Energy’s central place in economic, political and social systems—and the broad impacts that energy choices have on the natural world and public health—mean that new technologies often spur public reactions. Understanding these public responses and their drivers is important, as public support can influence new technology adoption and deployment. Here I review the literature on public perceptions of and responses to a wide range of new energy technologies. Unlike previous reviews that tend to focus on particular technologies or types of technologies, this Review covers both large-scale energy infrastructure projects, such as utility-scale wind and solar, fossil fuel extraction and marine renewables, as well as small-scale, ‘consumer-facing’ technologies such as electric vehicles, rooftop solar and smart meters. This approach reveals broad trends that may facilitate communication between policymakers, technologists and the public, and support the transition to a more sustainable energy system.