In numbers: How the UK public wants the low-carbon energy transition to take shape

Pictured: Orsted apprentices at Hornsea Two offshore wind farm. Image: Orsted

The UK will go to the polls for the 2024 general election on Thursday (4 July). While energy and climate have not taken centre-stage in TV debates, the new Government will play a crucial role in shaping the nation’s plans to tackle the energy trilemma of costs, climate impact and energy security.

On energy generation, the incumbent Conservative Party is working towards a zero-emission electricity grid by 2035, favouring offshore wind, nuclear and new gas with carbon capture. It continues to be cautious regarding onshore wind and will keep the door open for expanded North Sea oil and gas.

The opposition Labour Party, widely expected to win the general election, has promised a fully decarbonised electricity grid by 2030, and would end new North Sea expansion. Labour’s manifesto also mentions doubling energy efficiency spending, backing new large and small nuclear, and removing remaining roadblocks to onshore wind.

The Conservatives have attempted to stoke an energy culture war by claiming that Labour’s plans would risk energy security.

Ahead of the big vote, the Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero (DESNZ) has published the latest results of its quarterly attitudes tracker. The tracker polls thousands of Brits aged 16 and other to measure their awareness of, and opinions on, issues relating to the energy transition – from the generation mix, to energy costs, to at-home technologies like heat pumps and rooftop solar.

The results show that, despite sometimes heated political debates and charged slogans on social media, public awareness of the need to transition is growing – but messages aren’t getting through on how the transition will work in practice.

Here, we pull out the headline statistics.

On net-zero…

  • Only 2 in 10 Brits are unaware of the UK’s net-zero commitment – a record low proportion.
  • 43% believe they know at least a fair amount about net-zero – a record high.
  • Only 8% trust the UK Government ‘a great deal’ to provide information on new energy sources.
  • Trust was lower still for newspapers and social media posts. The most trusted sources are scientists and TV and radio documentaries.

On types of renewable energy…

  • Just 2% of people are opposed to renewable energy – a proportion that has remained steady during the 2020s.
  • Solar is strongly supported by 55% of the public, making it the most popular renewable energy choice, despite political debates pitting solar and food security at odds.
  • 54% would be happy or very happy to have a solar farm built in their local area.
  • Biomass is the least popular energy option classed as renewable, with 29% strongly in support and 9% opposed or strongly opposed.
  • Only 37% strongly support onshore wind.
  • 15% would be unhappy to see a new onshore wind project constructed in their local area, while 20% would be very happy.
  • Three-quarters believe that renewable energy industries and developments benefit the UK economy on a national level.
  • Eight in ten think it’s important for renewable energy developers to ensure that local communities benefit directly.

On nuclear energy…

  • Only one-fifth of the public would support a new nuclear project in their area, whether large or small. Opposition was higher among those with multiple children.
  • Those opposing new nuclear locally are most concerned about safety, security and the impact on local animal and plant habitats.
  • One-third of people have never heard of fusion energy and a further fifth know ‘hardly anything’ about it.
  • Perceived knowledge on fusion energy was highest among those aged 25 and under.
  • Half of the public would support fusion energy in principle.
  • Almost six in ten people have never heard of small modular reactors (SMRs), and a further two in ten believe they know ‘hardly anything’ about this technology, despite support stated by the Conservatives and Labour.

On hydrogen and carbon capture…

  • 22% of people have never heard of hydrogen already being used as a fuel, or of plans for this to happen in the future.
  • Only 17% of people said they knew ‘a fair amount’ or ‘a lot’ about the present and potential future uses of hydrogen as a fuel.
  • Those aged 25 and over, with no formal qualifications, are the least likely to feel clued up about hydrogen.
  • Awareness of carbon capture is increasing – 20% of people believe they know at least ‘a fair amount’, up from 15% two years ago. 31% have never heard of it, down from 38% two years ago.
  • Only one in ten oppose carbon capture and storage – but those who knew more were more likely to be opponents.
  • Opponents are concerned that it will not be a long-term solution, and/or that nature-based solutions should be used instead.

On low-carbon heating …

  • 14% have not heard that there is any need to change home heating to meet the UK’s climate targets. Awareness is lowest among those in social housing.
  • Only 11% of people have heard ‘a lot’ about the need to cut emissions from heating. Owner-occupiers tend to be more informed.
  • 34% of people know ‘a fair amount’ or ‘a lot’ on low-carbon heating technologies, up from 25% in Autumn 2021. But this still leaves two-thirds of people feeling confused.

On home solar…

  • One in ten homeowners already have solar on their roof.
  • A further three in ten are sure they want to install rooftop solar in the next three years, and another three in ten are likely to be interested.
  • Those considering solar see the biggest potential benefit as savings on their energy bills.
  • Those unlikely to fit home solar, or opposed to it, are more worried about upfront costs or having an unsuitable home than about a lack of the sun or fears of creating an eyesore for neighbors.
  • Another key barrier is identifying a guarantee scheme to cover faults and damage.
  • Three-quarters of those without home solar want to see better financial support from the government with upfront costs, and half want better financial incentives to sell electricity to the grid.

Enter edie’s Net-Zero Awards 2024

If you’re shaping the energy transition and net-zero transformation, why not enter the edie Net-Zero Awards?

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Following on from a successful first year, edie’s Net-Zero Awards are back and bigger for 2024. From breakthrough innovations and technological solutions through to industry-leading carbon reduction programmes and ambitious energy management initiatives – this is THE awards scheme to have your decarbonisation efforts and achievements recognised by thousands of businesses and climate experts.

A total of 18 categories have been developed for the Net-Zero Awards. Categories range from the Energy Efficiency Project of the Year and Behaviour Change Campaign of the Year to sector-specifics such as Retailer, Manufacturer and Consultancy of the Year.

The full list of 18 categories and criteria can be viewed here. The deadline for entries is 19 July and the shortlist will be unveiled in September. Finalists will attend a glittering ceremony in London 29 November.

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