Energy’s central place in economic, political and social systems—and the broad impacts that energy choices have on the natural world and public health—mean that new technologies often spur public reactions. Understanding these public responses and their drivers is important, as public support can influence new technology adoption and deployment. Here I review the literature on public perceptions of and responses to a wide range of new energy technologies. Unlike previous reviews that tend to focus on particular technologies or types of technologies, this Review covers both large-scale energy infrastructure projects, such as utility-scale wind and solar, fossil fuel extraction and marine renewables, as well as small-scale, ‘consumer-facing’ technologies such as electric vehicles, rooftop solar and smart meters. This approach reveals broad trends that may facilitate communication between policymakers, technologists and the public, and support the transition to a more sustainable energy system.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $4.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
IPCC Global Warming of 1.5 °C (eds Masson-Delmotte, V. et al.) (World Meteorological Organization, 2018).
Ansolabehere, S. & Konisky, D. M. Cheap and Clean: How Americans Think about Energy in the Age of Global Warming (MIT Press, 2014).
Rand, J. & Hoen, B. Thirty years of North American wind energy acceptance research: What have we learned? Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 29, 135–148 (2017).
Hess, D. J. & Coley, J. S. Wireless smart meters and public acceptance: the environment, limited choices, and precautionary politics. Public Underst. Sci. 23, 688–702 (2014).
Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B. & Lichtenstein, S. Why study risk perception? Risk Anal. 2, 83–93 (2006).
Bauer, M. W. Editorial. Public Underst. Sci. 18, 378–382 (2009).
Clarke, C. E. et al. Public opinion on energy development: the interplay of issue framing, top-of-mind associations, and political ideology. Energy Policy 81, 131–140 (2015).
Yin, R. K. Case Study Research and Applications: Design and Methods (SAGE, 2017).
Ellis, G., Barry, J. & Robinson, C. Many ways to say ‘no’, different ways to say ‘yes’: applying Q-Methodology to understand public acceptance of wind farm proposals. J. Environ. Plann. Manag. 50, 517–551 (2007).
Hui, I., Cain, B. E. & Dabiri, J. O. Public receptiveness of vertical axis wind turbines. Energy Policy 112, 258–271 (2018).
Rothensee, M. in The Internet of Things Vol. 4952 (eds Floerkemeier, C. et al.) 123–139 (Springer, 2008).
Thomas, M., Partridge, T., Harthorn, B. H. & Pidgeon, N. Deliberating the perceived risks, benefits, and societal implications of shale gas and oil extraction by hydraulic fracturing in the US and UK. Nat. Energy 2, 17054 (2017).
Balta-Ozkan, N., Davidson, R., Bicket, M. & Whitmarsh, L. The development of smart homes market in the UK. Energy 60, 361–372 (2013).
Klick, H. & Smith, E. R. A. N. Public understanding of and support for wind power in the United States. Renew. Energy 35, 1585–1591 (2010).
Thomas, M. et al. Public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas and oil in the United States and Canada. Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Clim. Change 8, e450 (2017).
Wiersma, B. & Devine-Wright, P. Public engagement with offshore renewable energy: a critical review. Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Clim. Change 5, 493–507 (2014).
Spence, A., Demski, C., Butler, C., Parkhill, K. & Pidgeon, N. Public perceptions of demand-side management and a smarter energy future. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 550–554 (2015).
Carpini, M. X. D. & Keeter, S. What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters (Yale Univ. Press, 1996).
Boudet, H. et al. “Fracking” controversy and communication: using national survey data to understand public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing. Energy Policy 65, 57–67 (2014).
Boudet, H. S., Zanocco, C. M., Howe, P. D. & Clarke, C. E. The effect of geographic proximity to unconventional oil and gas development on public support for hydraulic fracturing. Risk Anal. 38, 1871–1890 (2018).
Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker: Wave 25 Summary Report (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 2018); https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/energy-and-climate-change-public-attitudes-tracker-wave-25
Raimi, K. T. & Carrico, A. R. Understanding and beliefs about smart energy technology. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 12, 68–74 (2016).
Krause, R. M., Carley, S. R., Lane, B. W. & Graham, J. D. Perception and reality: public knowledge of plug-in electric vehicles in 21 U.S. cities. Energy Policy 63, 433–440 (2013).
Hargreaves, T., Nye, M. & Burgess, J. Making energy visible: a qualitative field study of how householders interact with feedback from smart energy monitors. Energy Policy 38, 6111–6119 (2010).
Smale, R., van Vliet, B. & Spaargaren, G. When social practices meet smart grids: flexibility, grid management, and domestic consumption in The Netherlands. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 34, 132–140 (2017).
Devine-Wright, P. Beyond NIMBYism: towards an integrated framework for understanding public perceptions of wind energy. Wind Energy 8, 125–139 (2005).
Espeland, W. N. The Struggle for Water: Politics, Rationality, and Identity in the American Southwest (Univ. Chicago Press, 1998).
Whitmarsh, L. et al. UK public perceptions of shale gas hydraulic fracturing: the role of audience, message and contextual factors on risk perceptions and policy support. Appl. Energy 160, 419–430 (2015).
Ipsos MORI Quantitative Research into Public Awareness, Attitudes, and Experience of Smart Meters: Wave 4 (Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2014); https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/277045/key_findings_summary_quantitative_sm_public_attitudes_research_wave_4.pdf
Carlisle, J. E., Kane, S. L., Solan, D. & Joe, J. C. Support for solar energy: examining sense of place and utility-scale development in California. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 3, 124–130 (2014).
Besley, J. C. & McComas, K. A. Something old and something new: comparing views about nanotechnology and nuclear energy. J. Risk Res. 18, 215–231 (2014).
Ho, S. S. et al. Science literacy or value predisposition? A meta-analysis of factors predicting public perceptions of benefits, risks, and acceptance of nuclear energy. Environ. Commun. 13, 457–471 (2018).
Stedman, R. C., Evensen, D., O’Hara, S. & Humphrey, M. Comparing the relationship between knowledge and support for hydraulic fracturing between residents of the United States and the United Kingdom. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 20, 142–148 (2016).
Stoutenborough, J. W. & Vedlitz, A. The role of scientific knowledge in the public’s perceptions of energy technology risks. Energy Policy 96, 206–216 (2016).
Jacquet, J. B. Landowner attitudes toward natural gas and wind farm development in northern Pennsylvania. Energy Policy 50, 677–688 (2012).
Krause, R. M., Carley, S. R., Warren, D. C., Rupp, J. A. & Graham, J. D. “Not in (or under) my backyard”: geographic proximity and public acceptance of carbon capture and storage facilities. Risk Anal. 34, 529–540 (2014).
Vasi, I. B., Walker, E. T., Johnson, J. S. & Tan, H. F. “No fracking way!” Documentary film, discursive opportunity, and local opposition against hydraulic fracturing in the United States, 2010 to 2013. Am. Sociol. Rev. 80, 934–959 (2015).
Druckman, J. N. & Bolsen, T. Framing, motivated reasoning, and opinions about emergent technologies. J. Commun. 61, 659–688 (2011).
Scheufele, D. A. & Lewenstein, B. V. The public and nanotechnology: how citizens make sense of emerging technologies. J. Nanopart. Res. 7, 659–667 (2005).
van der Linden, S. A conceptual critique of the cultural cognition thesis. Sci. Commun. 38, 128–138 (2016).
Oltra, C. et al. Public responses to CO2 storage sites: lessons from five European cases. Energy Environ. 23, 227–248 (2012).
Slovic, P. Perception of risk. Science 236, 280–285 (1987).
Stoutenborough, J. W., Vedlitz, A. & Liu, X. The influence of specific risk perceptions on public policy support: an examination of energy policy. Ann. Am. Acad. Pol. Soc. Sci. 658, 102–120 (2015).
Rogers, E. M. Diffusion of Innovations 5th edn (Free Press, 2003).
Rezvani, Z., Jansson, J. & Bodin, J. Advances in consumer electric vehicle adoption research: a review and research agenda. Transp. Res. D. 34, 122–136 (2015).
Schelly, C. Residential solar electricity adoption: What motivates, and what matters? A case study of early adopters. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 2, 183–191 (2014).
Wolske, K. S., Stern, P. C. & Dietz, T. Explaining interest in adopting residential solar photovoltaic systems in the United States: toward an integration of behavioral theories. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 25, 134–151 (2017).
Haggett, C. Over the sea and far away? A consideration of the planning, politics and public perception of offshore wind farms. J. Environ. Policy Plann. 10, 289–306 (2008).
Selma, L., Seigo, O., Dohle, S. & Siegrist, M. Public perception of carbon capture and storage (CCS): a review. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 38, 848–863 (2014).
Jenkins, K., McCauley, D., Heffron, R., Stephan, H. & Rehner, R. Energy justice: a conceptual review. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 11, 174–182 (2016).
Cotton, M. Shale gas — community relations: NIMBY or not? Integrating social factors into shale gas community engagements. Nat. Gas. Electr. 29, 8–12 (2013).
Sierzchula, W., Bakker, S., Maat, K. & van Wee, B. The influence of financial incentives and other socio-economic factors on electric vehicle adoption. Energy Policy 68, 183–194 (2014).
Geels, F. W., Berkhout, F. & van Vuuren, D. P. Bridging analytical approaches for low-carbon transitions. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 576–583 (2016).
Howe, P. D. & Mathieu, J. L. Age and perceived benefits are associated with willingness to participate in an electric load control program. Preprint at https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/rpg46 (2018).
Sigrin, B., Pless, J. & Drury, E. Diffusion into new markets: evolving customer segments in the solar photovoltaics market. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 084001 (2015).
Finucane, M. L., Slovic, P., Mertz, C. K., Flynn, J. & Satterfield, T. A. Gender, race, and perceived risk: the ‘white male’ effect. Health Risk Soc. 2, 159–172 (2000).
McCright, A. M. & Dunlap, R. E. Bringing ideology in: the conservative white male effect on worry about environmental problems in the USA. J. Risk Res. 16, 211–226 (2013).
Jacques, P. J., Dunlap, R. E. & Freeman, M. The organisation of denial: conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism. Environ. Polit. 17, 349–385 (2008).
Farrell, J. Corporate funding and ideological polarization about climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 113, 92–97 (2016).
Davis, C. & Fisk, J. M. Energy abundance or environmental worries? Analyzing public support for fracking in the United States. Rev. Policy Res. 31, 1–16 (2014).
Clarke, C. E. et al. How geographic distance and political ideology interact to influence public perception of unconventional oil/natural gas development. Energy Policy 97, 301–309 (2016).
Brown, E., Hartman, K., Borick, C. P., Rabe, B. G. & Ivacko, T. M. The National Surveys on Energy and Environment Public Opinion on Fracking: Perspectives from Michigan and Pennsylvania (May 2013) (Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, 2013).
O’Connor, C. D. & Fredericks, K. Citizen perceptions of fracking: the risks and opportunities of natural gas development in Canada. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 42, 61–69 (2018).
Gravelle, T. B. & Lachapelle, E. Politics, proximity and the pipeline: mapping public attitudes toward Keystone XL. Energy Policy 83, 99–108 (2015).
Baiocchi-Wagner, E. A. & Talley, A. E. The role of family communication in individual health attitudes and behaviors concerning diet and physical activity. Health Commun. 28, 193–205 (2013).
Howell, E. L. et al. How do U.S. state residents form opinions about ‘fracking’ in social contexts? A multilevel analysis. Energy Policy 106, 345–355 (2017).
Graziano, M. & Gillingham, K. Spatial patterns of solar photovoltaic system adoption: the influence of neighbors and the built environment. J. Econ. Geogr. 15, 815–839 (2015).
Meckling, J. & Nahm, J. The politics of technology bans: industrial policy competition and green goals for the auto industry. Energy Policy 126, 470–479 (2019).
Bell, S. E. & York, R. Community economic identity: the coal industry and ideology construction in West Virginia. Rural Sociol. 75, 111–143 (2010).
Vasi, I. B. Winds of Change: The Environmental Movement and the Global Development of the Wind Energy Industry. (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011).
Boudet, H. S. From NIMBY to NIABY: regional mobilization against liquefied natural gas in the United States. Environ. Polit. 20, 786–806 (2011).
Evensen, D. & Stedman, R. Beliefs about impacts matter little for attitudes on shale gas development. Energy Policy 109, 10–21 (2017).
Batel, S. & Devine-Wright, P. Towards a better understanding of people’s responses to renewable energy technologies: insights from social representations theory. Public Underst. Sci. 24, 311–325 (2015).
Moscovici, S. in Social Cognition (ed. Forgas, J.) 181–209 (Academic Press, 1981).
Bugden, D., Evensen, D. & Stedman, R. A drill by any other name: social representations, framing, and legacies of natural resource extraction in the fracking industry. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 29, 62–71 (2017).
McAdam, D. & Boudet, H. Putting Social Movements in their Place: Explaining Opposition to Energy Projects in the United States, 2000–2005 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012).
Boudet, H., Bugden, D., Zanocco, C. & Maibach, E. The effect of industry activities on public support for ‘fracking’. Environ. Polit. 25, 593–612 (2016).
