The British public love renewables, are concerned about climate change and are broadly supportive of the green economy.
How do we know this? Because for the past two years the Department of Energy and Climate Change has undertaken a quarterly survey designed track public attitudes on a range of energy and climate issues. Today sees the publication of the eighth wave of results following a survey undertaken in mid-December, and despite a vociferous and vocal media campaign against virtually every aspect of the green economy the public remains as enthusiastic as ever. BusinessGreen takes a microscope to the latest figures.
Renewables popularity cemented
Arguably the most eye-catching component of each of the surveys has been the strength of the support for renewables. Almost every week for the past two years has seen high-profile media stories attacking renewables over their cost, their efficacy and their impact on the landscape, but the British public remains almost completely unmoved.
The latest survey shows 77 per cent of people support "the use of renewable energy for providing our electricity, fuel and heat". This is slightly down on the peak of 82 per cent support recorded last year, but it represents an improvement of one percentage point on last quarter and means that over three quarters of people support renewables. Moreover, while 51 per cent of people "support" renewables and 26 per cent "strongly support" the technology, only four per cent "oppose" and just one per cent "strongly oppose" renewables with the remaining 17 per cent saying they neither support nor oppose renewable energy.
This support for renewables incorporates all technology types. For example, 64 per cent of people support onshore wind, down fractionally on a 68 per cent peak, while only 13 per cent of people oppose the technology. Similarly, 72 per cent of people support offshore wind, 60 per cent support biomass, 71 per cent support wave and tidal power and a whopping 81 per cent support solar technology. Moreover, levels of "strong support" for these technologies consistently stand at between a quarter and a third of respondents and opposition to every renewable energy technology bar onshore wind stands at well below 10 per cent.
Shale gas and fracking
Unsurprisingly given the miles of column inches it has commanded in the past year, public awareness of fracking and shale gas has increased significantly. But people are still deeply divided on whether the UK should try to exploit its shale gas reserves.
The proportion of people unaware of fracking has fallen from 58 per cent two years ago to 30 per cent in the latest survey, while the proportion claiming to know something about the technology has risen from 32 per cent to 52 per cent.
However, in results that will concern the fracking industry cheerleaders within government, increased awareness has not translated into high levels of support for the technology. Asked for the first time in the latest survey whether they support or oppose UK shale gas extraction, 27 per cent said they would support it, 21 per cent said they would oppose it, and 48 per cent said they neither supported or opposed it.
Energy industry trust crisis continues
The latest survey confirms the widespread antipathy and mistrust towards the energy industry.
The proportion of people worried about paying their energy bills is evenly split with 47 per cent claiming to have been worried about energy costs in the past three months compared with 52 per cent who say they have not been worried. Despite high-profile government efforts to ease concerns about rising energy bills, levels of worry have changed little over the past two years.
Moreover, 48 per cent of people have little or no trust in energy companies' willingness to give them a fair deal, 44 per cent do not trust them to help them save energy and 43 per cent do not trust them to provide impartial advice on energy saving measures – a sizeable minority even if 49 per cent do trust suppliers to provide good advice.
However, in an encouraging sign for the government's various energy efficiency initiatives, relatively high proportions of the public claim to be giving some thought to saving energy. Specifically, 28 per cent said they think about energy saving a lot and 47 per cent said they think about it a fair amount.
Opposition to nuclear power softens slightly
Nuclear enjoys nowhere near the level of public support enjoyed by other forms of low-carbon energy, but the latest survey reveals opposition to the controversial energy source has weakened slightly. Nine per cent of people said they strongly supported the technology and 28 per cent said they supported it, while only 15 per cent said they opposed nuclear and eight per cent said they strongly opposed it – the lowest levels of opposition recorded in the two years of the survey. However, 37 per cent said they neither supported nor opposed nuclear and three per cent said they did not know what they thought.
Renewable heat market remains luke warm
Ahead of the launch later this year of the long-awaited domestic Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, DECC sought information on the public's awareness of renewable heat technologies – the results paint a decidedly mixed picture for the industry.
The survey confirms there has been limited adoption of renewable heat technologies, such as biomass boilers, heat pumps and solar water heaters. For example, only one per cent have installed a biomass system, a further one per cent said they were considering installing one and five per cent said they would like to install the technology, but not at this stage. In contrast, 27 per cent rejected the idea, 27 per cent said they had not thought about the potential for an installation and the same proportion said they had not heard of biomass technology. It was a similar story for other renewable heat technologies, although levels of awareness were even lower for heat pumps and combined heat and power systems. Overall, only eight per cent said they knew a lot about renewable heat technologies, 39 per cent said they knew a little and 31 per cent were aware of it but admitted to not knowing much about it.
However, the poll also revealed some cause for optimism for the industry. Forty-four per cent said they were positive towards the idea of installing renewable heat technology, far outstripping the eight per cent who were definitely negative towards the idea. There was also relatively high degrees of confidence that renewable heat technologies would work, although the survey revealed concerns about the potential cost of such systems.
Climate change still a concern for Brits
The latest survey did not question the sample about their views on climate change but given the quantity of climate scepticism expressed by the media in recent months, it is worth highlighting the results of the DECC survey last year that did quiz people about their views on climate change.
When surveyed, just 10 per cent of people said they were not at all concerned about climate change and 23 per cent said they were not very concerned. In contrast, 46 per cent were fairly concerned and 20 per cent were very concerned.
Meanwhile, the proportion of respondents who do not think climate change is happening or think it is entirely caused by natural processes stood at four per cent and five per cent respectively. Even when you include the seven per cent of people who argue climate change is "mainly caused by natural processes", the proportion of people who outright reject the scientific consensus on climate change stands at just 16 per cent.
In contrast, 28 per cent said climate change was mainly caused by human activity and 10 per cent thought that it was entirely caused by human activity. Meanwhile, 42 per cent of people state that "climate change is partly caused by natural processes and partly caused by human activity".
Many people may be uncertain about the precise degree to which climate change can be attributed to different causes, but the vast majority think human beings are playing some role and are concerned about the likely impacts.
05 February 2014 Business Green