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What do the public think about hydrogen?

Over the past year Leeds Beckett University, along with members of the H21 team, have been conducting a piece of Social Sciences research work aimed at understanding the general public’s baseline perception of 100% hydrogen conversion.

Public perceptions of hydrogen are currently only guessed at by the research and industry community. As a result, we have no idea about how communities and individuals would respond to the prospect of a 100% hydrogen conversion, which could change the look and feel of daily core practices e.g. cooking and heating. The need to understand public perceptions, including what barriers may exist and the perceived possible risks to safety, is vital, as these perceptions could affect the role hydrogen has to play in the future energy system as well as how it can be integrated into everyday activities.

In particular we wanted to investigate:
• How will people respond to a 100% hydrogen conversion?
• What questions do people have?
• What are people’s concerns?
• How can messages be framed to increase public support?

In order to achieve this the research work followed a 3-stage approach.

Stage 1: Discovery Interviews
12 semi-structured interviews were conducted with people from a range of age, gender and socio-economic backgrounds living in 3 different locations (Leeds, Birmingham, Monmouthshire). The aim of these interviews was to understand how to communicate with people about hydrogen. Interview topics included understanding of where energy currently comes from, choice of energy and possible responses to and questions about ‘new gas’.

Stage 2: Market Tier Definition Study
This consisted of an online survey which was produced to understand the differences in reactions to a 100% hydrogen conversion. The survey was completed by over 1,000 respondents across the UK, which allowed us to look at geographic and gender differences.
The study enabled us to define people lying on different points on the hydrogen acceptance scale:

Results from the market tier definition study indicate that in terms of a hydrogen conversion:
• 20% of the UK population are Acceptors,
• 28% of the UK population are Cautious,
• 30% of the UK population are Disinterested,
• 10% of the UK population are Unconvinced,
• 12% of the UK population are Rejectors.

Stage 3: Deliberative Workshops
2 workshops were held in 3 different locations (Leeds, Manchester, Bradford) with members of the public and H21/hydrogen experts in attendance.

The first workshops concentrated on introducing participants to the H21 project and the 100% hydrogen concept. Initial views, questions and concerns were explored as well as how hydrogen is produced and the potential environmental impacts and safety.

Participants were then asked to complete a task which was to interview a friend of family member explaining what they had learned about the H21 project.

At the second workshops the same participants met to explore their experience of the interview task. A blueprint for communication of the project and its aims was then produced by the participants to be using within communities and to inform the general public.

Key findings at this early stage of analysis of the workshops are that support of a hydrogen conversion can be achieved once key issues around the environmental benefits, safety, cost and minimal disruption to people’s lives were discussed.

Now that all stages of the research work are completed Leeds Beckett University are busy analysing the results and writing up their findings. More detail on these findings will be delivered along with the results when the research analysis is complete. A subsequent report detailing the findings will be available at the end of the year. In the meantime, if you would like to know more about this aspect of the H21 project please contact us on: h21@northerngas.co.uk.