Europe’s rapidly shifting geopolitical context over the past few years has underscored the need for an accelerated energy transition. We need a shift toward a more self-reliant and energy-secure future that embraces decarbonization at its core. This can only be achieved by pursuing an options-based climate strategy that embraces a diverse set of clean firm energy solutions, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), superhot rock geothermal energy (SHR), advanced nuclear energy, and low-carbon hydrogen, among others.
In August 2023, CATF, together with the policy and advocacy consultancy Stonehaven, conducted public polling on awareness and perception of clean energy technologies across six different European countries: Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
The survey included questions on:
- Interest in climate news
- Awareness of clean energy technologies
- Perceptions of clean energy technologies
Overall, the results demonstrate widespread public support for a range of clean firm energy sources and technologies in Europe.
Here are some of the more detailed highlights.
1. Climate-engaged individuals are more technology-agnostic than disengaged individuals
On average, 71% of respondents actively engage with climate news at least once a week (57% twice a week). Germany (29%) and Romania (27%) are the countries with the highest share of respondents who engage with climate news on a daily basis. By contrast, 29% of respondents engage with climate news only about once every two weeks or less. One particularly interesting takeaway is the substantive share of those who follow climate news only in connection with important climate events. This is the case for 27% of respondents in Poland, 15% in the UK, Germany, Italy, and Romania, and 10% in Spain.
Organisations should deliberate upon strategies to leverage these events as a hook to engage with the public on other climate matters – climate focused organisations must be mindful of the news cycle in order to break through to new audiences.
When asked about the reasons for not following climate change news more closely, a third of the respondents felt like they already engage enough with climate news, nearly a quarter cited time constraints, while 13% expressed a lack of interest. However, results show that there are some other reasons stopping the public from following climate news more often that can be addressed by NGOs, media entities, and other organisations. The content is viewed as too repetitive (32%), too political (22%), and too depressing (19%), reliable resources are limited (18%), and climate news language is too complicated (6%).
Upon delving further into the technology openness of the respondents, those engaged with climate news were more technology agnostic than those disengaged with climate news1. For instance, in the case of carbon capture and storage, 56% of climate-engaged respondents support its rollout, compared to 40% support coming from those disengaged. Consequently, the greater challenge confronting energy and climate organisations that advocate for these technologies lies in persuading individuals with comparatively lower levels of climate news engagement.
2. Public awareness is highest for advanced nuclear energy and lowest for superhot rock geothermal energy
When respondents were asked about their perceived level of understanding regarding the role of these technologies in decarbonising their country’s energy systems, discernible differences started to emerge.
In the case of advanced nuclear energy, on average, more than 25% of respondents claimed to feel informed about it2. Notably, variations exist among the surveyed countries, with awareness ranging from 19% in Romania to 30% in Poland. In contrast, an average of 19% of respondents felt informed about carbon capture and storage (CCS), and 20% reported feeling informed about low-carbon hydrogen. Predictably, awareness levels for superhot rock geothermal energy remained consistently low across all countries. Particularly low rates were observed in Romania and the UK, where only 12% and 13% of respondents, respectively, felt informed about the role of superhot rock in decarbonizing their country’s energy systems.
Overall, these findings underscore the need for public education on the characteristics and potential roles of these clean firm energy technologies and sources in Europe. Even in the case of widespread technologies that have been around for many decades – like nuclear –, there is room for increased awareness.
3. Despite the complicated history of nuclear energy in Europe, support for its rollout far outweighs rejection across all countries
While advanced nuclear is the most controversial among the surveyed technologies, support largely outweighs rejection. 51% of the respondents across all countries support nuclear rollout, and less than 18% reject it.3
The data reveals that acceptance levels are notably higher in Poland, Romania, and the UK—countries either currently utilizing nuclear energy (Romania, UK) or actively exploring nuclear capacity expansion (Poland). In November 2023, Poland’s Climate and Environment Ministry approved the construction of the second nuclear power plant in the country and Romania is expected to be the first country in Europe to have small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) technology. Also, the United Kingdom’s Government has underscored the significance of both new nuclear and large-scale nuclear as integral components of its Energy Security strategy, highlighting the potential role of SMRs.
In contrast, Germany and Spain exhibit lower levels of acceptance (and higher rejection) of advanced nuclear technology. Public opinions on nuclear energy are deeply entrenched in Spain’s and Germany’s societal discourse and political considerations. Consequently, political decision-making has moved away from the technology, with Germany recently decommissioning its last nuclear power plants, and Spain undergoing nuclear phase-out.
The primary reasons motivating participants for an increase in nuclear power rollout are its attributes as a constant energy source (67%) and as a carbon-free technology (58%), followed by the perception of nuclear as being a safe technology (45%), cost-effective (37%), and having a minimal land footprint (32%). The main opposition to nuclear stems from safety and waste concerns (mentioned by 82% and 58% of respondents, respectively). Notably, a substantial disparity is evident between nuclear-sceptic Germany where 73% of respondents expressed concerns about nuclear waste, and Poland, where only 29% share similar worries about waste.
At CATF we support the pivotal role that advanced nuclear energy could play in Europe’s decarbonisation efforts. A European electric grid that will likely need to be three to four times the size of today’s by 2050 will require a portfolio of options, and nuclear energy should remain a component of that mix, as a reliable, non-weather dependent, clean energy source.
4. 93% of respondents believe carbon capture and storage could be used to reduce CO2 emissions but levels of support are dependent on other factors
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) enjoys widespread support across all surveyed countries, with an average acceptance level of 49%, while only an average of 11% of participants expressed rejection of the technology. However, the substantial share of neutral responses, constituting nearly 40% of respondents, indicates a notable lack of public knowledge about the specifics of this solution. Closing these knowledge gaps is essential for fostering a more informed and supportive public stance on this crucial decarbonisation technology.
When asked about their perception on when (if ever) their country should use CCS to reduce CO2 emissions, a total of 93% of respondents expressed that CCS could be used, depending on other factors. Notably, 44% of respondents advocate for the use of CCS only if it emerges as the most cost-effective option for decarbonisation, followed by 27% who assert that CCS should be employed when it is the only available option for decarbonisation. On average 22% are in favour of always using CCS, while a mere 7% believe it should never be used.
Therefore, despite prevailing assumptions, the survey results underscore that carbon capture and storage is not an unpopular climate technology among the general population. The survey findings also show that some parts of the European population have no solid stance on CCS, signifying that there is still untapped potential to shape the popular carbon capture narrative in Europe.
The global deployment of CCS needs to be accelerated in order to prevent the emission of millions of tonnes of CO₂ from power generation and industrial sources around the world. Proper implementation of CCS – focused on climate issues, developed collaboratively with industry stakeholders and deployed in a community-responsible, sensible, effective and economically efficient manner – will play a pivotal role in influencing public opinion on this critical climate mitigation solution.
5. The public supports the use of low-carbon hydrogen, but there’s uncertainty about the sectors in which it should be applied
Results showcase that low-carbon hydrogen has widespread support (51%) while only an average of 9% reject it. Nonetheless, as seen in the case of CCS, the considerable share of neutral responses (39%) indicates a substantial lack of public knowledge on low-carbon hydrogen.
When asked about sectors in which low-carbon hydrogen should be used in, responses were varied. While power generation, transport, and heavy industry were commonly mentioned, no specific sector garnered significantly higher support than others, with none surpassing the 50% threshold. This suggests a need for clearer and more coherent information regarding the nature of hydrogen, its applications, methods for achieving low-carbon production, and its future relevance in meeting emissions reduction targets. It is noteworthy that only a marginal percentage of respondents (2%) expressed opposition to the use of hydrogen.
