ICT and the Deregulation of the Electric Power Industry: A Story of an Architect's New Tool

Robb Klashner


Deregulation of electric power industry in the USA is an effort by the Federal and State governments to exercise power through the control of mission-critical infrastructure. This research asserts that information and communication technology (ICT) was necessary for this deregulatory effort, but ICT by itself is not sufficient to assure the success of deregulation. Using metaphors adopted from Kling and Scacchi's "web of computing", the paper shows how regulators attempted to change the social fabric in the electric power industry by using ICT to alter a complicated set of interdependencies and complementarities. Given the social and infrastructural nature of the research, web models are an effective mechanism to understand these complex relationships. In the paper, the basic web model is extended with architectural aspects to draw out the original connections with "urban infrastructure" and architecture. Ethnographic methods were used to gain a deep understanding of the ecology of the electric power industry. Data were collected over a nine-month period at a large utility's grid dispatch control center because these centers were the primary focal point of deregulatory efforts. Essentially, the paper is another data point indicating rational models are of little value outside tightly controlled circumstances. The paper's primary contribution, however, is intended for policy-makers changing ICT designs at an architectural level using regulatory mechanisms, and for ICT analysts who must map the resulting complex of ecological interrelationships into an integrated design. The resulting integrated ICT infrastructure is used to run the electric power infrastructure that information societies depend on in the most intimate way on a daily basis.