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Getting the engineering right is not always enough: Researching the human dimensions of the new energy technologies

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Energy Policy, Volume 38, Number 6, p.2690-2691 (2010)



Achieving the ambitious targets for carbon emissions reductions that are necessary to reduce the risks associated with climate change will require significant changes in the way people use energy. Redesigning energy technologies at a societal level is certainly a major scientific challenge, however, succeeding in this endeavor requires more than getting the engineering right. Technologies can fail to win public approval for a variety of reasons. Good social science research, coordinated properly with technological R&D, is an essential part of the solution. Social science research is needed to: clarify the behavioral changes that can reduce energy consumption; characterize public understandings and concerns of new energy technologies; help overcome barriers to public adoption; maximize the benefits for users; and better understand society's needs and abilities to make energy transitions. We argue that social science research into the human dimensions of new energy technologies be promoted and overseen by a new office of social science research to be established in the United States Department of Energy. The funding levels needed for these endeavors are a tiny fraction of the amount that was allocated to carbon sequestration research in the 2009 stimulus bill.