Public opinion can be fickle, we have to listen as well as inform.

20th Aug 2018


I’m the last person you need to tell that the public can be fickle in their opinions. And despite this, I’m a firm believer in keeping abreast of public attitudes. That is why I always read the “BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker” when it is published. I’m not saying the study is perfect and it can be used “inappropriately” by those who want to selectively use statistics.

But this study is a “tracker”, its job is to pick up any sustained movement in public attitudes. That said, I always smile when I look at the first question on “renewable” energy. The question asks:-

Q3. The next question is about renewable energy. This covers a number of different forms, including wind power, solar energy and biomass. Do you support or oppose the use of renewable energy for providing our electricity, fuel and heat?

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to find anyone who doesn’t support the use of renewable energy. Indeed, the tracker has for the past six years, each quarter, found roughly the same number (about 80%) who agree. Now, if I can be so bold, I suggest that BEIS start to measure the views of consumers on another matter. If for the past six years, the public overwhelmingly give the same reply to a question that deserves to be called “the bleeding obvious” then there really is no need to ask the question again.

But what should they ask instead?

In the drive to reduce carbon emissions, we should ask what consumers are willing to pay to reduce the carbon in their electricity, heat and transport fuels. Perhaps offer a range, £50 a year; £500 a year; £1000 a year; £5000 a year or nothing. Now I have a hunch what the findings will be but the results will help our understanding of what is practical as opposed to what might be technically possible. Over to you BEIS for the next tracker?

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CE