Monday, 15 July 2013

Green con? No, The public wants a renewable energy future and is worried about climate change

The public is keener on being green than they are given credit for, a ground-breaking attitude survey has found.

But their mistrust of energy companies and the government and their motives threatens the long-term green ambition.

People want to see a change to an efficient, clean, fair and safe energy system, the two year survey sponsored by the UK Energy Research Council (UKERC) discovered.

They favour renewables like solar and wind – in the right places – and are generally negative towards fossil fuels.

While 21% would object to a wind turbine near their home 54% would object to a nuclear power station

And a whopping 82% are worried about the UK becoming too dependent on energy from other countries – in other words importing gas or coal.

When I asked at a Science Media Centre briefing whether the results showed people were more favourable toward green energy and changing to renewables than recognised in some sections of the press and the government the answer I got was simple: “Yes.”

Professor Nick Pidgeon, who led the research team, said: “The British public backs a green energy future looking into the long term but there is an element of distrust with energy companies and government which may be a problem in realising that ambition..

“It is often said people don’t want change but what we found was that when the policies were explained they were actually very enthusiastic about change.

“They wanted a transition to something that was efficient, clean, fair and safe.

“The public vision is one with a strong commitment  to renewable energy production  and a shift away from fossil fuels over the long term - and I must stress that - and an overall improvement in energy efficiency and a reduction in demand.”

It is the first in-depth study of public values around energy change.

More than 8 out of 10 (81%) would like to reduce their energy use.

The survey, surprisingly, did not examine attitudes to fracking. The researchers claimed it was too early to get meaningful results.

But support for solar (85%) and wind energy (75%) remained strong and 74% were very or fairly concerned by climate change – a figure that has remained constant since 2010.

The researchers found 79% want to see a reduction in fossil fuels over the next few decades with 48% worried they were running out and 36% concerned fossil fuels were causing climate change.

A massive 83% are worried electricity and gas will become unaffordable for them over the next ten to 20 years.

More than half (53%) would be willing to use electric cars rising to 75% if they performed the same way as petrol-driven cars.

But there was strong resistance to any idea of cutting down on flying, especially for leisure and holidays.

Support for carbon capture and storage was low. 42% said they had never heard of it and a further 26% knew next to nothing about it

“When people were told about it they saw it as a non transition they said: “Why would you want to do that?”

Professor Pidgeon said the survey showed people were less likely to object to having their televisions switched off from standby remotely or by “smart meters” when they weren’t watching than having their showers limited or their fridges or freezers switched off for short periods to save energy.

Most people did not mind sharing their energy use data but one in five did object and people were less happy handing over the info to government than energy companies.

The overall message is that people recognise the need to change the way we get energy and are up for it – as long as their core values are protected.

 “People wanted to avoid waste and move to a more efficient system. Any system which threatens the environment will have a question mark against it, “ Professor Pidgeon added.

“People had a very pragmatic view. They realised you could not deliver this overnight there would be all sorts of compromises  that would have to be made but for them energy efficiency and change has to fit in to a long-term trajectory. “

The study: Transforming the UK energy system – public values, attitudes and acceptability is launched today (July 16).


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