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Social Science for a Hydrogen Energy Future

Posted by: Daniel

August 20, 2019

At CSIRO, social science is giving us insight into what the social impacts of technology and industries are, including how research and innovation can responsibly deliver positive impact for society. The Hydrogen Energy Future Science Platform is playing a role to lay a strong foundation for social science research to support hydrogen’s role in the energy transition. This research aimed to scope society’s perceptions of hydrogen, and better understand the social responsibilities that could be key to realising this energy transition.

What we did

Projections tell us that Australia will see growth in hydrogen energy systems into the future. With an interest in the social responsibilities of emerging technologies, our research team reviewed existing research on the perceptions and experiences of communities, consumers and the broader public on hydrogen.

Given Australia’s limited exposure to hydrogen energy systems, we then interviewed people from government and industry about how they anticipate Australians will respond, and what the major social impacts and responsibilities might be.

What we found

Many social science studies about hydrogen technologies reported positive or neutral attitudes, limited familiarity or knowledge, and perceptions of risks or concern.

Perceptions formed from limited knowledge or experience can arise from a negative event early in a technology’s introduction and generate opposition, even when the technology has recognisable benefits. Research also shows there are perceptions of environmental benefit, especially regarding renewable versus non-renewable hydrogen production, safety and cost. These may play a role in shaping attitudes, acceptance and eventual adoption of hydrogen energy systems in Australia.

Our interviews with government and industry stakeholders showed that they were aware that familiarity and knowledge are low. Since hydrogen energy systems have benefits that could be positively received by the community, this presents opportunities for engagement and consultation with communities that may play a role in shaping acceptance and adoption.

What next?

There are three concepts being used to understand public perceptions of hydrogen energy: initial attitudes and perceptions; acceptance by citizens and influencers; and adoption by consumers. Considering this, we are developing the following collaborative research pathways:

  • Research to understand early attitudes to hydrogen to inform communication strategies about the industry and specific projects.
  • Studies that identify the perspectives of communities where developments are proposed and support engagement and consultation for demonstration and trial initiatives.
  • Investigation into decisions that lead to adoption, in collaboration with developers of technologies and potential adoptees.

Want to know more?

You can download the report here: Download