Energy Policy Options in Relation to the Public's Attitudes and Risk Perceptions in Sweden

February 7, 2002 - 12:00pm
Bldg. 90

The Swedish electricity market and energy policy is particularly interesting from a social science perspective at present.  In Sweden, citizens have had a strong influence on energy policy. For example, the destiny of nuclear power as a major energy production system (now 45% nuclear) was decided by the people in a 1980 national referendum which specified that nuclear power would successively be replaced by other energy sources and be completely phased out by 2010.   However, opinion has not been stable in this regard and the governmental decisions have reflected shifting public opinion. The Swedish Energy Commission evaluated the use of nuclear power and considered it a relatively clean, green and inexpensive energy source, and it is a major technological challenge to find an energy source with similar advantages. Furthermore, the Swedish electricity market was deregulated in the late 1990s (from a monopoly to almost free competition). The consequence has been decreased electricity prices, in turn weakening monetary incentives to save electricity in households or industry, which had been another condition that would enable nuclear phase-out.  One option is for the government to postpone or terminate the phase-out.  This is potentially viable because people in Sweden are relatively positive towards nuclear power and fewer than ever before (but still a majority) are proponents of a phase-out. There is an evident risk, however, that people's trust in the government would be seriously damaged, if the government would change course completely and decide to ignore the result of a referendum. The second option is to continue the process of phasing out nuclear power, despite potential problems with environmental effects and the cost-efficiency of alternative energy sources, and the risk of shortage of electricity, causing problems in well-being and higher electricity prices. My main questions are: (1) Which are the current attitudes (environmental attitudes, risk perceptions, attitudes towards different energy production systems and attitudes towards electricity saving) among the Swedish citizens?, and (2) Are there possibilities to compensate for the loss in energy production by increased savings? I will also discuss whether the psychological constructs 'trust' and 'perceived risk' can contribute to a better understanding of the psychological mechanisms underlying people's attitudes and behaviors, thereby also providing better decision support for energy policy makers.

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