American consumers continue to show strong support for renewables and alternative-fuel vehicles, while apathy toward smart grid technologies may represent a golden opportunity for smart meter advocates.
These promising findings come from Pike Research’s most recent Energy & Environment Consumer Survey, which polled 1,000 Americans during the third quarter of 2012. This is Pike’s fourth annual consumer survey on clean energy.
Even though support is generally high for all forms of clean energy, a slight but steady downward trend has become apparent across all energy technologies. Pike notes that while Americans have likely already formed strong opinions about specific technologies and are unlikely to show widespread change in attitudes, negative media coverage may be taking its toll.
Solar’s Bright Outlook
The sun kept shining for solar power in 2012, as it once again ranked highest in favorability for all clean energy technologies. 69% of all consumers polled had either a favorable or very favorable opinion of solar power, compared with its “unfavorable” rating of just 7% — the lowest of any topic.
Solar energy has now had the highest favorability rankings of all energy and environmental topics for four consecutive years. Pike attributes this leadership to solar’s long market history, variety of applications, and non-intrusive nature. Interestingly, solar was most popular among respondents with the highest education and income levels, and gains popularity with each older age bracket.
However, overall favorability is down 7% from 2011 and 12% from 2009, which Pike believes is due to negative media attention toward solar energy firm failures in the U.S., despite overall plummeting installation and module costs.
Gusts of Support for Wind
Strong tailwinds guided wind power into the second overall ranking for the fourth year in a row, just slightly less popular than solar energy. 66% of American consumers viewed wind energy either favorably or very favorably, with just 10% saying they had a somewhat or strongly unfavorable opinion of wind power.
Wind power’s demographic support also trended toward the older, richer, and better educated, but the technology was most popular among consumers with electric bills higher than $200 per month. Unfortunately wind energy was not immune to the overall lowering of support for energy technologies, declining 5% from 2011 and 13% overall since 2009, despite leading the U.S. in new power capacity installations.
Regardless of the decline over time, Pike thinks solar and wind are here to stay.
“Since these two concepts have retained their most favored status year over year, Pike Research asserts that consumers consider these renewable energies to be important pieces in the power generation portfolio of the future.”
Shifting Support Toward Alternative Vehicles
Alternative vehicle technologies combined to form a solid second tier of support among all topics, after solar and wind power, indicating ever-higher gasoline prices and a growing electric vehicle market may be shifting Americans toward a cleaner transportation system.
Hybrid vehicles received the third-highest overall percentage of positive responses, with 54% responding either favorably or very favorably, as well as the third-fewest neutral/not familiar responses at 32%. Support was highest among the well-educated, those who characterized themselves as technology early adopters, and those with electric bills in excess of $300.
Electric vehicles and natural-gas-powered cars tied for the fourth overall most popular concepts, with 49% favorable or very favorable responses. However, EVs saw nearly twice the amount of unfavorable responses, with 17% somewhat or strongly unfavorable compared to 10% for natural gas vehicles.
This last point is interesting to consider, as higher negatives may reflect that significant numbers of EVs are hitting American roads, while natural gas vehicles are not yet commercially available and can only be conceptually considered by drivers.
Smart Grid’s Dumb Outreach
Just as sentiment for clean energy and alternative-fuel vehicles stands out for its high support and low negatives, consumer apathy and lack of understanding toward smart grid technology stands out as an opportunity for customer outreach by utilities integrating smart meters across their systems.
More than half of all consumers had either a neutral or no opinion of smart meters and smart grid technology, the highest of any polled clean energy technology. In addition, both smart meters and the smart grid had a greater than three-to-one ratio of favorable/unfavorable responses (36%–8% for smart grid, 39%–9% for smart meters).
Taken together, Pike’s findings show that when consumers understand smart grid technology, they overwhelmingly support them. However, despite the fact that more than 23% of all U.S. electrical customers have smart meters, more than half have no opinion of them. Clearly, utilities have their work cut out for them if they hope to avoid opt-out lawsuits and regulations.
Understanding = Support
All in all, Pike Research one again reiterates the potential for consumer adoption of clean energy technologies. As Americans learn about the benefits of smarter energy systems, they overwhelmingly support them. Now, it’s on policymakers and industry advocates to tell the story in a compelling way.
Image Credits: Charts & table via Pike Research; Engineers thumbs up for wind power via Shutterstock
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