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Policy News, BB200602

European citizens back renewable energies technologies and policies


Almost 80% of EU citizens support renewable energies as their preferred alternative to high-priced oil and gas, according to a public opinion survey carried out in November 2005 by the European Commission. The number of Europeans supporting nuclear, at 12%, seems meagre in comparison. Surprisingly, in view of the dominant position of nuclear in France’s energy mix (75%) French citizens are more sceptical about the nuclear alternative than the average European.

The Eurobarometer "Attitudes towards Energy"presented on 24 January by Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs attempted to measure the perceptions and attitudes of the European citizens towards energy. In the context of a tight energy market, made up of sustained high oil prices and gas supply conflicts at the border of the EU, the survey dealt with:

- The most appropriate level to make decisions in order to respond to the new energy challenges;
- Public authorities and government priorities in order to reduce energy consumption and limit the rise of the European Union's dependency on imported energy sources;
- Energy consumption habits and willingness to change them.

The main conclusions of the survey are:

- Energy is a concern for all Europeans: there is a clear public demand for action on all political levels.
- The European level of decision making is perceived as the most appropriate compared to other options: 1 out of 2 interviewees support this view. Support for a European energy policy appears to be lower in the acceding and candidate countries.
- When asked what the National Governments should focus on in order to reduce the current energy dependency, Europeans clearly support the enhanced use of renewable energies, particularly solar energy (41%) and wind power (31%). Europeans are also in favour of promotion of advanced technologies such as hydrogen and clean coal. To respond to the energy challenges, d eveloping the use of nuclear power (12%) scores poorly confirming the results of an earlier Barometer on nuclear waste. Only 8% of the French respondents would support a government focused effort on developing the use of nuclear energy to reduce energy dependence,
- Governments should also promote the efficient use of energy more actively, particularly concerning it’s practical implementation such as in the domestic sector. where citizens require more information. Steering the policy externally in the form of tax incentives would also be desired.
- As consumers, a significant percentage of Europeans (40%) would be prepared to pay more for energy from renewable sources although this view is not shared by the new Member States. Europeans also show themselves open to the notion of using less energy.

The main results of the survey reaffirm previous opinion polls or survey results. Renewable energy is extremely popular across different countries, cultures, and regions, and as much so in places that have already experimented with renewable energy, whether it’s solar energy in Austria and Cyprus, or Denmark with long experience in wind energy.

The message from the EU citizens is clear – energy is a concern for all Europeans and people expect clear and concrete actions on all political levels, including at EU level. The support from citizens is well timed, as the European Commission is preparing a Green Paper on Energy Security to be discussed at the EU head of states at the European Council. (See related story).