62% of UK residents want the government to replace gas with green power

The Eco Experts
downing street sign

Four times as many people support renewable energy as fossil fuels

Gas prices have risen for a year, and Russia’s invasion will exacerbate this

We’ll release the rest of our annual National Home Energy Survey in April


A clear majority of the UK public want the government to invest in green energy to combat rising gas prices that have been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

62% of people supported a move to renewable sources of power, with wind gaining the most support of any energy, at 31%.

On the other end of the scale, fracking received little love from the public, with just 4% getting behind investment in this polluting source.

These findings came from a survey of 1,055 UK residents conducted by The Eco Experts as part of our annual National Home Energy Survey, which will be released at the start of April.

Gas and electricity prices have been rising rapidly for the past year, reflected in Ofgem raising the annual energy price cap by a record-breaking £693 to £1,971 from April onwards.

Russia invading Ukraine has led to sanctions and panic buying, causing energy prices to increase even more quickly, with experts estimating the UK could face a price cap of £3,000 in October.

The UK public has spoken. It wants the government to invest in green energy to reduce our reliance on gas – including Russian gas.

The most popular choice was wind – chosen by 31% of people – followed by solar power on 23%, with another 8% picking hydroelectric power.

That means 62% of the UK wants to go green.

Just 15% of respondents thought the government should choose gas or oil when diversifying its energy mix – which amounts to a stunning rejection of fossil fuels.

The UK already gets 10% of its energy from wind power, according to Our World in Data.

The UK generates 187 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy from wind, which is seven times as much as the 27 TWh it produced in 2010.

This is a large part of why the UK was able to generate more electricity from renewable sources than fossil fuels in 2020, for the first time ever.

In fact, the only countries where wind makes up more of the overall energy usage are Denmark, Ireland, and Portugal.

However, the best energy mixes rely on multiple green sources – like hydropower and solar energy – which is why the UK is still only 27th for how much of our energy comes from renewables.

Solar power is still trailing at 1.7% of our energy usage, though its share is 13.5 times bigger than it was just eight years ago.

Hydroelectric power is also lagging, supplying just 0.9% of our energy.

We rely on it twice as much as we did 10 years ago, but its current level is needlessly low – especially when you consider that Norway and Iceland use it to supply more than half of their power.

Breakdown by age group

Younger people were keener to go green than older generations, which fits with all the other data we’ve seen about the enthusiasm of different ages for fighting climate change.

70% of Gen Z respondents support more investment in green energy, the youngest generation to hit adulthood, while Boomers were the least likely to support renewables, and the most likely to call for more investment in fracking and North Sea gas drilling.

However, the main finding is the popularity of green energy sources across the generations, with a majority of each age group wanting the UK to help the climate with its new energy sources.

The notable difference across the generations is which green source each one flocks to.

Twice as many Gen Z-ers chose hydroelectric power as any other age group, Millennials favoured solar energy significantly more than the other generations, and Boomers were the most supportive generation when it came to wind power.

Breakdown by income

The high level of support for renewable energy sources remained astonishingly consistent across all income brackets – as did the low level of support for fossil fuels.

The amount of green support didn’t fall below 59% or rise above 64% for each income bracket, while the percentage of people in favour of gas and fracking never exited the 13% to 19% range.

This means that regardless of how much people earn, they still think greater energy independence should mean a greener future for all of us.

A result like this flies in the face of many false assumptions, like the idea that people on lower incomes don’t have the time to care about the environment, or that people on higher incomes feel protected from the effects of climate change.

Everyone, clearly, wants the government to invest in green energy.

Every single region of the UK supports more investment in renewable energy, according to our survey.

Wales topped the charts for green support – and had the lowest amount of fossil fuel support – while Scotland came fourth, as people living under these devolved administrations made their feelings clear about the UK’s energy mix.

Wind received the most support for government investment in every region except the North East and North West, where solar was the most popular choice.

