Social ties sparking a green revolution: Knowing one person using low-carbon heating solutions increases likelihood of adopting it yourself.

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has unveiled the results of its comprehensive domestic heat survey, “Mapping the Landscape of Public Attitudes Towards Low-Carbon Heating Technologies,” shedding light on the crucial role social connections play in the transition to low-carbon heating. 

The study, which surveyed 2,223 respondents across the UK, sought to assess the extent of public awareness and support for greener heating solutions, with heat pumps emerging as the preferred technology.

Other technologies examined in the research included district heating and hydrogen boilers. 

One of the key findings of the survey underscores the influence of social connections on individuals’ willingness to adopt low-carbon heating systems. The data indicates that simply knowing one friend or colleague using such technology significantly increases a person’s likelihood of embracing it themselves.

This underscores the potential for a “snowball effect” as increased adoption within social networks could multiply public engagement and support for low-carbon heating.

As well as pointing out the importance of knowing people embracing cleaner heating, the survey highlighted a prevailing lack of awareness regarding the carbon emissions associated with home heating. Respondents tended to prioritise other carbon reduction behaviours, such as personal transport choices and reducing domestic energy consumption, over adopting greener heating solutions.

However, when provided with additional information about specific low-carbon heating technologies, the respondents displayed widespread support. Heat pumps emerged as the technology garnering the strongest backing, indicating a positive reception among the public.

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The study identified several drivers influencing attitudes toward the adoption of low-carbon heating technologies. Concerns about UK energy security and strong pro-environmental values were cited as the most influential factors. 

Professor Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University, who led the study for UKERC, emphasised the need for government policy and communications to address these drivers to facilitate a smoother transition.

“While some of these drivers reflect well-understood public views on the low-carbon transition, we also found some surprising results, which we believe government policy and communications should urgently address,” Pidgeon said. 

“For example, knowing just one other individual who uses a low-carbon heating technology is associated with increased willingness to adopt all low-carbon heating technologies, suggesting that increasing uptake might facilitate a ‘snowball’ effect multiplying public engagement and support.”

Notably, the survey highlighted the public’s perception of the heat transition as a collaborative effort, with respondents pointing to government and energy companies as having the greater responsibility to fund the transition. However, the report notes a significant lack of trust in these institutions, with consumers expressing uncertainty about where to turn for reliable information.

Respondents identified themselves, members of their social network, and scientists as the most trustworthy sources, while the government and energy companies ranked lowest in trustworthiness. The report concludes that urgent action is needed to create conditions for meaningful engagement with the public and to leverage support from these trusted groups to drive the heating transition.

In response to the findings, UKERC Director Professor Rob Gross spoke of the importance of understanding public perceptions in the decarbonisation of heating, stating, “That’s why this is such an important piece of research.”