From one dominant design to another: The case of turning on the smart grid

Jens Vester Christiansson

Student thesis: Master thesis


In this thesis I question what dynamics drive the lock-in and the un-lock of a dominant technology design before and during the era of ferment. It looks into the evolution of its theoretical domain and how Actor-Network-Theory can contribute to its understanding of the un-lock and lock-in of dominant design, the era of ferment, the technology cycle, and technological determinism. As an example I use the case study of turning on the Smart Grid. More precisely what the obligatory passage point is to overcome the obstacle problems of un-locking the current dominant design of a fixed price electric grid towards implementing a Smart Grid with flexible prices in the Danish energy sector. The Actor-Network-Theory is used to analyze this case study. What is needed to un-lock the current electric grid and start momentum towards implementing a Smart Grid is that the Transmission System Operator,, as the Smart Grids spokesperson links actors into an alliance which supports that flexible electricity prices at end users replace fixed electricity prices. Especially the politicians are important to achieve un-lock of the current dominant design as they must implement regulations, taxes, levies and standards that allow the rest of the actors in the alliance to move forward. The findings from this case study support that the un-lock of a dominant design is sociotechnically constructed and not purely driven by the vector of technological determinism as is claimed by later dominant design theory. I furthermore show how the Actor-Network-Theory contributes to dominant design theory: It shows there is no technology cycle. What is called technological determinism, which drives the technology cycle, and the social creation that drives the era of ferment together with the former, are just aspects of society and nature and are actually the linking and unlinking of actors in the forms of humans, nonhumans and intermediaries that supports or abandons alliances. There is no difference between the era of ferment and the era of incremental change other than the size of the network and the connections of actors. Un-lock can be likened to the acts of problematization, interessement and enrolment where a new obligatory passage point, socio-technical devices, and strategies cut the links to the old obligatory passage point. This is supported by the case study of the requirements for implementing a smart grid. Lock-in can be likened to the obligatory passage point that creates an alliance by shaping the geometry of the network through linking and un-linking entities.

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2011
Number of pages83