Smart Lens: Sketching new perspectives on energy systems

Could you draw a digital future? This project aims to promote better understanding of sustainable technological innovations by visualising living with smart technologies.

Digital technologies are tough to visualise. We might see their infrastructure – cables or microchips - but it’s difficult to imagine their inner workings. Most visualisations are either highly technical diagrams not intended for public understanding or futuristic images designed to awe. 

Smart energy innovations are good examples of emerging technologies that are difficult to describe or imagine. While diagrams do exist, their functional nature overlooks many aspects of energy futures that are fascinating and thought provoking: energy trading, shifting energy demand or ensuring security of smart devices, to name but a few. This gap restricts the lay users’ ability to contribute to the debate.  As a result, we risk that future energy systems  will be designed without an opportunity for meaningful public participation. 

Below you can see the results of a unique collaboration: an illustrator (Oliver Dean), a science communicator (Dr Emma Osborne), a computer scientist (Dr Ruzanna Chitchyan – Co-Investigator) and a social scientist (Dr Ola Michalec – Principal Investigator) worked iteratively over five themes related to smart energy futures. They also sought feedback from the partners at Ofgem and Bristol City Council.  

The project facilitates two modes of public engagement: first, an explanation of complex ideas across engineering, computer sciences and social sciences; second, an instigation of a public debate.  The innovations visualised in the project are still ‘work in progress’. How and by whom they’re embedded in the political context will influence whether digital futures can also be democratic, affordable, and inclusive. 

Please click on the themes below to view the artwork:

Bristol 2030

Old Grid/New Grid


Peer to Peer training

Get a Smart Meter


  • Dr Ola Michalec
  • Dr Ruzanna Chitchyan


Smart LENS: smart local energy system visualisations

Want to find out what we’ve been up to in the past year?

Download the BDFI Impact Report (PDF, 7,156kB)

Using the artwork

You can use the images in any format including website, reports, presentations, social media. Happy sharing! 

Please do credit the work: tag Oliver Dean Twitter and Instagram with the handle @_oliverdean. In presentations or publications, the credit should be added as a caption below the image and in the reference list as follows: [image title] 2022. Illustration by Oliver Dean. For SMART LENS project led by Dr Ola Michalec and Dr Ruzanna Chitchyan. Bristol Digital Futures Institute” 

Please seek permission from the project team to edit the artwork or cut out parts of illustrations. 

Please contact if you have any questions of feedback regarding the project! Feel free to email us if you’d like to receive high-resolution files or a single postcard image. 


Exhibition Bristol Digital Futures Institute 

In Spring 2022 (date TBC), we will exhibit the artwork during an event organised by the Bristol Digital Futures Institute.  

ExhibitionWe The Curious 

The artwork will feature in We The Curious as a part of the initiative showcasing the work of local scientists (date TBC) 

Upcoming workshops 

In Spring 2022 (date TBC), we will trial the Old Grid/New Grid workshop activity.  

Follow-up Grant: New Grid and I 

Over Winter 2022, we will create further images promoting sustainable energy. We will work with Energy Systems Catapult, Ofgem and Bristol City Council to co-design illustrations around the following themes: 1. Heat electrification 2. Engaging underserved populations 3. Avoiding cyber security risks 

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