‘People have very strong opinions about the energy crisis’

How do you feel about adopting renewable heating systems? Assistant Professor Özge Okur and her team want to know.

Özge Okur: “My research interest lies primarily in studying the energy transition as a socio-technical system.” (Photo: Heather Montague)

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“I came to TU Delft in 2016 to do my PhD at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. When I finished, I became an Assistant Professor at the same Faculty. My PhD topic was similar to what I’m doing right now. My research interest lies primarily in studying the energy transition as a socio-technical system. That means I do research on technical and economic analyses of different renewable energy technologies while I also consider the social and behavioural aspects of these technologies. It’s mainly about people’s preferences and opinions towards these technologies. 

The technical part has been studied a lot, but we think the social part is perhaps an even bigger bottleneck than the technical part. That’s because if people are not motivated or not interested in adopting renewables and participating in the energy transition, then all of these other efforts on the technical side will be insufficient to achieve our goals in the EU to reduce our carbon emissions. 

As we are all aware, Europe has found itself in an energy crisis since last year in which the costs of natural gas and electricity have spiked to record highs. This crisis has had serious and significant consequences for governments but also for households and individuals. People have struggled to heat their houses. They have been impacted by this financially and in other ways. That’s why I believe it’s important to try and understand people’s opinions and perceptions of the current heating situation and systems and try to draw lessons from it. 

We are working on this project with colleagues from Utrecht University to understand the current public perception of natural gas and renewable heating systems. We are particularly interested in how this ongoing crisis in Europe might have altered people’s opinions related to their heating systems. For instance, we would like to know if people are motivated to adopt renewable systems such as heat pumps or geothermal energy and, if they are motivated, what type of motivations do they have. Are they financially motivated or are they environmentally motivated?

‘How is your intention affected by your attitude towards something?’

If they are motivated, do they have the means to achieve what they would like to do? Maybe they don’t have the financial resources, or knowledge or perhaps even time. Another thing we are interested in finding out is if people would like their countries to become energy independent or at least natural gas independent. If we talk about the Dutch context, we’re also interested in whether perceptions towards gas extraction in Groningen have changed or not.

We are currently conducting an online survey to collect data on these topics and anyone in the world can participate. The survey is based on the theory of planned behaviour. It’s about how your intention is affected by your attitude towards something, so whether you have a positive or negative attitude. But it’s also about external factors such as the lack of time, resources, knowledge, or awareness. It’s also about other people and your social surroundings; all of these things can impact your intention to pursue something or not. Perhaps people are approaching this topic positively but maybe they don’t have the means to do anything about it. These are the things we would like to understand. 

The Netherlands has had the goal of reducing or getting rid of natural gas for a while now, but the crisis just made everything more urgent and more serious for everyone. I observe in my own house and also with friends and neighbours that people have very strong opinions about this. My colleagues and I thought it would be interesting to conduct a survey, not just with friends and neighbours, but with as many people as possible. And how we can use these findings, not only to understand the current situation, but also to help policy makers so they don’t just make decisions based on their hunches and opinions, but based on real current perceptions. 

I hope that the results from this research can bring insights as to peoples’ opinions, concerns and motivations about heating systems which can potentially help policy makers with deciding on regulations and interventions regarding heating systems. Considering that heating consumption makes up a significant part of our energy demand, I also hope that this can contribute to facilitating an energy transition.” 

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Heather Montague / Freelance writer

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