Researcher in Residence: Supporting Net Zero and consumer challenges in embracing new technology

Consumer commitment to renewable energy technologies holds a central role in realising the UK’s ambitious Net Zero targets. A significant challenge lies in guiding consumers through a cognitive and emotional journey towards embracing these technologies, such as heat pumps for home heating. Professor Paul Howard-Jones, from the University of Bristol, tackles this challenge by drawing on a multidisciplinary approach encompassing psychology, neuroscience, and education in collaboration with Energy Systems Catapult.

The core objective is to understand and delineate the process of a customer’s ‘learning journey’ from their existing energy landscape to the envisioned future where renewable energy takes precedence. This exploration delves into the factors that foster trust, elicit positive responses, and ultimately catalyse the adoption of renewable energy solutions. In parallel, the project scrutinises potential touchpoints and strategies that can facilitate and expedite consumer buy-in.

Professor Howard-Jones’s project doesn’t conclude with mere insights; it is designed to have tangible impact. The project’s culmination aims to deliver crucial learnings that can guide effective communication strategies with consumers. This involves two essential avenues. The first is an in-depth academic review that distils key insights from existing research, ensuring a solid foundation of knowledge. The second avenue is an engaging process of dialogue and consultation with key stakeholders, including representatives from major energy companies, SMEs, innovators within the energy sector, and policymakers from BEIS and local authorities. This inclusive approach seeks to marry expert academic interpretation with the practical insights, aims, and experiences of those who operate within the energy sector.

By combining these two knowledge streams, Professor Howard-Jones’s project strives to achieve relevance, validity, and broad applicability of its findings. Ultimately, the goal is to bridge the gap between the academic realm and the real-world dynamics of consumer behaviour and decision-making, driving a more rapid and effective transition to renewable energy technologies for a sustainable future.

Energy Systems Catapult Chief Technology Officer, Jon Saltmarsh, said: “Energy Systems Catapult brings together industry, government and academia to solve the difficult problems needed to create the energy system of the future in the UK.

“The Researchers in Residence scheme allows us to focus some of the best ideas from the UK’s research community on addressing the challenges we face; helping us to accelerate innovation and the transition to Net Zero.”

Paul Howard-Jones said of the project: “I’m thrilled by the chance to combine findings from these diverse disciplines. It’s exciting to be treading some new academic ground with the potential for very practical impact. I believe bringing together findings from across disciplines can provide helpful real insight for accelerating uptake of these new energy technologies.”

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