Giordono, L. S., Boudet, H. S., Karmazina, A., Taylor, C. L. & Steel, B. S. Opposition “overblown”? Community response to wind energy siting in the western United States. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 43, 119–131 (2018).
Cotton, M. & Devine-Wright, P. Putting pylons into place: a UK case study of public perspectives on the impacts of high voltage overhead transmission lines. J. Environ. Plann. Manag. 56, 1225–1245 (2013).
Yu, J., Wang, Z., Majumdar, A. & Rajagopal, R. DeepSolar: A machine learning framework to efficiently construct a solar deployment database in the United States. Joule 2, 2605–2617 (2018).
Sovacool, B. K., Kivimaa, P., Hielscher, S. & Jenkins, K. Vulnerability and resistance in the United Kingdom’s smart meter transition. Energy Policy 109, 767–781 (2017).
Devine-Wright, P. Place attachment and public acceptance of renewable energy: a tidal energy case study. J. Environ. Psychol. 31, 336–343 (2011).
Devine-Wright, P. Rethinking NIMBYism: the role of place attachment and place identity in explaining place-protective action. J. Community Appl. Soc. Psychol. 19, 426–441 (2009).
Wright, R. A. & Boudet, H. S. To act or not to act: context, capability, and community response to environmental risk. Am. J. Sociol. 118, 728–777 (2012).
Unruh, G. C. Understanding carbon lock-in. Energy Policy 28, 817–830 (2000).
Stedman, R. C. Toward a social psychology of place: predicting behavior from place-based cognitions, attitude, and identity. Environ. Behav. 34, 561–581 (2002).
Jacquet, J. B. & Stedman, R. C. The risk of social-psychological disruption as an impact of energy development and environmental change. J. Environ. Plann. Manag. 57, 1285–1304 (2014).
Vorkinn, M. & Riese, H. Environmental concern in a local context: the significance of place attachment. Environ. Behav. 33, 249–263 (2001).
Devine-Wright, P. & Howes, Y. Disruption to place attachment and the protection of restorative environments: a wind energy case study. J. Environ. Psychol. 30, 271–280 (2010).
McLachlan, C. ‘You don’t do a chemistry experiment in your best china’: symbolic interpretations of place and technology in a wave energy case. Energy Policy 37, 5342–5350 (2009).
Willow, A. J., Zak, R., Vilaplana, D. & Sheeley, D. The contested landscape of unconventional energy development: a report from Ohio’s shale gas country. J. Environ. Stud. Sci. 4, 56–64 (2014).
Wolsink, M. Social acceptance revisited: gaps, questionable trends, and an auspicious perspective. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 46, 287–295 (2018).
Wüstenhagen, R., Wolsink, M. & Bürer, M. J. Social acceptance of renewable energy innovation: an introduction to the concept. Energy Policy 35, 2683–2691 (2007).
Bomberg, E. Shale we drill? Discourse dynamics in UK fracking debates. J. Environ. Policy Plann. 19, 72–88 (2017).
Whitton, J., Brasier, K., Charnley-Parry, I. & Cotton, M. Shale gas governance in the United Kingdom and the United States: opportunities for public participation and the implications for social justice. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 26, 11–22 (2017).
Strupeit, L. & Palm, A. Overcoming barriers to renewable energy diffusion: business models for customer-sited solar photovoltaics in Japan, Germany and the United States. J. Clean. Prod. 123, 124–136 (2016).
Beierle, T. C. & Cayford, J. Democracy in Practice: Public Participation in Environmental Decisions (Routledge, 2002).
Agterbosch, S., Meertens, R. M. & Vermeulen, W. J. The relative importance of social and institutional conditions in the planning of wind power projects. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 13, 393–405 (2009).
Firestone, J. et al. Reconsidering barriers to wind power projects: community engagement, developer transparency and place. J. Environ. Policy Plann. 20, 370–386 (2017).
Garvin, D. A. & Roberto, M. A. What you don’t know about making decisions. Harv. Bus. Rev. 79, 108–119 (2001).
Bell, D., Gray, T. & Haggett, C. The ‘social gap’ in wind farm siting decisions: explanations and policy responses. Environ. Polit. 14, 460–477 (2005).
Jegen, M. & Philion, X. D. Power and smart meters: a political perspective on the social acceptance of energy projects. Can. Public Adm. 60, 68–88 (2017).
Boudet, H. S. An “insiteful” comparison: contentious politics in liquefied natural gas facility siting in the U.S. MIT Proj. 11, 47–76 (2016).
