Network Infiltration: Gaining Utility Acceptance of Alternative Energy Systems
Our American electric system doggedly follows the central station model developed in the late 1800s. Thomas Hughes says the system gained momentum by adding more alliances with educators, politicians, and other industries until the social network was so intertwined with the technology that deviating from the central station model would be extremely difficult. However, change can occur if a variety of components change, but Hughes does not specify which components. Another network model, actor-network theory, proposes that social relationships (the same ones that maintain system momentum) are actually dynamic relationships that either actively maintain or change the system configuration. But which relationships need to change in order for utilities to accept and interconnect renewable energy with their grid?
This thesis focuses on the social relationships created around renewable technologies and the idea that they can be successfully integrated into the network. In each case, customers, utility executives, institutions, and technology worked together to bring about utility acceptance. Individuals, working within these institutions, can bring about change. In New York City, an urban windmill was installed atop an apartment building. In Sacramento, CA, the municipal utility, SMUD, broke from the system model to become a leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. In Texas, their renewables portfolio standard has become a standard for others to follow.