© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. The goal of this paper is to disentangle the ambiguity associated with the term smart grids. A plurality of definitions, envisioned purposes and future visions are associated with smart grids, inclusding access to electricity as a human right, the decentralization of the energy system and the changing role of consumers, sustainability issues, energy security, and climate change. In this context, it is very difficult to assess the potential of smart grids, given the high uncertainty associated with the many challenges that this technology is supposed to face. We apply the analytical tools of complexity theory to (1) identify the different definition of smart grid that are associated with different future visions about their performance; and (2) provide a critical appraisal of these future visions in relation to the stated goals and social contexts in which they are generated. As a result, we identify the contradictions that emerge from different definitions of smart grids, the issues that are neglected and the different levels of uncertainty involved.
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