EGRD Webinar: Energy Infrastructure - Public Acceptance
The webinar is being organised under the auspices of the IEA Experts' Group on R&D Priority-setting and Evaluation (EGRD), hosted by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy.
The transition to a sustainable, clean energy system requires a restructuring of the existing energy system, with radical changes in how we produce, transmit and consume energy. This will only succeed with public engagement. However, public engagement goes both ways. Nuclear power has met widespread public opposition and led to plants being closed in, for example, Germany (Energiewende). Large-scale wind power and its transmission also face local opposition, while the new smart grid is also subject to concerns about security, privacy and the potential health impacts. Understanding public perceptions of and responses to new energy technologies can help policy-makers communicate better with stakeholders and anticipate potential public reactions to new technologies and associated accidents and other events.
A wide range of factors shape public perceptions of and responses to new energy technologies. They can be categorized into technology, people, place and process, as illustrated in the figure below.
Technology comes with both risks and benefits which are perceived differently by engineers/professionals and the general public. Among the issues connected with large-scale energy infrastructure are safety, aesthetics, the environment and habitat, but also potential benefits such as job creation, tax revenues and services. For household technologies such as solar panels, electric vehicles or smart appliances, the perceived advantages and disadvantages compared to standard technologies shape consumer readiness to adopt them.
People and sociodemographic factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, income and education all influence attitudes towards energy technologies. Young people and women are more likely to oppose fossil-fuel sources of energy, and younger people more likely to accept demand response programmes than older people. Early adopters of high-cost innovations such as EVs often have higher levels of income and education, something that does not seem to be so consistently the case when it comes to large-scale energy infrastructure.
Place matters, as location offers different resources (hydro, solar, wind), technical potential and different regulatory and political contexts that influence behavior.
Process is key to shaping public perceptions where the decision-making is characterized by transparency, consultation and collaboration. Public engagement can be defined in political terms with reference to, for example, consultation, as well as in economic terms such as ownership, compensation etc. Participation may also build trust in institutions and educate the public.
The presentations and discussion will focus on the following questions:
- What influences public perceptions of and responses to new energy technologies?
- How does the provision of information influence people's attitudes towards different technologies?
- What are the knowledge gaps in our understanding of public perceptions of energy infrastructure in general and of new energy technologies and systems in particular?
- What can public RD&D programmes do to improve knowledge creation and diffusion related to public perceptions?
The webinar will result in a summary report identifying the challenges and opportunities of addressing public perceptions of and responses to energy infrastructure and will present perspectives for R&D planners and strategists. In addition, an executive summary will be presented to CERT.