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MEMO/07/03

Brussels, 8 January 2007

Eurobarometer on Energy Technologies: Knowledge-Perception-Measures

Energy is fundamental for our lives and underpins all the functioning of society. Over the last few decades, the energy sector has changed drastically. The ever-increasing demand for energy, soaring oil prices, uncertain energy supplies from some areas of the world and fears of global warming are all challenges that are currently the subject of intense debate. The European Commission has launched several initiatives, at policy and research level, in order to respond to these challenges. One of these initiatives is the launch of a Eurobarometer survey on EU citizens’ knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of energy issues. This background note presents the principal conclusions of this survey. Page numbers refer to the English-language version of the full Eurobarometer report.

Energy issues are considered to be important but not at first glance.

  • When today’s challenging issues are considered as a whole, EU citizens rate energy issues (14%) far below unemployment (64%), crime (36%) and healthcare systems (30%), which relate more integrally to their daily life, economic stability, safety and health. (p.9)
  • As soon as the focus turns to energy issues, Europeans place great importance on reducing energy consumption in their country (54% consider this as very important) and on EU-driven energy-related research (60% rate this as a high priority). (p.44 and p.55)
  • The main factor underlying this perceived importance of energy issues appears to be energy prices. A third (33%) of Europeans spontaneously relate energy issues with prices and 45% consider that their government should make guaranteeing low energy prices a top priority in their energy policies. (p.13-15)

EU citizens perceive great future promise in the use of renewable energies, and nuclear energy also has its place in the future energy mix.

  • In relation to the present energy structure in their countries, citizens are reluctant to accept the use of fossil fuels (less than half of them are in favour of gas, oil and coal) but are highly favourable of renewable energies (all forms, 55% or over). Only 1 in 5 citizens supports the use of nuclear power. (p.33)
  • When looking to three decades ahead, Europeans anticipate a fundamental swing towards the use of renewable energies, in particular solar (+43 percentage points) and wind (+33 percentage points) energy. Despite the opposition to nuclear energy, it is expected be a substantial part of the energy mix in the future (34% rank it as one of the three most used energy sources in 30 years’ time). (p.34-38)
  • The prevalence of renewable energy forms in Europeans’ minds is also confirmed by the fact that 14% of them spontaneously link energy issues with renewable energy and also show a preference for directing the EU’s research funding into developing new energy technologies that are not yet widely used (29%) or discovered (23%). (p.13, p.56)

Citizens appear to opt for changing the energy structure, enhancing research and development and guaranteeing the stability of the energy field rather than saving energy as the way to meet energy challenges.

  • Despite the fact that reducing energy consumption is perceived as an important action per se, when specifically seeking solutions for energy challenges, Europeans tend to prioritise other actions: 15% of respondents rank reducing energy consumption as a top priority for their national energy policies and 20% would direct research funding towards saving energy. (p.51 and p.56)

The possible future consequences of energy issues do not generate deep fears in Europeans’ minds.

  • EU citizens appear to have difficulties in relating energy issues to situations in the future. This might be due to the overall place of energy issues in their lives: energy is associated with present and practical issues, such as prices and secure supply, which also generate the most concern among Europeans: 76% consider a significant price increase and 47% disruptions in gas supply likely to occur within a three-year timeframe. (p.59)
  • Europeans appear not to fear great societal changes, such as the rationing of energy consumption or not being able to afford a car, as a consequence of energy issues in the future. However, they do not seem to expect great improvements in 30 year’s time either: 35% believe in energy independence in Europe and 43% in technology solving the related environmental problems in the future. (p.66-67)

Europeans appear to be fairly familiar with energy issues, although their knowledge seems somewhat vague.

  • EU citizens are fairly aware of the main energy sources used in their country, even if they have difficulties in ranking the three main sources. When it comes to the sectors consuming the most energy, as was observed four years ago, the share of transport is underestimated but is still recognised as one of the three sectors consuming the most energy. (p.23-24)
  • Europeans appear to be knowledgeable of the level of energy dependence, with 61% believing that their country is entirely or very much dependent on energy imports and 53% saying the same about the EU as whole. (p.25)

Energy issues touch everybody and it is therefore hard to distinguish clear groups with differing perceptions. Nevertheless, the following remarks can be made:

  • Citizens of the new Member States are more concerned about energy prices, give more support to the use of fossil fuels (p.40) and assign less importance to reducing energy consumption, both in general (p.44-45) and in their individual actions (p.47-48). They have less knowledge of energy issues. This might be understood in the context of the energy structure and the economic situation in these countries. In contrast, Nordic countries are least concerned about energy prices and place more emphasis on secure supply and environmental aspects (p.52-53, p.60).
  • Gender, age, education and occupation appear to influence citizens’ opinion to a certain extent: males, the highly educated and those in managerial position seem to be more knowledgeable of energy issues(p.20). They are also slightly more in favour of the use of renewable energies and nuclear energy. (p.43)
  • Young respondents reveal a certain indifference to the importance of reducing energy consumption and to a personal commitment to save energy. (p.48)
  • Respondents who place a high importance on reducing energy consumption as one of the key actions to be taken in national energy policy tend to be more knowledgeable about energy issues and tend to prioritise environmental protection and fighting global warming more often. They also report that they have put more effort into saving energy in the past year. However, there is no significant difference compared to those who place less importance on energy saving. (p.49)
  • Finally, EU citizens appear to approach energy issues with a practical orientation that is related to concerns about energy prices and energy supply. This is also confirmed by looking at the “environmentally oriented” group of respondents who associate energy issues more often with the environment and put more effort into energy-saving actions but still place a great emphasis on practical issues, such as energy prices. (p.45)

See also IP/07/8 + MEMO/07/2


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