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On Holistic Design and Operation of Smart Grids for Electricity Distribution

See paper by Paulo Ribeiro et al. (2012) for details.

"The electric power grid is a crucial part of societal infrastructure and needs constant attention to maintain its performance and reliability. ... Successful smart grid deployment will require a holistic analysis and design process if it is to function properly and in an environmentally sustainable way. The entire system must be treated as integrated, not as isolated parts." Paulo Ribeiro and his co-authors argue that this requires recognition of three complexities:

They propose Dooyeweerd's aspects as helping to understand and manage dimensional complexity. "Each complexity is characterized by intrinsic norms or standards" compliance with which will help to ensure proper functioning of the grid. (c.f. the Shalom principle.) The paper describe a set of engineering tools, T-Dim, T-Tech and T-Stake, with which each of the dimensions may be analysed. A fourth too, T-Create, integrates the three. The paper then goes on to make a philosophical legitimization for these tools.

The T-Dim tool is based on the idea that all things function simultaneously in a number of distinct aspects, which are spheres of meaningfulness and law. For successful operation, the grid must be functioning well in all aspects, as follows (the table in the paper has slightly different names and kernel meanings of aspects):

Table 1. Dooyeweerd's Aspects, and examples of issues in Smart Grids
Its meaning Examples of relevant issues in Smart Grids
Quantitative aspect Discrete amount Measurable quantities like current, voltage, power
Spatial aspect Continuous extent Spatial arrangement of transmission and distribution lines
Kinematic aspect Flowing movement Rotating machines, energy flow
Physical aspect Forces, energy, mass Properties of conducting and isolating materials
Biotic/organic aspect Life, organism Influence of energy generation and transport on life and vice versa
Sensitive/psychic aspect Sensing, feeling, emotion Feelings of safety and control of humans in a smart environment
Analytical aspect Distinction, concepts
Abstraction, logic
Distinction between different types of grids: micro, smart, super, etc.
Formative aspect Deliberate shaping,
Technology, skill, history
Control over power generation, distribution and consumption. Smart meters and the (dis-)empowerment of residential customers
Lingual aspect Symbolic signification The meaning that customers attach to the term 'smart grid'.
[also: warning notices, dissemination of information, etc.? A.B.]
Social aspect Relationships, roles Influence of micro grids and smart grids on the behaviour of and interaction between users
Economic aspect Frugality, resources; Management Price differentiation depending on momentary supply and demand. Return on investment of smart grids.
[Also: that smart grids enable us to make use of renewable resources more effectively? A.B.]
Aesthetic aspect Harmony, delight Aesthetics of buildings and systems. Beauty of V2G connection points. design of smart meters and intelligent systems for households.
Juridical aspect 'Due', appropriateness;
Rights, responsibilities
Liability for a failing smart grid. Ownership of micro, smart and super grids. Privacy protection.
Ethical aspect Attitude, Self-giving love Contribution of smart grids to a sustainable future. Safety of energy generation and transport.
Pistic/Faith aspect Faith, commitment, belief;
Vision of who we are
Trust of consumers in micro and smart grids. Utopian trust in technological progress.

[The right hand column of the table is copied manually from the paper, for which grateful acknowledgement is given. The pieces in square brackets are added by me as minor contributions to the debate.]

Having a set of aspects like this allows the complexity of the situation to be managed without unduly reducing it. It facilitates analysis and dialogue about the complexity of smart grid systems in operation.

The T-Tech tool has two parts, T-Tech-Internal and T-Tech-External. T-Tech-Internal is concerned with operation of the technology itself, such as how solar cells convert sunlight to electricity. T-Tech-External considers the technical effect on people's lives and society, and analysis of this is especially assisted by T-Dim. The design of T-Tech-External is heavily influences by Dooyeweerd's theory of individuality structures, which holds that for each type of entity there is a characteristic aspectual profile (for example, in a solar cell the spatial, physical and formative aspects are particularly important, but the economic aspect is also relevant).

The T-Stake tool assists identification and analysis of each stakeholder and their main interests. Each stakeholder's main interest is 'qualified' by one of the aspects (dimensions). The 'balancing' between different stakeholder interests is facilitated by such analysis since Dooyeweerd's aspects relate to each other, and each is equally important. So, nobody's interests may unquestioningly dominate those of others.

Taking It Further

Paul Ribeiro is taking these ideas further by founding a Working Group within the IEEE Power and Energy Society and will hold meetings. He and Maarten Verkerk will also chair a Panel at the 2013 IEEE Conference in Vancouver:

Planning and Design of Smart Grids: A Holistic Approach

Chair: Paulo F. Ribeiro

Description: The electrical infrastructure of the future will be much more complex than the current one. It will have to integrate traditional and sustainable energy sources, present and new distribution systems, customers with quite different consumption patterns, and smart control systems. However, at this moment there are no comprehensively enough engineering models that can cope with the higher level of complexity of future electric grids. Consequently, engineers use traditional models to design the next generation of electrical infrastructure with the result that important interactions between technical systems will be overlooked; non-technical dimensions like social behavior of customers or moral dimensions of smart control systems will be ignored; and the justified interests of economically weak stakeholders will be neglected.

The objective of the Panel Session is to ask philosophical and empirical questions and present analyses of cases which can assist engineers with the development of holistic planning and designs for electric grids.

Topics and panelists Includes:


Ribeiro P.F., Pounder H, Verkerk M.J. (2012). Planning and designing smart grids: philosophical considerations. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Fall 2012, 34-43.

This page is part of a collection that discusses application of Herman Dooyeweerd's ideas, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Written on the Amiga and Protext.

All except right hand column of the table is Compiled by (c) 2013 Andrew Basden. You may use this material subject to conditions.

Created: 16 April 2013 Last updated: