Public Decision-making about Low-Carbon Electricity Generation
To mitigate the effects of climate change, the U.S. will need a widespread deployment of energy efficiency efforts and low-carbon electricity generating technologies including nuclear, wind, natural gas, and coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), technologies that separate CO2 emissions from the flue-gas of fossil fuel power plants and sequester it in deep underground geological formations. The feasibility of this strategy will partially depend on public acceptance of these technologies as part of a national energy policy. To varying degrees, public misconceptions and knowledge gaps exist for each of these low-carbon technologies. Thus, people need balanced and comparative information to make informed decisions about which low-carbon electricity technologies and portfolios to support.
In this thesis, we describe paper-based and computer-based communications presenting multi-attribute descriptions about the costs, benefits, risks and limitations of ten electricity technologies and low-carbon portfolios composed of those technologies. Participants are first asked to rank the technologies under a hypothetical scenario where future power plant construction in Pennsylvania must meet a CO2 emissions constraint. Next, participants attend small group meetings where they rank seven portfolios that meet a specific CO2 emission limit. In a subsequent study, participants instead construct their own low-carbon portfolio using a computer decision tool that restricts portfolio designs to realistic technology combinations. We find that our participants could understand and consistently use our communications to help inform their decisions about low-carbon technologies. We conclude that our informed participants preferred energy efficiency, nuclear, and coal (gasification) with CCS, as well as diverse portfolios including these technologies.
The thesis continues with a retrospective view for the value of research that elicits general public opinions of CCS and that develops communications to educate people about low-carbon electricity generation. In the latter, we find that the knowledge of science teachers may be insufficient to correct common public misconceptions about low-carbon technologies among their students. Thus, the communications we developed for this thesis could also benefit science teachers.
Overall, we conclude that the computer tool, supplemental materials and procedure developed for this thesis may be valuable for educating the general public about low-carbon electricity generation.