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date: 20 June 2018

Communicating About Clean Energy and Efficiency Policies

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Public opinion plays a central role in determining the feasibility of efforts to transform energy systems in the coming years, yet scholarship on communication effects and public opinion about clean energy and energy efficiency seems to have expanded only relatively recently. This article highlights the growing body of work that explores how targeted and strategically framed messages affect individuals’ beliefs and motivations to act on matters affecting household energy choices as well as energy policies. Assessed here are the principal communication-based factors that shape the public’s understanding of clean energy sources and promote efficiencies in energy use. To better understand the communication vehicles for improving both household energy efficiency and conservation, two research foci are highlighted: (1) field experiments that primarily assess how household energy consumption shifts after receiving energy consumption reports; and (2) surveys/laboratory experiments that focus on the nuances of energy-related communications, paying particular attention to the role of politics and ideology. This bimodal classification of clean energy and efficiency communication research genres is not exhaustive, but we synthesize the extant scholarship’s primary contributions. First, providing households with information about specific benefits that would result from a greater reliance on clean energy may increase support for its development and move individuals toward energy efficiency outcomes; however, exposure to counter-messages that emphasize costs associated with clean energy and the associated policies can negate the effects of pro-clean energy messages. Second, we have yet to experience a reprieve from the politicization of energy and must thus account for the role of partisanship and motivated reasoning when assessing how and why individuals modify their decision making processes regarding energy efficiency.