UKCCSRC Spring 2023 Conference – Parallel 1c “Public perceptions of CCS and decarbonisation” (ECR Meeting Fund)

Billy Davies (Brunel University London), Babafemi Ogunsanwo (Cranfield University) and Guojun Zhang (University of Sheffield) share their perspectives on Parallel session 1c “Public perceptions of CCS and decarbonisation” at the UKCCSRC Spring 2023 Conference on “CCS from geographically dispersed industries”.

It was a delight to attend the UKCCSRC conference in Cardiff this year and the session on public perception in CCS, in which three researchers provided insight into how the public perceives CCS technology and what can be implemented to increase trust within CCS technology.

First up was David Reiner (University of Cambridge), discussing his work on how the public perceives CCS currently. As seen in figure one below, the environment has become a top issue in the UK, with energy prices being a significant concern since March 2022. The impact of high energy bills on households has doubled, with 20% of people stating that it will impose serious hardship. This has led to people turning down thermostats, water and essentials such as rent and food, disrupting many lives. Russia and large oil and gas companies are blamed for the high energy prices. However, people’s perception of costs on energy bills versus reality is different. The cost of generating energy is the most significant cost, but people believe a quarter of their bills go to company profits.

Figure 1: UK public concerns

People have responded by proposing various solutions, such as nationalising the energy company, implementing windfall taxes on oil and gas companies, breaking up energy companies, and rolling back most green levies that support renewable energy. The energy price guarantee is popular, but advertisement campaigns have not been successful. People have not heard of CCS, a technology that could help in reducing carbon emissions, despite consistent results from surveys since 2014.

When it comes to a net-zero portfolio, Gas CCS is more popular than Coal, while BECCS is not well-known. Enhanced weathering is opposed by people, while nuclear energy is generally supported. Wind and solar energy have significant support, especially among Conservative voters. On the other hand, people have negative views about aerosols, and there is a lack of understanding about what CCS does. It is crucial to educate people about these technologies to make informed decisions for a sustainable future.

Next was Diarmaid Clery (University of Manchester), who discussed his latest research on ‘Building a strong social license’, which is crucial for achieving decarbonisation goals in industrial clusters. The social license refers to the acceptance and support of a community or society towards a particular project or initiative. It is a key component of successful sustainable development and a crucial factor for the UK industrial clusters policy.

The project aims to assess and develop conditions for establishing and maintaining a strong social license to operate (SLO) for decarbonizing clusters. It also aims to extend the SLO approach to consider multiple technologies that can be assembled to deliver industrial decarbonisation at a cluster scale. The project employs an iterative process of mapping and deliberation to identify key contextual factors that will influence the SLO.

To build a strong social license, it is essential to engage stakeholders and the community in the decarbonisation process. This involves transparent communication, consultation and collaboration to build trust and foster a sense of ownership in the community. By involving stakeholders in the decision-making process, the community’s concerns and interests can be considered and addressed, and a shared vision for decarbonisation can be developed.

Finally, Emily Cox (Universities of Cardiff & of Oxford) was presenting on the topic of the spillover effect in relation to energy technologies. The topic of underground technologies is one that has been increasingly discussed in recent years, particularly in relation to energy production and storage. However, public perception of these technologies can be influenced by controversies surrounding similar technologies, as evidenced by the impact of the fracking controversy on public perception of other underground energy technologies.

One important finding from research on this topic is that people draw on their knowledge of familiar risks when forming opinions about unknown risks. In the case of underground technologies, the controversy surrounding fracking had a significant impact on public perception of other energy technologies that involve similar methods, such as deep geothermal. This suggests that controversies surrounding one technology can have spillover effects on other technologies, even if they are technically different.

Spontaneous, prompted and primed spillover effects were observed in the study, with the strongest concerns being related to storage underground, such as with BECCS and DACCS. These concerns were often linked to a lack of trust in the actors involved and a lack of trust in expert assurances of safety.

However, it is important to note that not all spillover effects were negative. In fact, some participants felt more positive about dissimilar technologies like green hydrogen after being prompted to consider fracking, highlighting the potential for spillover effects to also influence positive attitudes towards other technologies.

Given the multi-faceted nature of perception spillover, it is important for policymakers and researchers to take the lessons learned from the fracking controversy and apply them to other underground technologies. This includes getting the conditions right, such as building trust and transparency with the public, and committing to coherent policy narratives.

Overall, the session provided great insights into how the public currently perceives CCS technology and the steps that are being taken, as well as the steps that still need to be done to ensure public confidence when implementing CCS technology within the UK.