Communicating renewables

An identified barrier to the widespread use of renewable energy technologies is the lack of understanding in the public, at a political level and within the industry sector about the benefits, opportunities and capabilities of renewable energies (RE). One reason is that the communication of the RE sector may not be convincing enough.

Cognitive biases, dealing with negative publicity and creating meaningful brands, are some of the aspects described in a new scoping study from the IEA-RETD, giving some fascinating insight into how communications campaigns for renewables can be improved.

Here’s a few cognitive biases (non-rational human behaviours) for starters:

  • The omission bias – the tendency to consider harmful actions as worse than equally harmful inactions

An example in the context of renewables is: What will retaining traditional fossil-fuel based energy system cost?

  • The endowment effect – our tendency to overvalue something just because we own it

This can be used positively in the context of community ownership schemes – perhaps in national investments in RE.

  • Loss aversion – Individuals are more strongly motivated by avoiding a loss than acquiring a similar gain
  • Hyperbolic discounting – People will be farsighted when planning if both costs and benefits occur in the future

They will make shortsighted decisions if costs OR benefits are immediate

  • Pro-social behavior and fairness – Individuals tend to value fairness and act pro-socially, particularly if free-riding can be minimized.

According to the report – aiming only to be heard or seen is not enough, particularly in a crowded arena such as energy policy. RE campaigns must compete with communications about other energy sources, and strive to be remembered and acted upon. Communications messages should be placed into compelling and memorable stories.

Messages about RE should be carefully differentiated by segment, taking insights from behavioural economics into account where possible. Often case studies targeted the ‘general public’ or ‘the media’ without further differentiation and did not take behavioural economics findings into account.

Timing is everything for RE communications campaigns. Appropriate timing and duration are keys to a campaign being perceived as relevant by its target audiences.

Pre-campaign research was often used to develop an understanding of public attitudes to renewable energy but was not used to the extent which it could have been in undertaking detailed targeting and segmenting of audiences.

Stakeholders are invited to contribute to a communications knowledge platform for RE to pool information, experiences and knowledge for improved RE communications. If you are interested, please contact

The project has been carried out by a consortium consisting of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Green Budget Germany / Forum Ökologisch-Soziale Marktwirtschaft (FÖS), and the global renewable energy communications agency Collings & Monney.


What is the IEA-RETD ?

The International Energy Agency’s Implementing Agreement on Renewable Energy Technology Deployment (IEA-RETD) is a policy-focused, technology cross-cutting platform that brings together the experience and best practices of some of the world’s leading countries in renewable energy with the expertise of renowned consulting firms and academia.

The mission of IEA-RETD is to accelerate the large-scale deployment of renewable energies. It is currently comprised of nine countries: Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom. Hans Jørgen Koch, Deputy State Secretary, Ministry of Climate and Energy, Danish Energy Agency, serves as Chair of the RETD.

The IEA-RETD Implementing Agreement is one of a number of Implementing Agreements on renewable energy under the framework of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The creation of the IEA-RETD Implementing Agreement was announced at the International Renewable Energy Conference in Bonn, 2004.

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Clare Taylor is a communicator specialised in energy and environment. She is an experienced rapporteur and moderator with a decade's experience of working in European sustainability fora. Her work includes media advocacy for grassroots campaigns, supporting national authorities' implementation of EU energy directives; micro-enterprise, community entrepreneurship and sustainable development NGOs; writing and research for TV reality series, documentaries and journalism. A former magazine publisher, Clare enjoys skilfull communications, wicked problems and well-plotted thrillers.

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