Modelling and assessing transition pathways to hydrogen society
Many of the serious persistent problems of unsustainability facing society cannot be adequately resolved with traditional incremental and sectoral approaches to policy-making. Problems associated with unsustainable forms and levels of transport, for example, include congestion, social exclusion, public health risks, and climate change. The notion of 'transitions' has been proposed as a suitable analytical framework for understanding these types of persistent problems (e.g., Rotmans et al., 2001). This framework highlights the interdependency of institutions and infrastructures constituting the transport and related sub-systems, which has created various types of lock-in that stifle innovation. In this project we aim to critically explore whether the notion of transitions can be usefully applied in policy-relevant research to better understand the complex nature of social systems and to improve the tool-kit available for developing and evaluating sustainability policies. In this paper, we discuss work that is underway in the EU Framework 6 project MATISSE to develop the science and application of Integrated Sustainability Assessment (ISA) in EU policy-making. ISA is a strategic, multi-disciplinary, inclusive process for formulating and assessing sustainability policies. In particular, we focus on one of the four case studies used in the project - transport - and examine the possibility of a transition to a hydrogen-based road transport system. There is a strong interest at European level in a 'hydrogen economy', or 'hydrogen society', potentially to provide solutions to problems of urban air pollution, climate change, and threats to energy security, and at the same time to ensure European competitiveness. However, while recent research has focussed on the technical and economic aspects of transition pathways to a hydrogen society, less attention has been given to the wider social, institutional and cultural dimensions of such a transition. The research presented here adopts a two-track approach to assess the sustainability implications and prospects of a hydrogen transition. Firstly, we use stakeholder engagement methods to elucidate visions of sustainable transport and assess the role of hydrogen transport technologies within these visions. Secondly, building on previous attempts to model a hydrogen transition (e.g., Schwoon, 2005) and long-term technological change (Köhler, 2003, 2005), we develop an innovative model of a hydrogen transition within road transport. We believe this strategy provides a more integrated and robust approach to assessing a transition to sustainable transport than using a single-method approach. In this paper, we discuss initial findings from the stakeholder and modelling work within the MATISSE project, and consider their implications for policy-making with regard to transport and hydrogen technologies.