McAdam, D. et al. “Site fights”: explaining opposition to pipeline projects in the developing world. Sociol. Forum 25, 410–427 (2010).
Eaton, E. & Kinchy, A. Quiet voices in the fracking debate: ambivalence, nonmobilization, and individual action in two extractive communities (Saskatchewan and Pennsylvania). Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 20, 22–30 (2016).
Boudet, H. S. & Ortolano, L. A tale of two sitings: contentious politics in liquefied natural gas facility siting in California. J. Plann. Educ. Res. 30, 5–21 (2010).
Arnstein, S. R. A ladder of citizen participation. J. Am. Inst. Plann. 35, 216–224 (1969).
Gilley, B. Authoritarian environmentalism and China’s response to climate change. Environ. Polit. 21, 287–307 (2012).
Yang, C.-J. Launching strategy for electric vehicles: lessons from China and Taiwan. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change 77, 831–834 (2010).
Aczel, M. R. & Makuch, K. E. The lay of the land: the public, participation and policy in China’s fracking frenzy. Extr. Ind. Soc. 5, 508–514 (2018).
Sher, C. & Wu, C. Fracking in China: community impacts and public support of shale gas development. J. Contemp. China 27, 626–641 (2018).
Yu, C.-H., Huang, S.-K., Qin, P. & Chen, X. Local residents’ risk perceptions in response to shale gas exploitation: evidence from China. Energy Policy 113, 123–134 (2018).
Jaspal, R., Nerlich, B. & Lemańcyzk, S. Fracking in the Polish press: geopolitics and national identity. Energy Policy 74, 253–261 (2014).
Lis, A. Co-production of shale gas publics in Poland and the negotiation of state citizens relations. Extr. Ind. Soc. 5, 673–681 (2018).
Haggerty, J. H., Kroepsch, A. C., Walsh, K. B., Smith, K. K. & Bowen, D. W. Geographies of impact and the impacts of geography: unconventional oil and gas in the American West. Extr. Ind. Soc. 5, 619–633 (2018).
Stoffle, R. W., Stone, J. V. & Heeringa, S. G. Mapping risk perception shadows: defining the locally affected population for a low-level radioactive waste facility in Michigan. Environ. Prof. 15, 316–333 (1993).
Pasqualetti, M. J. Wind energy landscapes: society and technology in the California Desert. Soc. Nat. Resour. 14, 689–699 (2001).
Visschers, V. H. M. & Siegrist, M. Find the differences and the similarities: relating perceived benefits, perceived costs and protected values to acceptance of five energy technologies. J. Environ. Psychol. 40, 117–130 (2014).
Lesbirel, S. H. NIMBY Politics in Japan: Energy Siting and the Management of Environmental Conflict (Cornell Univ. Press, 1998).
Fraune, C. & Knodt, M. Sustainable energy transformations in an age of populism, post-truth politics, and local resistance. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 43, 1–7 (2018).
Ajzen, I. The theory of planned behavior. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process. 50, 179–211 (1991).
Stern, P. C. Toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior. J. Soc. Issues 56, 407–424 (2000).
Shove, E., Pantzar, M. & Watson, M. The Dynamics of Social Practice: Everyday Life and How it Changes (SAGE, 2012).
Shove, E. & Walker, G. What is energy for? Social practice and energy demand. Theory Cult. Soc. 31, 41–58 (2014).
Strengers, Y. Peak electricity demand and social practice theories: reframing the role of change agents in the energy sector. Energy Policy 44, 226–234 (2012).
Shove, E. Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change. Environ. Plann. A 42, 1273–1285 (2010).
Strengers, Y. in Smart Energy Technologies in Everyday Life: Smart Utopia? (ed. Strengers, Y.) 34–52 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
Devine-Wright, P. et al. A conceptual framework for understanding the social acceptance of energy infrastructure: insights from energy storage. Energy Policy 107, 27–31 (2017).
I thank J. Flora and D. Schaffer for their thoughtful insights.
The author declares no competing interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Boudet, H.S. Public perceptions of and responses to new energy technologies. Nat Energy 4, 446–455 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-019-0399-x
1,4-Phenylene diisocyanate (PPDI)-containing low H2O/HF and multi-functional electrolyte for LiNi0·6Co0·2Mn0·2O2/graphite batteries with enhanced performances
Journal of Power Sources (2021)
Nature Communications (2020)
WIREs Climate Change (2020)
Engineering the novel MoSe2-Mo2C hybrid nanoarray electrodes for energy storage and water splitting applications
Applied Catalysis B: Environmental (2020)