Years Active: 2011-2013


Energy system change bears upon multiple long-term national policy goals, including low carbon transitions, energy security and affordability, and mitigating wider environmental impacts. Significant transformations in the way the UK supplies, manages and consumes its energy will be essential if these aims are to be attained. Public values, attitudes and acceptability are of high importance in processes of whole energy systems transformation and could present significant difficulties, as well as opportunities, for the delivery of change across multiple areas.

The 'Transforming the UK Energy System: Public Values, Attitudes and Acceptability' study used an interdisciplinary (psychology, sociology, science and technology studies, human geography, engineering and architecture) and multi-method approach (qualitative interviews, public deliberative workshops, decision pathway surveys) to contribute to current knowledge, theory, methodology and policy by developing insights into public perspectives on whole energy system changes as an integrated set of transformations that will be experienced, enacted and negotiated in everyday lives.

Further Information

Significant transformations in the way the UK supplies, manages and consumes its energy will be essential if current climate change targets are to be achieved. Public acceptance and attitudes will play an important factor in implementing changes to the energy system and could provide significant difficulties as well as opportunities for the delivery of change.

Whilst there is already research on public opinion about particular ways of producing energy (wind, solar etc) and on different aspects of energy consumption, less is known about perceptions of a whole energy system change (i.e. the combined range of future transformations in energy demand and supply currently under consideration.)

The aim of this research project was to provide an insight into these issues and build on knowledge and understanding of public attitudes, values and acceptability in order to inform policy and produce research evidence for future energy scenarios. 

Combining leading expertise in psychology, science, technology, geography and engineering, the project utilised a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods, from discussion groups to surveys, to examine public perception, paying particular attention to where the public agrees or contests the underlying reasons for proposed change.

The project was carried out in three stages:

  • Stage one - researchers will analyse published documents and interview professionals to develop the materials necessary for creating realistic scenarios and discussion topics for the rest of the research.
  • Stage two - a series of public workshops will be held in order to facilitate group discussion around the materials identified in stage one. Workshops will be held in six case areas across the UK, each with different energy characteristics (e.g. high energy use, proximity to different forms of energy developments.)
  • Stage three - Building on stages one and two, stage three will examine the choices, values and trade-offs with a broader survey sample representative of the UK population.

Results from the research have provided useful insight into public acceptability of decarbonisation pathways, including what choices might gain broad public support or where resistance/ conflict might be expected.

Outputs included the creation of an Advisory Panel (consisting of representatives from policy, third sector, industry and independent academics), stakeholder briefings, academic publications, final report and launch event and a dedicated website for all users, particularly the public, detailing all aspects of the research.

The project is partnership between Cardiff University Schools of Psychology, Engineering and Architecture and the Horizon Digital Centre based at the University of Nottingham.

Key Outputs

  • Butler, C. Demski, C.C, Parkhill, K.A., Pidgeon, N.F. and Spence, A. (2015) Public values for energy futures: Framing, indeterminacy and policy making. Energy Policy, DOI 10.1016/j.enpol.2015.035
  • Spence, A., Demski, C.C, Butler, C. Parkhill, K.A. and Pidgeon, N.F. (2015) Public perceptions of demand-side management and a smarter energy future. Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2610 
  • Weston, M., Brianciforti, V., Hargreaves, T., Jones, C., Upham, P., Pidgeon, N.F, Butler, C., Devine-Wright, P. and Batel, S. (2014) Engaging People with Energy Technologies. Knowledge Transfer Network, UKERC.
  • Pidgeon, N.F., Demski, C.C, Butler, C., Parkhill, K.A. and Spence, A. (2014) Creating a national citizen engagement process for energy policy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 111 (Sup 4), 13606-13613. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1317512111.
  • Butler, C. and Demski, C. C. (2013). Valuing public engagement with energy system transitions: the importance of what lies beneath. Carbon Management, 4(6), 659-662.
  • Parkhill, K., Demski, C., Butler, C., Spence, A., and Pidgeon, N. (2013). Transforming the UK Energy System Public Values, Attitudes and Acceptability: Synthesis Report. UKERC, London.
  • Demski, C., Spence, A., and Pidgeon, N. (2013). Working Paper: Summary findings of a survey conducted August 2012. UKERC, London.
  • Butler, C., Parkhill, K.A., and Pidgeon, N. (2013). Working Paper: Report on findings from public deliberative workshops. UKERC, London.
  • Pidgeon, N.F. and Demski, C.C. (2012) From nuclear to renewable: energy system transformation and public attitudes. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 68(4), 41-51.
  • Butler, C., Parkhill, K., and Pidgeon, N. (2011). Nuclear power after Japan: the social dimensions. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 53 (6): 3-14.
  • Butler, C., Parkhill, K.A. and Pidgeon, N.F. (2011) Nuclear power after Japan: the social dimensions. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 53(6), 3-14.