioning. The emergent energy platforms offer decentralised, digitally enabled exchanges of energy from distributed resources. They can record flows of energy to administer connections of exchange between household users, develop algorithms to steer the flow of energy from and to household batteries, and enable crowdsourced investments into (small-scale) renewable energy production. We draw up a first typology based on platforms’ physical integration into the energy infrastructure as well as users’ scope for action. To map out the possible implications of these developments, we draw on the burgeoning, interdisciplinary field of platform studies to show how logics of platformization will drive changes to the energy system. We identify the marketization of new domains and activities, the formation of new collectivities and the creation of digital environments that afford new types of engagement with energy assets and other users of the grid. Our main concern is that uncertainties produced by these platforms and their tendency to privatise energy provisioning may slow down the transition towards sustainable energy systems. We therefore call upon energy social scientists to not only examine these developments but use these insights to also participate in the responsible design of the energy grids of the future.
Keywords: Digital platform, Energy markets, Prosumer, Energy community, Citizenship, Energy transition, Peer trading