A marriage of convenience

Smart city is a woman. Apparently smart grid is a man. These are some of my takeaways from the Smart Grid Smart Cities conference that I chaired in Nice (France).

Joking aside, there is is grain of truth in this bold attribution of feminine and masculine attributes. And it has a lot to do with the uneasy relationship between smart grids and smart cities. In the best case we can call them marriage of convenience. In the worst case, it is a case of bullying.

The sad truth is that grid does not care whether cities are smart. Its only loyalty is to the stability of the grid. The fact that the city experiments with solar panels, energy storage or load shedding is a nuisance, or a danger. In the latter case the city can be sacrificed for the benefit of a grid.

The sadder truth is that cities do not care about the grid, humming forward with their projects. As those projects are usually fuelled by EU money and as they enjoy a pilot status, there is seldom a concern how to scale the smart city up, and there is a belief that the grid can support everything that the city can invent.

Why is is then that I call them the marriage of convenience? Because they are together for financial reasons. It is because they cannot deploy large projects without each other. Grid needs citizens that are loyal to the city. Cities need money that the grid can deploy. The closer smartness gets to people’s homes, the larger the role of the city becomes. As a partner to the grid, that’s it.

Stretching this feminine-masculine analogy to its limits (and slightly beyond), marriage of convenience does not pre-empt mutual trust. It is however a very different trust that emerges from the perception of encapsulated interest, not from the perception of shared future or the belief in an unbreakable obligation. Those that worked with Trust-O-Meter known what I am talking about.

I guess that what they truly need is a bit of a Trust Journey, a way to bring both sides to the desired level of trust. It is of course possible: there is no different between marriage counselling and international cooperation. It would be cool to look at this relationship a year or two years down the road, just to check what is the road they choose: mutual trust or mutual distrust.

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