LIMITS '21 Paper
Power shortages and fluctuations in electricity supply are expected to become more frequent in the future, as renewable energy increases in the electricity mix. This poses a problem in that electricity might not always be available at the time of demand for industries as well as for households. Demand flexibility in households has been brought forward as part of a solution to this problem. How to engage households in this, however, is still unclear. Actors have tried to liken demand flexibility with waste sorting and other altruistic activities with connotations of contributing to the benefit of society, rather than being an activity springing from economic motives. In this article, we use design fiction to critically explore what this analogy would mean in the context of household electricity consumption. We describe fictive user scenarios for cooking, charging the electric car, laundry & dishes and heating to draw the demand flexibility analogies to the forefront. By exemplifying and concretizing these scenarios, it becomes evident that using waste sorting as an analogy for demand flexibility is not realistic. We discuss the implications of the scenarios in relation to the current visions that inform the development of the smart grid, and the emerging services and service providers. We conclude that there is a need to challenge the current images of flexible households in the smart grid in order to design systems that support thriving within limits.