Governance through expectations: Examining the long-term policy relevance of smart meters in the United Kingdom

Journal Article

Socio-technical futures and associated expectations are acknowledged to play a crucial role in generating momentum for many science and technology innovations. Past research has mainly concentrated on studying the role of expectations within the early developments of innovations, formulated by technological developers and scientists, rather than looking at their role within policymaking. More recent work has started to address this gap, investigating the interrelations between expectations, the governance of innovations and policymaking. This paper examines the governance through expectations as formulated in policy documents and associated with the United Kingdom smart meter rollout over a 16-year period – between the policy consultation stage (2000–2008) and its more recent policy design stage (2009–2016). In doing so, it aims to contribute to the literatures on socio-technical futures, the sociology of expectations and smart meters by developing an understanding of how smart meters have been associated with a wider context of changing expectations within policy debates over time, and how policy has articulated, adjusted and attempted to stabilise expectations, whilst dealing with increasing scrutinisations of the rollout. We show that, even though the rollout has been highly contested, smart meters have maintained high policy relevance. This has been possible partly because expectations associated with smart meters have been broadened out and safeguarded by continually connecting them to the changing energy policy goals. Thus, smart meters and their future promises have been actively ‘enacted’.

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