EDRC launches citizens’ panel to probe public opinion on energy demand reduction

Blog 29 April, 2024

Monday 22 April saw the first meeting of Our Energy Futures, a citizens’ panel jointly run by the Energy Demand Research Centre (EDRC) and public participation charity Involve. The panel will meet regularly over two years, online and in-person, to explore the question, “As a nation we need to use less energy, to meet our climate targets, increase energy security, and save households money. How can we do this in ways that work for everyone?”

The panel is made up of 40 people, selected through a civic lottery process called ‘sortition’. This ensures that they are broadly representative of the UK public in terms of key demographic indicators (such as age, gender, and type of occupation), voting intentions, and degree of concern about climate change. Over the next two years, they will have the chance to learn about different aspects of energy demand reduction, hearing a balanced range of views from experts and social commentators. They will also have lots of opportunities to ask questions to the speakers, analyse all the evidence, discuss it amongst themselves and then come to a conclusion.

Deliberative processes like this are increasingly being used in many countries at national and local level to help finding ways forward for difficult political problems. For example, Climate Assembly UK used deliberative processes to investigate climate change. Deliberative processes provide us with insights into informed public opinion, so what people might think of a topic if they had access to high quality information and had the time to think and talk about it with people from different backgrounds and with different viewpoints. This makes deliberative processes quite different to focus groups, polls, or other kinds of social research that only capture snapshots of people’s immediate reactions.

The springboard for the panel’s discussions will be the Positive Low Energy Futures model, which shows that, technically, total UK energy demand could be reduced by over 50% by 2050. The model is based on research and analysis of social and technological trends, but the ambitious reductions described by the model, and the policy measures and social changes required to achieve them, have not been tested with a public audience. This panel will test the social mandate for significantly reducing energy demand and will explore the required conditions to support and enable it.

A first introductory set of meetings will determine what areas of energy use the panel will engage with (such as food production and consumption, mobility, or buildings). This will allow the project to take account of the interests and priorities of the panel themselves as well as researchers’ needs. These introductory meetings will give the panel a basic grounding in climate science and impacts, UK climate targets, the opportunities and challenges for reducing energy demand, as well as an introduction to the model itself. The panel’s initial reactions and their discussions about these issues will help shape the content of the rest of the project.

Over the course of the next two years, the panel’s discussions and conclusions will be translated into new inputs, allowing new model runs to be generated that better reflect the views, values and experiences of a broadly representative sample of the UK public. These in turn will be presented back to the panel, allowing them to question and challenge the decisions made by researchers in interpreting that data, and ensuring a process of dialogue between analysts and public.

This citizens’ panel provides a unique opportunity to combine technical modelling with citizen deliberation. As such, we hope that it will offer important insights into public views on reducing energy demand, as well as providing information on new ways of engaging modelling with social intelligence. Watch this space!