The UK’s carbon emissions target (a reduction of 60% by 2050) has necessitated the use of renewable energy technologies such as biomass, wind, solar, and hydro-electricity. If we are to meet our targets, these technologies will need to become the ‘norm’, rather than a controversial alternative to conventional power stations.
One of the major barriers to renewable energy has always been public opinion, which the working paper by Dr. Patrick Devine-Wright (2007) has sought to address. When reaching the end of the paper, it is clear to me that six years after its publication, little appears to have changed in the way of opinion.
With regards to biomass technology, public knowledge appears to be limited, the most positively regarded form of renewable energy being solar power. The awareness that biomass technology is even renewable is also low. While the carbon neutrality of wind, solar, and water power can be easily understood, (they are just natural forces at work), biomass plants, which gain power from the burning of renewable materials, are often just seen as another place that burns something, therefore, they must pollute the atmosphere.
The wood pellets approved for use in biomass plants, and the boilers within homes, and businesses, are taken from sustainable woodland which is then replanted. The CO2 emissions from burning the wood are no more than what the new trees will absorb as they grow.
Factors which affect the support for renewable technologies can be drawn from the following:
• Age, gender, class, income.
• Knowledge and direct experience.
• Environmental and political beliefs.
• Emotional attachments to places impacted by renewable technologies.
Conflict can stem from levels of environmental concern, about climate change for example, mistrust of political decision makers, and experience of opposition to a specific technology. Negative (or positive) feelings are often shared across communities, and are exacerbated by the increasing online presence brought about by social media. People who live close to wind farms generally oppose them, and similar situations have arisen with biomass plants.
Most people have a view on renewable energy, though it is not always favourable. To increase the acceptance of and support for renewable technologies, some of the following steps are vital:
• Seek to increase the technical understanding of renewable sources in an accessible way. This can be via local news, social media, or articles in magazines or online.
• Seek to understand and address the symbolic, political, and environmental concerns of the public.
• Provide those concerned about or affected by renewable technologies with details of research, case studies, and positive and negative implications.
• Seek to make renewable energy seem more friendly and personable, rather than the public enemy that it has become. People often feel that renewable technologies are forced upon them, before they have had the chance to make an informed decision.
For more information, and a closer look at the demographics and statistics relating to public attitudes and acceptance of renewable energy, please see the referenced paper below.
Devine-Wright, P, (2007) Reconsidering public attitudes and public acceptance of renewable energy technologies: a critical review, published by the School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK, and available at the following web address: http://www.sed.manchester.ac.uk/research/beyond_nimbyism/