How smart are smart grids – if households are not involved?

Industries and governments are making policy decisions on smart grids to meet rapidly growing energy demand. But there is a hidden problem: no one has spoken to end users.
– If you don’t take into account the differences between households, you won’t get the desired effect. There is a disconnect here, says Cecilia Katzeff, a researcher at KTH.

Everyone seems to agree: digital system solutions and AI automation of electricity grids will help to meet the growing electricity demand and achieve sustainability goals.

However, very little is said about the human aspect, about how households should work together to fulfil the smart vision.

One of those doing so is KTH researcher Cecilia Katzeff at SEED, the Department of Strategic Sustainability Studies. At Elfack, in May 2025, she will take part in the on-stage programme and present new research findings:

– We have just started a new study and expect to have a better basis for drawing conclusions by then, she says.

Relying on keen stakeholders

The interview-based studies highlight the willingness to change.

– My focus is on the role of households in smart grids: their everyday life, knowledge and values, Cecilia explains.

– The energy industry is very technically driven. A social and behavioural science perspective is needed to avoid overrunning households.

The project looked at policy documents from authorities and industries.

– There is an expectation, a view of a certain type of user regarding the technology offered to homes. It is assumed that there is one person in the household who is very interested in monitoring their energy use and reducing it in an optimal way via all the apps that are being developed and linked to the electricity grid.

The gap between vision and reality

The research refers to a persona, a “resource man”.

– He, because it is often a man, is very interested in technology. He promotes flexibility in demand, using electricity when it is most favourable to the grid. This person also exists in reality, but only occasionally.

The problem, according to the researchers, is that this is far from always the case in households.

– We see a clear disconnect between vision and reality. In general, most people are not that interested, Cecilia says.

At the same time, most people sympathise with sustainability goals and do not want to use too much electricity because it can affect the environment and the climate. There are also financial incentives for many to minimise electricity consumption.

Ambient displays can have an impact

Design, not least linked to the explosion of apps, is part of the research.

– Design is very important. What we call ambient displays are particularly interesting, Cecilia says.

An example of such a display looks like a regular circular wall clock.

– But instead of time, it shows electricity consumption graphically, without numbers. So you see the consumption in real time or over a certain period, such as a week or month. And you can easily compare with previous weeks or months.

– This makes it useful for the whole family. Everyone quickly realises which things in the home use a lot of electricity. For example, the “clock” makes a clear statement when the coffee maker is switched on and you realise that it should not be left on all morning.

Energy communities – a way forward?

Cecilia Katzeff’s research team has just launched an exciting project on energy communities. They can, some say, play an important role in the energy transition. Two neighbourhoods have been included in the study: Hammarby Sjöstad in Stockholm and Tamarinden in Örebro. Electricity is produced and stored jointly and then shared between different properties.

– Our focus is: how does it affect households? Do you get a better sense of electricity usage? How do you view the people you share electricity with? Does it become a real community?
Cecilia Katzeff hopes to present the results of the study at Elfack 2025.

– The fair is perfectly timed for us, and we hope to say a lot about sharing and what it can mean for the energy system of the future.

Elfack is Northern Europe’s largest trade fair for the entire electricity and energy industry. You can find out more about programmes and activities at The trade fair will take place from 6 to 9 May 2025 at the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre in Gothenburg.