Lead data journalist

Solar power is the UK’s most well-regarded source of energy, and there is a clear consensus in the UK that renewable energy is a positive thing

In May this year the Government revealed that the UK had gone an entire week without burning coal to produce energy for the first time in over a century. Such periods will become more common as we approach the Government’s 2025 deadline for completely weaning itself off coal power.

The results of a new YouGov survey show that the black stuff will not be missed by the general public, with just 20% of Britons having a favourable view of coal power compared to two thirds (65%) who have an unfavourable one.

Despite being the dirtiest source of energy, coal power is in fact not the most unpopular in Britain. That dubious honour goes to shale gas, which a mere 14% of Britons have a favourable view of. British attempts to exploit shale gas as a commercial power supply over the past decade have come to nothing so far, not least because of public concern over the method by which the gas is extracted: “hydraulic fracturing”, or more commonly “fracking”.

Renewable energy is far more popular among the public than fossil fuel. The most popular of all is solar energy, which 86% of Britons view favourably. This is followed by 81% for offshore wind and 80% for hydro-electric.

Three quarters have a positive opinion of onshore wind (76%) and bio-fuels (75%). A majority also have a favourable view of geothermal energy (58%), although this technology had a much higher rate of “don’t know” responses than the others, at 32% compared to between 10% and 20% for everything else.

Only a third of Britons (33%) have a favourable view of nuclear energy, making it less popular than gas (40%), despite the fact that gas generates far more harmful emissions. The final energy type we asked about was oil, which only 23% have a positive stance on.

It is worth noting that there is no polarisation of the public between fans of renewables and fans of non-renewables. Britons with a favourable view of non-renewable energies like gas and oil also had a favourable view of renewable energies like wind and solar – showing that there is a clear consensus in the UK that renewable energy is a good thing.

On top of this, those with favourable views of non-renewables don’t tend to want to see their use expanded. For instance, only 23% of people with a favourable view of coal say that Britain should draw more of its energy needs from the resource. Likewise, only 12% of those with favourable views of gas and oil hold the same view for those respective substances.

That is not to say that such groups are clamouring for reductions in fossil fuels. Instead they tend to think these resources should continue to make up about the same proportion of the UK’s energy mix (47-60% for the groups described above). This is still arguably bad news for the green lobby, with non-renewable energy sources still providing the bulk of Britain’s electricity generation.

Fans of shale gas are the exception, with 51% of those with a favourable opinion of the resource saying its use should be expanded. Those with a positive stance on nuclear energy are also split between the 44% who want to see more nuclear power plants and the 45% who want to keep its usage at current rates.

Of course, given that only relatively small numbers of people have positive views of fossil fuels, this means that the wishes of those who are fans are outweighed by those who are not in the country as a whole. Between 47% and 65% of all Britons think that we should reduce our use of coal, oil and the two types of gas, as well as 42% who say the same of nuclear.

By contrast, between 46% and 76% of Britons would support expansion of the various types of renewable energies we asked about.

Photo: Getty

See the full results here

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