2. Public engagement: Adding value to today's and tomorrow's businesses

The UK Government is committed to promoting investment in the low-carbon economy and wants the UK to be a benchmark for the rest of the world. The Government's Plan for Growth [1] makes it clear that decarbonising the economy offers significant opportunities for UK businesses.

In 2009/10 the global low-carbon market was worth more than £3.2 trillion and is projected to reach £4 trillion by 2015, as economies around the world invest in low-carbon technologies across a broad range of sectors. The UK share of that market was more than £116 billion in 2009/10, but it could be much larger. UK businesses can be at the forefront of the transition.

The case for public engagement with energy technologies

There are few people who believe that future energy demand can be delivered by a 'business as usual' approach, with most predictions indicating that a mixture of technologies will be required; some mature (e.g. oil and gas, nuclear), some at the early stages of deployment (e.g. wind, solar) and some still to be fully proven (e.g. CCS, smart grids).

The inherent uncertainty associated with change, if handled poorly, can lead to negative responses from stakeholder communities and potential consumers, who have consistently proven their ability to effectively express their opposition (Lewis [2], Beauly-Denny [3], Balcombe [4]).

The influence of public opinion on businesses, investors and policymakers should not be underestimated. Increasingly people have the potential to determine the success or failure of energy technologies and can play an important role in influencing community payments and environmental regulation of such technologies.

Over the last few years, public perceptions, acceptance and engagement with energy technologies have become increasingly important in the energy sector (see the vocabulary section of this report for definitions).

"Moving to a green economy presents huge opportunities for British businesses not only to reduce their environmental impact, but also to transform products and services, develop cleaner technologies, and capture new international markets."

- UK Government 2011 [5]

More and more people are personally acting in the energy landscape, as the rise of 'prosumers' shows. The rise of prosumers presents new scenarios for energy technology development. For example, the spread of localised energy generators or the widespread deployment of 'smart grid' technology has the potential to create a new generation of energy prosumers with corresponding market opportunities and communication challenges.

Engaging people with energy technologies is essential to both enabling technology diffusion and reducing energy demand to meet reduction targets.

Driven by the assumption that the root of opposition is lack of understanding, significant effort has been expended on improved communications and engagement with the general public. While this has seen some change in attitudes, it has become clear that other factors are at work and that there is a need to view engagement in terms of two-way dialogue and mutual exchange.

The case studies presented in this report provide examples of the latest research insights around these bilateral dialogues and highlight key recommendations for organisations interested in engaging people.