Electric (dis) connections: Comparative review of smart grid news coverage in the United States and Canada

Alexandra Mallett, Jennie C. Stephens, Elizabeth J. Wilson, Ria Langheim, Ryan Reiber, Tarla Rai Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

The term smart grid (SG) has been widely used in both the United States (U.S.) and Canada to represent multiple visions and configurations of electricity system change. In both countries policies, programs, and initiatives have emerged to promote technological and social changes associated with SG, and different patterns of SG implementation and governance are apparent at local, regional, and national levels. This paper reports on a comparative analysis of SG media content in nationally-circulating newspapers in the U.S. and Canada to explore patterns of SG conversations in the two countries. Media reporting about SG provides a valuable lens that reflects public discourse and also contributes to setting the public agenda by shaping public opinion and framing key issues. Despite similarities in terms of policy, program design, and SG deployment strategies, several prominent differences between the two countries emerge in public conversations. Firstly, Canadian SG newspaper content focuses more on implementation and describing people's experiences with smart meters, while the U.S. content focuses more on commercial opportunities with more reference to private sector actors and various technological components beyond smart meters. Secondly, although media coverage in both countries frequently highlights technological and economic benefits of SG, positive SG framing is more frequent in the U.S. newspapers than in the Canadian ones. Negative SG portrayals, including cultural, political and health and safety risks, are more frequently mentioned in the Canadian newspapers. These differing SG framings could be due to national level cultural differences. In the U.S, considered to be more of an individualistic society, there is more emphasis on business opportunities, being entrepreneurial, and more private sector involvement in the electricity sector. By contrast, in Canada, public authorities, more prominent in the electricity market than in the U.S., play a key role in smart grid deployment. Furthermore, in Canada, considered to have more social support structures for individuals and communities, there was more emphasis on the experiences of people. This suggests that cultural differences at the national level be a further contextual lens helpful to policy makers and technology proponents as they embark upon energy system change initiatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1913-1921
Number of pages9
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Volume82
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 20 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC 890-2011-0143 ) and the National Science Foundation (NSF-SES 1127697 ) for this work. Furthermore, we would like to thank colleagues involved in the broader project regarding socio-political dimensions of smart grids in the region including James Meadowcroft, Ian Rowlands, Maya Jegen, Jonn Axsen, Daniel Rosenbloom, and others who gave us feedback throughout this process.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd

Keywords

  • Canada
  • Media analysis
  • Smart grid
  • USA

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