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Symbolic convergence and the hydrogen economy


  • Sovacool, Benjamin K.
  • Brossmann, Brent


This article documents that the hydrogen economy continues to attract significant attention among politicians, the media, and some academics. We believe that an explanation lies in the way that the hydrogen economy fulfills psychological and cultural needs related to a future world where energy is abundant, cheap, and pollution-free, a "fantasy" that manifests itself with the idea that society can continue to operate without limits imposed by population growth and the destruction of the environment. The article begins by explaining its research methodology consisting of two literature reviews, research interviews of energy experts, and the application of symbolic convergence theory, a general communications theory about the construction of rhetorical fantasies. We then identify a host of socio-technical challenges to explain why the creation of a hydrogen economy would present immense (and possibly intractable) obstacles, an argument supplemented by our research interviews. Next, we employ symbolic convergence theory to identify five prevalent fantasy themes and rhetorical visions--independence, patriotism, progress, democratization, and inevitability--in academic and public discussions in favor of the hydrogen economy. We conclude by offering implications for scholarship relating to energy policy more broadly.

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  • Sovacool, Benjamin K. & Brossmann, Brent, 2010. "Symbolic convergence and the hydrogen economy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 1999-2012, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:38:y:2010:i:4:p:1999-2012

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Penner, S.S., 2006. "Steps toward the hydrogen economy," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 33-43.
    2. Taanman, Mattijs & Groot, Arend de & Kemp, René & Verspagen, Bart, 2006. "Diffusion Paths for Micro Cogeneration Using Hydrogen in the Netherlands," MERIT Working Papers 2006-025, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
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    6. McDowall, William & Eames, Malcolm, 2006. "Forecasts, scenarios, visions, backcasts and roadmaps to the hydrogen economy: A review of the hydrogen futures literature," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 34(11), pages 1236-1250, July.
    7. Blanchette Jr., Stephen, 2008. "A hydrogen economy and its impact on the world as we know it," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 522-530, February.
    8. S.R. Osmani & B.B. Bajracharya, 2008. "Nepal," Chapters, in: Anis Chowdhury & Wahiduddin Mahmud (ed.), Handbook on the South Asian Economies, chapter 5, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    9. Clark, Woodrow W. & Rifkin, Jeremy & O'Connor, Todd & Swisher, Joel & Lipman, Tim & Rambach, Glen, 2005. "Hydrogen energy stations: along the roadside to the hydrogen economy," Utilities Policy, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 41-50, March.
    10. Clark II, Woodrow W., 2008. "The green hydrogen paradigm shift: Energy generation for stations to vehicles," Utilities Policy, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 117-129, June.
    11. Doll, Claus & Wietschel, Martin, 2008. "Externalities of the transport sector and the role of hydrogen in a sustainable transport vision," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(11), pages 4069-4078, November.
    12. Saxena, R.C. & Seal, Diptendu & Kumar, Satinder & Goyal, H.B., 2008. "Thermo-chemical routes for hydrogen rich gas from biomass: A review," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 12(7), pages 1909-1927, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sovacool, Benjamin K. & Drupady, Ira Martina, 2011. "Examining the Small Renewable Energy Power (SREP) Program in Malaysia," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(11), pages 7244-7256.
    2. Alanne, Kari & Cao, Sunliang, 2017. "Zero-energy hydrogen economy (ZEH2E) for buildings and communities including personal mobility," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 71(C), pages 697-711.
    3. Peter Andreasen, Kristian & Sovacool, Benjamin K., 2014. "Energy sustainability, stakeholder conflicts, and the future of hydrogen in Denmark," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 891-897.
    4. Sovacool, Benjamin K. & Drupady, Ira Martina, 2011. "Summoning earth and fire: The energy development implications of Grameen Shakti (GS) in Bangladesh," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 36(7), pages 4445-4459.
    5. Sovacool, Benjamin K. & Scarpaci, Joseph, 2016. "Energy justice and the contested petroleum politics of stranded assets: Policy insights from the Yasuní-ITT Initiative in Ecuador," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 158-171.
    6. Sovacool, Benjamin K. & Bulan, L.C., 2011. "Behind an ambitious megaproject in Asia: The history and implications of the Bakun hydroelectric dam in Borneo," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(9), pages 4842-4859, September.
    7. Marshall, Jonathan Paul, 2016. "Disordering fantasies of coal and technology: Carbon capture and storage in Australia," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 99(C), pages 288-298.
    8. Enevoldsen, Peter, 2016. "Onshore wind energy in Northern European forests: Reviewing the risks," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 60(C), pages 1251-1262.
    9. Budde, Björn & Konrad, Kornelia, 2019. "Tentative governing of fuel cell innovation in a dynamic network of expectations," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(5), pages 1098-1112.
    10. Trencher, Gregory & Taeihagh, Araz & Yarime, Masaru, 2020. "Overcoming barriers to developing and diffusing fuel-cell vehicles: Governance strategies and experiences in Japan," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 142(C).
    11. Trencher, Gregory & Healy, Noel & Hasegawa, Koichi & Asuka, Jusen, 2019. "Discursive resistance to phasing out coal-fired electricity: Narratives in Japan's coal regime," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 132(C), pages 782-796.

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