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Energy Envoys: What is the energy literacy gap?

Posted by Alex Steeland on 19 October 2015 at 11:20 am

Last year the National Energy Foundation (NEF) commissioned a national energy literacy survey to find out how much the British public really knows about energy. The survey of 2,058 adults conducted by ComRes revealed troubling results and raised concerns that people think they know more about energy issues than they really do. NEF developed its Energy Envoys volunteering opportunity to help tackle this problem and has just launched the scheme to 300,000 young people as part of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

This blog is the first in a three-part series through which we’re looking at what the energy literacy gap is, why it matters, how we can tackle it and how Energy Envoys can make a real difference.

What is the energy literacy gap?

Energy literacy involves an in-depth understanding of energy issues and an ability to apply energy knowledge in practice. An energy literate individual understands basic energy concepts and terminology, how energy is used in everyday life and the impact of energy production and consumption. The energy literacy gap is a void in this understanding which prevents energy users making informed and effective decisions about their energy use.

NEF’s survey sought to assess the energy literacy of the nation by asking questions about the amount of energy used by different appliances, where energy comes from and which improvement options save the most energy, as well as asking about people’s attitudes towards energy issues.

Among the most concerning results was the fact that only a quarter (23%) of British adults were able to identify the policy that scientists say is the fastest and most effective way of meeting our energy needs – using less energy by reducing energy demand and improving energy efficiency. In addition:

  • Only half (50%) of those surveyed correctly identified which type of light bulb uses the least energy (LED) and 35% incorrectly thought that low voltage halogen lights use the least.
  • Only one in ten (11%) adults know how much energy their workplace uses; while eight out of ten believe that private employers (79%) and the government (76%) should provide training and education to teach the public to use energy more efficiently. This compares to the six in ten (57%) who believe that technology will solve our energy problems.
  • Although three in five British adults (58%) say they feel well-informed about energy issues, the same proportion (59%) also don’t know that the majority of the UK’s electricity supply comes from fossil fuels.

Of all the age groups surveyed, 18-24 year olds emerged as the group least comfortable with energy use and terminology and having amongst the lowest awareness of broader energy-related issues. More than half of 18-24 year olds (55%) say that they feel they are not well informed about energy issues compared to a third (32%) of 55-64 year olds and a quarter (28%) of those aged 65+, and just 25% of 18-24 year olds say they know how much energy their home uses compared with 71% of those aged 55-64 and 76% of those aged 65+. Other research supports these results, with the Energy Saving Trust reporting earlier this year that just 7% of young people understand their energy bills, nearly 40% don’t know that electricity is measured in Kilowatt hours and a third can’t identify wind energy as a renewable energy source.  

The next blog in this series looks at why this energy literacy gap matters and what we can do about it.

To find out more about the Energy Envoys scheme, visit the Energy Envoys website. Help to spread the word by retweeting (@EnergyEnvoys), by liking Energy Envoys on Facebook or by sending the website url to anyone who might be interested in getting involved: Participants can sign up here.

Photo: Energy Envoys from Denbigh School

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Related blogs

Energy Envoys: Tackling the energy literacy gap

Energy Envoys: what is in it for the young volunteer?


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