The North West is also where fracking attracted the most fans, though it still only reached 8%.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people in Scotland and the North East were most likely to support more investment in North Sea gas drilling – which makes sense, since the industry supports a lot of jobs in those regions.

18% of respondents chose nuclear power

The third-most popular choice in our survey was nuclear energy, with the power source sitting almost exactly halfway between the green options and fossil fuels in our results.

Nuclear energy is low-carbon but comes with risks of polluting the local environment – and, in catastrophic scenarios, exposing huge swathes of the country to harmful radiation.

The option was most popular with Boomers – receiving 24% of their support – and the Silent Generation. Only 10 of this oldest age group answered our survey, but six of these respondents chose nuclear power.

It was also Gen X-ers’ second-most popular choice, on 20%, but received short shrift from Millennials, with just 13% choosing the nuclear option.

Low support for fracking

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked ministers to look into lifting the moratorium on shale gas fracking to provide an extra source of energy, but there seems to be little public enthusiasm for that plan.

Just 4% of people chose fracking in our survey – a figure which fell to 0% with Gen Z respondents.

This is perhaps because shale gas fracking causes sizable greenhouse gas emissions, and can also cause air pollution, groundwater contamination, and earthquakes, according to the National Audit Office.

The UK’s first large-scale shale gas fracking operation was suspended in 2011 after it caused two minor earthquakes.

The government declared a moratorium on fracking in November 2019, following a High Court decision that found the government’s fracking policy unlawful.

It’s unclear how much shale gas lies beneath the UK, despite many academic and corporate estimates and trial runs, but what is clear is the potential risks of trying to access these reserves.

Fracking has also been banned or massively limited in other places, including France, Denmark, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Mexico, Bulgaria, and Ireland.

Some countries including the US and Canada have engaged in large-scale fracking for many years, but some states in these countries have banned the practice, and efforts to make fracking a prominent source of energy in other nations have largely fallen flat.

How much does the UK rely on gas?

The UK relies heavily on gas, as it fuels 39% of the country’s primary energy consumption – more than any other energy source.

Our population is the 21st-biggest in the world, yet we rank eighth for gas consumption. 85% of our homes use gas boilers.

Unfortunately, 66% of the gas we use is imported. In fact, the UK imports 4.5 times more gas than it exports.

This is unfortunate only because it makes us vulnerable when our trading partners engage in sudden moments of instability – like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

56% of the gas we import comes from Norway, with Qatar and the US supplying another 31% between them – and 5% coming from Russia.

How does this compare with other countries in Europe?

Gas makes up 24% of the European Union’s primary energy consumption – well below the UK’s 39%, but still substantial.

And troublingly, 90% of the gas used in the EU is imported, according to the European Commission.

41% of this imported gas comes from Russia. In comparison, the UK gets 5% of its imported gas from Russia.

Russia also supplies more coal and oil to the EU than any other country does, which is why it’s been difficult for member states to institute sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

The EU has announced that it plans to cut its gas imports from Russia by two-thirds in 2022, while the UK government has said it’s “exploring options to reduce” its gas imports from Russia.

Summary

When asked to pick an alternative to gas, the British public overwhelmingly chose green energy over fossil fuels.

62% of people want the government to fight climate change while diversifying our energy mix, four times more than those who support fossil fuel expansion.

Just a couple of decades ago, this would’ve been unthinkable, but renewable sources have come on leaps and bounds, and the public has grown to understand the existential threat posed by climate change and therefore fossil fuels.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought our energy mix into sharp focus, but gas prices were already spiralling before the war, and the public’s appetite for fighting climate change with greener energy sources was already high.

Now the government needs to get on board.

josh jackman
Josh Jackman Senior Writer

Josh has written about eco-friendly home improvements and climate change for the past three years. His work has featured on the front page of the Financial Times; he’s been interviewed by BBC Radio; and he was the resident expert in BT’s smart home tech initiative.

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