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The Smart Grid

 Sonia McNeil, with Paul Kominers, J. Palfrey and J. Zittrain  
Product number:
January 2012
29 pages
Product Type:
Workshop-Based Case Study
Link to Faculty Author Page:
Educators / Non-Profits:


A worldwide push to develop smarter energy technologies is currently underway. Widespread implementation of smart grid energy systems, large and small, would offer extraordinary opportunities for conservation and innovation. These technologies also pose significant legal and regulatory policy challenges, however. In the United States, some of these issues are being addressed in research laboratories or open standards-setting processes. Others are being explored in courtrooms, committee hearings, or town hall meetings. Still others await attention in any forum at all. The future of the smart grid depends on many actors and stakeholders. The scope of the project is vast and the challenges—both technical and regulatory—are enormous, and include interoperability, privacy, security, and competition. The way in which the U.S. government, utility companies, consumers, and other interested parties set their agendas and resolve their differences will have a dramatic impact on the future of the smart grid. Indeed, it may determine whether and to what extent the country is able to reap the benefits of these new technologies.

Will the United States succeed in transforming the grid, as it has with past infrastructure projects like railroads, interstate highways, and telecommunication systems? Or will the smart grid’s promise fall short of the mark because of a lack of unified vision and intractable competing interests?

This case is designed to be used as a background note to set the stage for a legislation development/negotiation exercise during which groups of students play the roles of various stakeholders and congressional committees as they try to construct omnibus legislation to enable and promote implementation of the smart grid.  This product includes a teacher's manual, which outlines a teaching plan, classroom exercises and assignments.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the forces working for and against the development of a smart grid in the United States.
  • Practice drafting legislation during a multi-day exercise.
  • Practice negotiation skills through a multi-party role play.
  • Discuss how the U.S. government can take into account specific issues such as data privacy, consumer choice, pricing, and security while promoting adoption of a smart grid.

Subjects Covered

Cyberlaw, Government Law, Energy, Interoperability, Environmental Law


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Additional Information

Information Law and Policy: Advanced Problem Solving Workshop

The Problem Solving Workshop: A Video Introduction

Copyright Information

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