Socio-political acceptance of smart grid as a tool to mitigate climate change: the case of British Columbia

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Jurisdictions around the world are investing in “smart grid”, which comprises a myriad of technologies that can help optimize the electricity grid. While one motivation for smart grid is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, deployment can also be driven by motivations to reduce electricity costs and strengthen grid reliability. These motivations or “frames” can conflict with one another, e.g. environmental versus economic benefits. This study uses British Columbia (BC), Canada as a case study to explore socio-political acceptance (or public acceptance broadly speaking) of smart grid as a tool to mitigate climate change. BC installed smart meters throughout the province from 2010-2014 while encountering a significant amount of citizen opposition, and is set to release a smart grid plan in 2015. I collected and analyzed data from the BC context via interviews with key stakeholders, media analysis of newspaper articles (from 2006-2012), and a survey of Canadian citizens implemented in 2013 (n = 2930). I find that key stakeholders and media in BC focus more on economic frames than environmental frames (e.g. climate abatement), and news media mention risks more often than benefits. The survey indicates that citizen acceptance of smart meters (one particular smart grid technology) is lower in BC than in Alberta and Ontario, but acceptance increases in all provincial samples when smart meters were framed according to environmental and economic benefits. In summary, the discussion of smart grid deployment in BC is tending to neglect environmental benefits—but an environmental framing might help to stimulate citizen support.
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