Nearly half of Brits wouldn’t want a free electric car

The Eco Experts

Our National Home Energy Survey is live and it’s the most extensive one yet.

We’ve asked 2,134 adults across the UK a whole range of eco-focused questions, including what types of low-carbon technology they’d be keen to adopt.

And it turns out that nearly half of Brits wouldn’t want a free electric car.

Read on to find out what green technology Brits would take if it were free, and how enthusiasm for things like heat pumps, solar panels, and electric vehicles differs between the generations.

An image of white houses in a valley, next to green hills and under a blue sky

Would Brits want green tech if it were free?

Chart showing that nearly half of Brits wouldn't want a free electric car

Low-carbon technology is essential for a net-zero — or even a 100% renewable — UK, and an impressive 85% of people we surveyed said they would have at least one item of eco-friendly technology if it were free.

That’s 51% of people saying they’d have solar panels if they were free, 25% agreeing to free heat pumps, and 55% of respondents keen to adopt an electric vehicle if they didn’t have to pay anything.

Though encouraging, we’re still surprised the numbers weren’t higher because it’s only a win-win situation getting these technologies at no extra cost. Imagine being able to avoid the high prices of energy bills using only the power of the sun for example — that’s the unique benefit of getting solar panels.

Or what about heating your entire home without burning polluting fossil fuels? Heat pumps are excellent alternatives to traditional gas or oil-powered boilers that keep properties warm using only the air outside, or the ambient heat in the soil.

Heat pumps are typically expensive pieces of kit too, with air source heat pumps costing an average of £10,000 without the UK government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme.

And then there’s the most surprising stat for us, that 45% of people wouldn’t accept a free electric vehicle.

Why is this? Well, for heat pumps we can understand the concerns over space, because even the smallest units still need to be attached to an outside wall in order to work. For solar panels, there are still perceptions of aesthetics, despite there being sleek and stylish options nowadays.

Electric vehicles continue to carry a stigma of inconvenience, with broken public EV chargers and perceived range issues both reasons that make people hesitant to adopt the technology, even if electric vehicles were free.

Which generations are most enthusiastic about green tech?

Our survey revealed some fascinating differences in enthusiasm for green technology across the generations. We asked what technologies people would adopt if money were no object.

The Silent Generation (born 1928 – 1945), who typically take a more conservative approach to low-carbon technology, actually had the most support for heat pumps, with a 35% approval rate. This aligned neatly with our question about low-carbon technology awareness — the Silent Generation also had the highest level of awareness about heat pumps at 71%.

What’s also interesting is that Boomers (born 1946 – 1964) had the second-highest level of enthusiasm for heat pumps at 27%, and this awareness of heat pumps increased with household income.

It suggests there’s a link between owning larger properties and wanting a heat pump, which makes sense as they’re typically better suited to bigger homes away from city centres. Both Boomers and the Silent Generation are more likely to own larger homes in rural areas than any other generation, which explains this result. In contrast, younger generations are generally more likely to live in apartments in urban areas.

Enthusiasm for solar panels was greatest among Gen X (born 1965 – 1980), with 56% saying they’d get a solar panel system if money wasn’t an issue. Solar panel awareness doesn’t appear to be a factor here, as Gen X sat squarely in the middle of the generations with 80%.

It might be that Gen X is ideologically and financially positioned between Millennials (born 1981 – 1996), who are among the most climate-conscious, and Boomers, who are more likely to have the money to spend on a solar panel system.

Millennials were the generation most keen on electric vehicles at 60%, which is hardly surprising considering they were the generation with the second-highest level of worry about climate change.

People who answered 'none of the above'
Gen Z (born 1997 – 2013)
Millennials (born 1981 – 1996)
Gen X (born 1965 – 1980)
Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)
Silent Generation (born 1928 – 1945)

Which regions are the most enthusiastic about green tech?

Map showing heat pump awareness by UK region

There was little difference in the level of enthusiasm between regions for buying an electric car, if money wasn’t an object — all parts of the UK fell between 50% and 60%.

Heat pumps had a fair bit more variation however, with Wales coming top on 33% and Greater London finishing last place with 16%. This is interesting because it’s clear that heat pumps aren’t particularly well suited to the limited space of the capital.

They’re far easier to install in properties with more space, and Wales has that in abundance compared to London. Swansea, with an average garden size of 203 square metres (m2), is a good deal friendlier to heat pump installations than London, which has a typical garden size of just 100 m2.

As for solar panels, Greater London was at the bottom of the pile again, with 45% of people saying they’d get a solar panel system if they didn’t need to think about the cost. North East England showed the highest support at 61%.

We found this interesting considering the North East had experienced the lowest overall increase in electricity costs over the last 12 months, alongside Yorkshire and the East Midlands. London on the other hand, saw some of the highest average increases for electricity in the country throughout 2022.

You’d have thought the capital would be more in favour of solar power then, but also the lower support could be because far more people live in properties that aren’t suitable for solar panel systems.

Also, a study done in 2020 found that the ten local authorities with the fewest solar panels were all in London (Project Etopia, 2020).

Is cost a barrier for Brits who want to go green?

We can reveal that 38% of Brits said they won’t be purchasing green technology in the next 12 months, but would if money were no object.

That’s as clear an indicator as any that the cost of low-carbon technologies is preventing a significant portion of people from making the switch away from fossil fuels.

It’s a concerning stat, because we need UK households to adopt more solar panels and electric cars if we’ve any hope of reaching net-zero.

However, the more encouraging data point is that 47% of Brits have bought low-carbon technology in the past 12 months.

Interestingly, the percentage of people put off from green technology by cost increased with age. It could well be that the older people get, the more worried they become about saving money and maybe even the less concerned they are about the environment.

Here’s a table breaking down how the generations responded:

People who wouldn’t purchase low-carbon technology in 12 months, but would if money were no object
Gen Z (born 1997 – 2013
Millennials (born 1981 – 1996)
Gen X (born 1965 – 1980)
Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)
Silent Generation (born 1928 – 1945)

Explore the rest of our National Home Energy Survey 2023

See the results

How do we get more Brits enthusiastic about green tech?

Financial barriers are the biggest factor stopping Brits getting enthusiastic about green technologies, especially in the wake of the cost of living and energy bill crises.

What needs to be done is a much wider rollout of government grants supporting people in purchasing low-carbon technologies. Or at the very least, easily repayable and long-term loans that allow simpler access to things like solar panels and heat pumps.

You can read about last year’s National Home Energy Survey to get an idea of how the UK responded in 2022.

Written by:
Tom Gill
Tom joined The Eco Experts over a year ago and has since covered the carbon footprint of the Roman Empire, profiled the world’s largest solar farms, and investigated what a 100% renewable UK would look like. Tom has a particular interest in the global energy market and how it works, including the ongoing semiconductor shortage, the future of hydrogen, and Cornwall's growing lithium industry.
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