Risk Perception of an Emergent Technology: The Case of Hydrogen Energy
Although hydrogen has been used in industry for many years as a chemical commodity, its use as a fuel or energy carrier is relatively new and expert knowledge about its associated risks is neither complete nor consensual. Public awareness of hydrogen energy and attitudes towards a future hydrogen economy are yet to be systematically investigated. This paper opens by discussing alternative conceptualisations of risk, then focuses on issues surrounding the use of emerging technologies based on hydrogen energy. It summarises expert assessments of risks associated with hydrogen. It goes on to review debates about public perceptions of risk, and in doing so makes comparisons with public perceptions of other emergent technologies—Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Genetically Modified Organisms and Food (GM) and Nanotechnology (NT)—for which there is considerable scientific uncertainty and relatively little public awareness. The paper finally examines arguments about public engagement and "upstream" consultation in the development of new technologies. It is argued that scientific and technological uncertainties are perceived in varying ways and different stakeholders and different publics focus on different aspects or types of risk. Attempting to move public consultation further "upstream" may not avoid this, because the framing of risks and benefits is necessarily embedded in a cultural and ideological context, and is subject to change as experience of the emergent technology unfolds.
risk perception; hydrogen energy; emergent technology; public engagement; public attitudes; trust; uncertainty