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Environmental protection and the rejection of nuclear energy are the strongest arguments for a change to green electricity
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Research project investigates communication according to specific target groups

Spreading the word on renewable energy sources and green electricity

The political conditions for a change in energy policy (from fossil fuels and nuclear energy to renewable energy sources) have never been better. However, a successful change in energy supply can only take place with the support of private households who change to green electricity and homeowners who invest in renewable energy technology. How can potential users (and especially women) be persuaded to change? The interdisciplinary research project “Renewable energy sources and green electricity – communication according to specific target groups” intended to find the answer to this question.

Among other aspects, scientists in Halle, Berlin, St. Gallen and Karlsruhe carried out sub-projects that examined the preferences of specific target groups relating to various renewable energy technologies and the decision-making processes of women when changing to green electricity.
The first part of the research project contained an empirical analysis of relevant target groups for renewable energy technology (RET) in private households (such as photovoltaics, solar thermal systems, heat pumps, biomass types and small wind turbines). An online survey of more than 800 homeowners and an expert survey of architects and solar installers (among others) were also made here.

Women are especially interested in green electricity, but seldom change to it. Therefore, the researchers analysed which reasons women had for changing to green electricity and which counter-arguments were given. Among other aspects, the preferred communication channels were examined based on the findings from gender marketing. The study is based on an online survey of more than 1000 participants and in-depth interviews with women in a variety of domestic situations.

Initial selected research results

Environmental protection is the primary reason for homeowners investing in RET. “Protecting the environment / climate” was specified by 80% of those surveyed, and was thus the most common reason given. This was followed in second place by “Increased independence from energy suppliers”. Ten target groups were presented, with clear differences in reasoning and interpretation becoming apparent. For example, the attraction of modern technology was often decisive for men who already use RET. In contrast, slightly older retired men with no experience of RET showed a more defensive reasoning, with high costs of their normal energy supply being a more motivating factor. An increased focus on the positive aspects of RET could therefore offer additional support in motivating this group into investing. Reliability, tradition and conformity were of great importance for those without any dependents at home. In contrast, sustainability is critically important for young mothers who already use RET and still have children at home. Power (meaning social status, authority and wealth) is classed as the least important reason. Differentiation according to target groups allows RET to be advertised to interested parties according to their needs, and is used for developing more effective marketing strategies in order to avoid wastage.
Environmental protection and the rejection of nuclear energy are given by both male and female participants as the strongest arguments for a change to green electricity. A large proportion of those surveyed switched to green electricity of their own accord. However, women were persuaded to change more often than men as a result of their acquaintances changing electricity suppliers. Once again, this study confirms that personal communication is more important for women than for men. Women trust information from friends, acquaintances and family more often, whereby acquaintances are of special importance for young women. On the whole, the Internet is of key importance when gathering information – the websites of green electricity providers and environmental organisations, plus price comparison websites, were found to be helpful. Green electricity providers enjoy significantly higher levels of trust here than conventional electricity suppliers.

The “Costs of green electricity” factor showed an astonishing result. Although the women surveyed online earned less on average than the men (monthly net income = €1550 vs. €1850), men gave the higher cost of green electricity as a reason against switching much more often than women (39% vs. 20%). The lack of clarity on the electricity market predominantly deters women with lower educational qualifications and older women from switching to green electricity.

Follow-up workshop

A follow-up workshop will present the results of the research project on September 1st 2011 at the German Federal Environment Agency in Dessau. Participation is free of charge. You can register for the workshop on the website of the research project funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, or by e-mail under mira.mueller(at)psych.uni-halle.de.


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