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Chris Jones looks at consumer expectations versus reality about renewables

Any politician who wants to stay in office will always be wary of being too far out of step with public opinion, but seeking popularity with the electorate naturally becomes more of a priority the closer they get to going to the polls.

With a General Election looming before the end of next year, minds are beginning to be focused on some of the core battle grounds, and it seems that the relative level of support for the green agenda could well be one of them.

If commentators are to be believed, Rishi Sunak has never been the strongest advocate of the government’s commitment to net zero and it seems that the recent unexpected Uxbridge by-election success, largely put down to the Tory candidate’s opposition to ULEZ, has opened his eyes to the potential votes to be won by being less than enthusiastic about policies aimed at addressing climate change.

Many on the right of the Conservative party have long advocated a watering down of what are claimed to be expensive and unaffordable environmental measures, but are they right in thinking that being seen to be less green will boost their popularity?

A lack of knowledge about how heat pumps work is a big stumbling block

Chris Jones PHAM News Chris Jones Editor of PHAM News

Support for renewables

The latest poll from Ipsos, a survey of over 1,000 adults taken in August, says that 41% of Britons believe that the economic costs of climate change will be greater than the costs of reducing it.

By contrast, just 22% think that measures to reduce it will prove to be more costly.

Support is also high for investing in renewables (77%) and improving the efficiency of homes and businesses (75%), while 60% of those surveyed said that they would still support these policies even if they led to an increase in bills or taxes.

In a separate study, Mitsubishi Electric recently partnered with Ipsos to get a better understanding of consumer views on the environment and heat pump technology.

It found that most voters believe that the government should be playing a bigger role in driving the move to net zero.

The vast majority of respondents (80%) said that the government has a responsibility to act to reduce carbon emissions, while 41% agree that it is important to set a deadline for the decarbonisation of the economy.

The same report also confirmed a growing appetite for more sustainable heating solutions, with nearly half (42%) of respondents interested in having a heat pump installed.

However, the main motivation is less about concerns for the environment and more to do with the prospect of reducing their energy bills over time (64%).

Stumbling blocks

The idea of cutting their annual expenditure on energy is obviously something that will appeal to the vast majority of consumers, but Mitsubishi Electric’s study has highlighted that a lack of knowledge about how heat pumps work and concerns about the cost of installation are two big stumbling blocks when it comes to swapping out their fossil fuel appliances.

Almost half (49%) said that the perceived high initial cost was a deterring factor, while 71% admitted to knowing next to nothing about the technology.

If the UK heat pump market is to reach the levels that the government aspires to, then these are issues that will clearly need to be addressed, but as it stands it seems that our current administrators are not prepared to put in the necessary funding that would really accelerate the country’s transition to clean energy.

Undermining confidence

With widespread anxiety about the cost of living, consumers cannot be blamed for being wary of committing to any unnecessary capital outlay, but surely a more forward-looking government would recognise that it is worth using funds to gain longer-term rewards.

Although it’s widely acknowledged that investment in the green economy will be good for jobs and growth, a number of business leaders have expressed their concern that such opportunities are being passed up and decisions are being made that could have long lasting consequences.

The UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) recently sent a letter to the government signed by 36 financial institutions warning that recent public statements and policy signals risk undermining clarity, certainty, and confidence in the country’s commitment to net zero and highlighted fears that the UK will fall behind the US and EU unless there was more decisive action to tackle the climate crisis.

Votes in cleaner technologies

As it stands, though, it appears our Prime Minister is more concerned about saving seats than saving future generations and it looks like the strategy is to appeal to the short-term instincts of voters rather than promoting any loftier goals.

Recent policy decisions, such as pumping more oil and gas in the North Sea and removing environmental standards on new house building have done little to dispel the idea that the government believes that backtracking on previous pledges to plan for a more sustainable future will be a vote winner.

It has been suggested that there is a significant cross-over between hard-line Brexiteers and climate change deniers and that’s a demographic that could well help prevent a good number of Conservative seats from slipping into Labour hands, but will such a stance ultimately lose more votes than it will gain?

Rishi Sunak recently proudly boasted that he’s on the side of the motorists, undoubtedly a very healthy slice of the electorate, but isn’t there even more votes to be gained by being on the side of the clean-air breathers? 

Chris Jones is editor of PHAM News