• Hydrogen Economy
  • Hydrogen infrastructure
  • Grid Infrastructure

Modeling Complex Socio-Technical Systems in the Hydrogen Economy

Shantanu Chakraborty
Jul 07, 2021

Guidehouse Insights City

Multi-stakeholder involvement in the regulation and economics of hydrogen generation, transmission, and end consumption combine to make the hydrogen economy a complex socio-technical system. Analysis of socio-technical systems is achievable through simulation tools, and requires examining this stakeholder involvement and the operation of the technical system in tandem.  

What Is a Socio-Technical System?

Socio-technical systems combine the technical pieces of a system (e.g., operation of the electric grid or building of fuel station for fuel cell vehicles [FCVs]) with the societal aspect, which includes the human, social, and organizational components. System planners and regulators can better understand how human, social, and organizational factors influence or govern the operation of the underlying technical system if they consider the technical and societal aspects simultaneously. 

Contributing to the complexity, this system includes decision makers (e.g., electric grid operators, owners of FCVs, demand response aggregators, fueling station owners) and the information flow or interaction between these actors (e.g., system operators requesting flexibility from owners of hydrogen fueling stations that in turn impacts hydrogen availability for FCV owners). 

Co-Simulation of Complex Socio-Technical Systems

Modeling complexity in simulation tools requires each model independently contribute a partial perspective of the underlying components and relationships that define a given problem. Combining models facilitates a multi-dimensional perspective on a constantly evolving, complex socio-technical system. Co-simulation models constitute models, datasets, and actors that define the system behavior and information flow between actors that represent the stakeholders.

Co-Simulation for the Hydrogen Economy

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory developed a co-simulation regarding the hydrogen economy. Its H2VGI model provides integrated modeling capability for a system that includes stationary hydrogen generation, FCVs, and electric grid supporting resources. This simulation framework helps quantify the extent to which a flexible hydrogen system can support the electric grid and provide balancing services achievable by optimizing the system configuration and its operational strategy. Hydrogen resources provide the flexibility to facilitate the integration of increased renewable energy, and these benefits and subsequent value streams are quantifiable through this tool: 

  • Policymakers gain a better understanding of the co-benefits of investing in hydrogen fueling infrastructure
  • Automotive industry groups gain insights on the design of grid-integrated FCVs 
  • Hydrogen station owners can evaluate the value streams emerging from their investments

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s H2VGI Tool

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s H2VGI Tool

(Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

Industry stakeholders also see value in this type of systems-thinking approach. For example, Siemen’s Simcenter Amesim captures and evaluates performance across the green hydrogen production process. It achieves this by incorporating detailed models for solar, wind, and wave energy. Then it couples reduced order modeling with advanced analytics to generate daily predictions about electric power usage by electrolyzers for hydrogen generation and storage. 

The emergence of co-simulation-based models introduces complex socio-technical systems as modular and flexible—with insights more robust due to the involvement of multiple stakeholders, as compared to monolithic models.