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Reconciling qualitative storylines and quantitative descriptions : an iterative approach

Robertson, Elizabeth and O’Grady, Áine and Barton, John and Galloway, Stuart and Emmanuel-Yusuf, Damiete and Leach, Matthew and Hammond, Geoff and Thomson, Murray and Foxon, Tim (2017) Reconciling qualitative storylines and quantitative descriptions : an iterative approach. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 118. pp. 293-306. ISSN 0040-1625

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Abstract

Energy system transition research has been experimenting with the integration of qualitative and quantitative analysis due to the increased articulation it provides. Current approaches tend to be heavily biased by qualitative or quantitative methodologies, and more often are aimed toward a single academic discipline. This paper proposes an interdisciplinary methodology for the elaboration of energy system sociotechnical scenarios, applied here to the low carbon transition of the UK. An iterative approach was used to produce quantitative descriptions of the UK's energy transition out to 2050, building on qualitative storylines or narratives that had been developed through the formal application of a transition pathways approach. The combination of the qualitative and quantitative analysis in this way subsequently formed the cornerstone of wider interdisciplinary research, helping to harmonise assumptions, and facilitating 'whole systems' thinking. The methodology pulls on niche expertise of contributors to map and investigate the governance and technological landscape of a system change. Initial inconsistencies were found between energy supply and demand and addressed, the treatment of gas generation, capacity factors, total installed generating capacity, installation rates of renewables employed and the amount of electricity used by battery electric vehicles. Knowledge gaps relating to the operation of combined heat and power, sources of waste heat and future fuel sources were also investigated. By adopting the methodological approached to integrate qualitative and quantitative analysis the resulting elaboration is far more comprehensive, providing a stronger basis for wider research, and for deducing more robust insights for decision-making. It is asserted that this formal process helps build robust future scenarios not only for socio political storylines but also for the quantification of any qualitative storyline.