A poll funded by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) found that 83% of consumers feel fairly or very concerned that, in the next ten to 20 years, electricity and gas will become unaffordable.
The survey, which was carried out by a team from the Universities of Cardiff and Nottingham, also found that people seem unwilling to allow their bills to be reduced at the expense of the environment.
Over the next two decades, 79% of people want to see a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, while 81% expressed a desire to reduce their energy use.
While the reduced use of energy correlates with lower bills, the public is warming to the idea of renewable initiatives, which have previously been criticised by some politicians and community groups. The UKERC survey found that 85% of the public supports solar power schemes, while 75% are in favour of wind energy.
The proportion of people willing to use electric heating if the same level of performance was guaranteed was 61%. This figure rose to 85% if electricity could provide heat for cheaper.
The researchers say a lack of knowledge concerning the benefits of renewables could be the key reason why many people have failed to get behind green energy initiatives in the past. Educating people about the benefits of a move to renewables could help obtain support for future initiatives, particularly with half of the respondents opposed to the building of a new nuclear power station in their area.
Professor Nick Pidgeon, who led the research team, said that the public is keeping an open mind and would clearly welcome any initiative that guarantees energy security and ultimately brings down or maintains energy bills.
“Our participants saw the bigger picture of energy system transformation, and they were overwhelmingly committed to moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable forms of energy production, and to lowering energy demand,” he explained.
When it came to regulating energy usage, the public was less willing to allow the government and energy companies to intervene in their affairs. In this context, consumers are yet to embrace demand-side management – which effectively pays consumers to reduce their energy consumption and monitors it.
The research found that people were more open to the idea of appliances being turned off automatically after a period on standby, than having their showering times cut short or their fridge-freezers being controlled remotely.
An issue of trust
The study found that a certain level of distrust remains, with neither energy companies nor the government receiving the full trust of consumers. The authors of the report suggested that this needs to be addressed in order to bring about successful energy system change.
“Our research has shown clearly that people are more likely to accept changes that show signs of commitment to their underlying values, such as energy system components that are clean, efficient, fair and safe,” said Pidgeon.
The next step now will be for policy makers to clarify how current changes to the energy system will fit with longer-term plans, and then develop an “intelligible and coherent strategy” for it, he concluded.