| Erfurt Laboratory for Empirical Research, Staatswissenschaftliche Fakultät, Forschung

New study on the switch to renewable energy sources in private households

In March, a new study by Dr. Robert Neumann (Technische Universität Dresden) and Professor Guido Mehlkop (Institute for Planetary Health Behaviour, University of Erfurt) was published in the journal "Energy Reserach & Social Sciences", which examines the switch to renewable energy sources in private households.

Although awareness of the climate crisis and environmental problems has grown among the German population in recent decades, the switch from fossil energy sources to renewable energy (such as wind and hydropower, solar energy) did not occur to the same extent. To explain why people do not switch to "green electricity" despite existing environmental awareness, Robert Neumann and Guido Mehlkop analyzed data from a total of 3,445 people from a representative sample in Germany in their study. People were asked at a total of five points in time between 2015 and 2019 whether they use or intend to use green power; the study also measured the strength of respondents' environmental awareness, whether friends and family expect them to use green power, and the age, gender and income of the respondents.

Neumann and Mehlkop were particularly interested in so-called "neutralizations", i.e. strategies to calm one's conscience even if one has done something that one knows is not right. In relation to environmentally relevant actions, for example, one can calm one's guilty conscience by saying that one cannot afford to act in an environmentally friendly way because one needs the money for the well-being of one's family, or that environmental destruction cannot be stopped anyway, no matter how one acts. Such neutralizations are learned in the social environment and must fit the situation.

The results of the study show that people who have such neutralization strategies at their disposal are statistically significantly less likely to switch to green electricity and that these neutralizations not only calm one's own "guilty conscience" but also "make one immune" to expectations of the social environment, such as friends and family. These effects, by the way, are much stronger than the influence of income, which was not significant at all. Or to put it another way: Whether or not you buy green electricity is not a question of income, but of attitudes. Guido Mehlkop: "The results of our study are another piece of the puzzle to explain why we often find it so difficult to change our behavior."

Neumann, R. & Mehlkop, G. (2023). Neutralization strategies account for the concern-behavior gap in renewable energy usage - Evidence from panel data from Germany. Energy Research & Social Science, 99. doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2023.103041

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