CATF has taken proactive steps to bridge the knowledge gap surrounding low-carbon hydrogen. Notably, earlier this year, we published an explainer on low-carbon hydrogen production, offering insight into the nature of this fuel and the requisite resources for its production. Additionally, CATF launched a hydrogen production calculator, a useful tool that shows the quantities of natural gas, water, and electricity required to produce different volumes of hydrogen. In terms of sectoral applications, CATF has been working on an evidence-based priority ranking for sectoral deployment.
By providing accessible and informative resources, CATF is actively contributing to enhancing public understanding of low-carbon hydrogen and its significance in the context of emissions reduction and sustainable energy practices.
6. 65% support government investment in superhot rock geothermal energy development
Despite initial low awareness levels of superhot rock energy, after reading a description of the technology4, respondents demonstrated strong support for its rollout across all surveyed countries.
In total, 63% of respondents across the entire survey expressed support for superhot rock technology. Upon receiving information about the technology, the public recognises its value proposition and its potential benefits for their energy systems – providing local energy that will allow for energy security; firm, baseload renewable energy to support grid stability; and jobs to help the existing fossil fuel workforce transition.
Similarly, when asked about their opinion on how much the governments should invest in superhot rock technologies, 35% support moderate investment and 30% support heavy government investment into SHR development.
Considering it is an emerging technology, it is unsurprising that nearly 20% of participants claimed they need to know more before making an informed decision. Once again, this underscores the existence of a knowledge gap that energy and climate organizations have the opportunity to address, which is pivotal for fostering greater understanding and support for innovative and sustainable energy solutions like superhot rock technologies.
The survey results present a promising landscape of public willingness to embrace a diverse range of clean firm energy solutions to reach emission reduction targets. This widespread public support should serve as a catalyst for both policymakers and industry stakeholders to embrace and invest in these much-needed innovative technologies.
However, the survey findings also underscore notable knowledge gaps, which provokes understandable skepticism. Stakeholders such as NGOs, think tanks, media outlets, and other organisations play a pivotal role in shaping public opinion and fostering acceptance of clean energy solutions. Proactive engagement and more information dissemination are needed to reduce public concerns and enhance awareness, which will essentially empower individuals to make informed decisions on these firm, low-carbon energy solutions.
To read through the full results of our survey, please see the deck below.
Glossary of terms
Climate-engaged and climate-disengaged individuals
Based on the following question: How often do you actively consume news about climate change? Please select the answer that most applies to you.
- Once a day
- About every other day
- About twice a week
- About once a week
- About once every two weeks
- Only when I want to follow important climate change events
- Almost never
Climate-engaged individuals: Includes respondents who consume climate news at least once per week.
Climate-disengaged individuals: Includes respondents who consume climate news once every two weeks or less
Based on the following question: How do you feel about the role of [TECH] in decarbonizing your country’s energy systems?
- Very well informed
- Well informed
- Moderately informed
- Poorly informed
- Very poorly informed
Informed individuals: Includes respondents who indicated feeling “very well informed” or “well informed” to the following question.
Attitude towards technology rollout
Support technology rollout: Respondents who indicated top (right) 4 scores
Neutral feeling towards technology rollout: Respondents who indicated middle 3 scores
Reject technology rollout: Respondents who indicated bottom (left) 4 scores
Based on the following question: Based on what you’ve read, how in favour are you of [TECH] being rolled out across [NATION]? Based on the following 11-point scale:
- LEFT: I am not in favour of seeing [TECH] in [NATION]
- RIGHT: I am in favour in seeing [TECH] in [NATION]
The survey was conducted through policy and advocacy consultancy Stonehaven. Survey questions were translated into local languages by Stonehaven, and CATF conducted quality control of all translations using native language speakers for each language. When direct translations of text were not available in the target language, translators used the best available word choices to convey the same meaning. Unless otherwise stated, sample size for each country: Germany (1009), Italy (1002), Poland (1003), Romania (1002), Spain (1002) and the UK (1003).
1 See glossary of terms for definitions of “Engaged” and “Disengaged” individuals
2See Glossary of terms for information on “Informed individuals”
3 See Glossary of terms for information on “Support” and “Rejection”
4 See description in the full survey results report