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Centre for Integrated Energy Research

Public Perceptions of Energy and the Energy System

Current and emerging energy and environmental policy goals imply significant changes to the entire UK energy system. Decarbonising those systems - while ensuring secure and affordable supply - will have major ramifications for the public, as they are asked to accept new energy infrastructure and to change patterns of demand. Understanding public attitudes to these changes, and the ways in which energy and technologies are themselves understood and used, is important for a variety of reasons. Such understanding can help to minimise unnecessary public concerns about new energy technologies by identifying and anticipating potential problems at an early stage in research and development processes. At the same time, members of the public arguably have a right to influence decisions about research, technology and policy that may affect them and this line of research explores approaches to deliberative democracy in relation to energy-related scientific and technological decision-making. For further details please contact Dr Paul Upham
(p.upham@leeds.ac.uk).

The promise of technology options for transport, such as biofuels and electric plug-in vehicles will not be realised unless these are configured in a socially acceptable fashion.

A recent example of such work involving CIER and the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds is the Hyacinth Project, funded by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH-JU). Hyacinth has worked to increase understanding of cross-country differences and similarities in public and stakeholder awareness and attitudes, in relation to hydrogen and fuel cell applications. Hyacinth has therefore assessed levels of awareness, understanding and acceptance of FCH technologies in EU countries with different levels of market penetration and government support. In parallel to a stakeholder-focused study, a study of public acceptance across Europe has also been conducted, to cover relevant societal groups.

Understanding public perceptions can help to minimise unnecessary public concerns about new energy technologies by identifying and anticipating potential problems at an early stage in research and development processes.

Hyacinth

Overall, while the stakeholders questioned have a strong positive appraisal of FCH technologies, they perceive cost and limited regulatory, political and commercial support, in addition to competition from other technologies as key, inter-related obstacles. Nonetheless, FCH technologies are viewed as offering realistic, specific niche potential in the shorter term, notably for uninterruptible power, auxiliary power and high power demand uses, such as fork lifts and heavy goods vehicles. Currently, public support for HFC technologies is positive, albeit based on limited awareness and knowledge. Further details and full results are available on the Hyacinth website.