Few quantitative models of transitions – such as energy systems models and integrated assessment models – take into account the influence of social processes, institutions and politics. In contrast, socio-technical systems approaches represent the social side but lack a quantitative view of the future system.

Using a case study of the Swedish residential heating system, this paper looks at how to combine different approaches in order to get a fuller, more realistic picture of a future transition. It bridges an energy systems model with socio-technical systems analysis and a local action study.

District heating system bridge crossing. Photo: Vladimir Grigorev / iStock / Getty Images

The paper focuses on demand-side shifts that would drive a transition to a highly efficient, low-carbon heating system until 2050. It introduces and applies a new conceptual framework for bridging three approaches. For example, niche innovations identified in the socio-technical study are implemented as scenario options in the model. Landscape signals are external drivers of the scenario, and the regime study identifies barriers and governance requirements. The local action study provides insights into community attitudes affecting niches and regime change.

The study results indicate that the linking of approaches is meaningful, in that it provides an enriched understanding of future systems change in many dimensions. Further research is required using a variety of models on a variety of domains or sectors to draw more generalisable lessons about bridging modelling and social science-based approaches