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Hydrogen as a panacea? Importance and construction of directional certainty for key decisions on alternative transformation paths – INSIGHTS for policy making

The German government as well as a range of industry stakeholders are putting a major emphasis on the importance of green hydrogen as a pathway to decarbonization, as exemplified by the National Hydrogen Strategy of 2020. The starting point of the project is the observation that there is currently a danger of a massive ‘overbooking’ of green hydrogen given limited supply and import opportunities. If found to be problematic, a strong reliance on the availability of green hydrogen could lead to misconceptions in key decisions about alternative transformation paths in climate, energy and innovation policy and in corporate investment decisions in the next five years and thus potentially have negative effects on other transformation paths.

The aim of the project is to analyze in which application areas hydrogen appears to make sense for achieving climate goals, and in which application areas a focus on hydrogen could lead to a crowding-out of alternative and more efficient technologies, which would unnecessarily increase the problem of providing sufficient quantities of renewable electricity. Building on the findings of the interdisciplinary literature on socio-technical transitions and the findings of the ITA project Governance of Radical System Innovations (Go) on the importance of certainty about the direction of travel for the successful transformation of energy, industry and mobility systems, the project will identify current and planned development paths of hydrogen use in the application fields industry, heat, electricity and transport and analyze their interactions with other technologies and transition pathways.

The basis for this is an estimation of the extent to which the intended use in the aforementioned fields of application exceeds the likely possible production and import capacities of green hydrogen over time. Based on insights from socio-technical transitions research and a broad stakeholder participation, the project will address the question of the importance of certainty of direction in hydrogen policy, policy mixes and actor strategies, how certainty of direction is created and the role of academia in this process. The project provides insights for key political decisions on alternative transformation paths and conclusions for the research and innovation system in Germany.

The results of the project will be communicated to academic audiences through a number of planned peer-reviewed papers. Selected content will also be made available to actors in policymaking, administration, stakeholders and civil society organizations through policy papers as well as social media contributions and workshops.

IÖW Project Team