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22 January 2024
Green Economy

Study Reveals the Importance of Social-Connections in the Transition to Low-Carbon Heating

Condensing unit of air conditioning systems. Condensing unit installed on the gray wall.

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has today published its domestic heat survey, “Mapping the Landscape of Public Attitudes Towards Low-Carbon Heating Technologies”. Investigating public views across Great Britain on the transition to low-carbon heating, the study reveals that knowing as little as one friend or colleague using a low-carbon heating system significantly increases a person’s willingness to adopt it themselves.

The survey examines the extent of public support and awareness of low-carbon heating technologies among 2,223 respondents, looking specifically at district heating, heat pumps and hydrogen boilers.

It finds that awareness of the impact of heating our homes on carbon emissions is currently low, with respondents viewing other carbon reduction behaviours such as personal transport choices and reducing domestic energy consumption as more important than opting for greener heating solutions.

Detailed knowledge of specific low-carbon heating technologies was also found to be relatively low. However, when respondents were provided with additional information about each technology the researchers found widespread support, with many respondents holding favourable attitudes towards all options presented, and heat pumps emerging as the technology with the strongest support.

Overall, the study identified a number of key drivers of people’s attitudes towards adopting low-carbon heating technologies. In particular, being concerned about UK energy security, and strongly held pro-environmental values emerged as the most influential drivers.

Professor Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University who led the study for UKERC stated that

“While some of these drivers reflect well-understood public views on the low-carbon transition, we also found some surprising results, which we believe government policy and communications should urgently address. For example, knowing just one other individual who uses a low-carbon heating technology is associated with increased willingness to adopt all low-carbon heating technologies, suggesting that increasing uptake might facilitate a ‘snowball’ effect multiplying public engagement and support.”

The survey also highlighted the belief that the heat transition should be a collaborative effort, with respondents identifying government and energy companies as holding the greater responsibility to fund the transition.

Additionally, while consumers want to be involved in decision-making around future heating technologies, they are unsure who to trust for information. Respondents viewed themselves, members of their social network and scientists as the most trustworthy sources, in contrast to the government and energy companies which were the least trusted. As such, the report concludes that the government and energy companies need to urgently create the conditions necessary for meaningful engagement with the public and leverage support from those trusted groups to help drive the heating transition.

UKERC Director Professor Rob Gross, said:

“The next step for the energy transition is decarbonisation of heating. Central to this is understanding public perceptions of heating system change, how people get their information and who they trust. That’s why this is such an important piece of research.”

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