Published on March 10th, 2014 | by Roy L Hales1
SolarCity & Clean Edge Poll: What Do US Homeowners Think About Clean Energy?
March 10th, 2014 by Roy L Hales
In January, SolarCity and Clean Edge commissioned Zogby Analytics to do a survey of what US homeowners think about clean energy products, services, electric utilities, third-party energy service providers, and consumer choice. The vast majority (88%) stated that renewable energy was important for America’s future and this opinion was shared by all political persuasions: Democrats (93%), Republicans (87%), Independents (83%). Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity, and Ron Pernick, Managing Director of Clean Edge, introduced the media to the data today.
While there have been polls before, they tended to either focus on broader green consumerism or were customer based. This sampling was specifically designed for homeowners.
“It is important for corporations to understand why people are buying,” Rive said. “We are coming to a tipping point.” As the prices of renewable products are becoming more competitive, people are asking, “If you are not sustainable, why should I buy from you?”
“The support for renewables is very widespread,” Pernick said. “Homeowners weigh environmental impacts, but economics rule.”
One of the keys is to watch how they spend their money.
These percentages were reflected when people were asked about clean-energy purchases. The most popular were: LED lights, that cost only $10 (31%), smart thermostats (11%), double or triple pane windows (10%), hybrid cars (9%) and Energy Star–rated hot water heaters (9%). 7% of homeowners also said they would consider purchasing an electric vehicle. (Editor’s Note: it’s worth pointing out that only about 22% of the population seems to be familiar with the Tesla Model S and only about 31% with the Nissan Leaf, the top-selling electric cars in the US.)
According to data from the US Department of Energy, LED sales have dramatically increased during the past four years. Close to 20 million LED lamps were sold in 2012.
Hybrid vehicle sales have grown to the the point that they are now more than 3% of the US market. Sales have increased from almost 50,000 to 400,000 per year during the ten years from 2003 to 2012, during which time the number of available models has grown from 2 to more than 50. The most popular is still the Toyota Prius, which sold 3 million worldwide, but price goes from the 2014 210-hp Jetta hybrid ($15,500) to the the 2014 hybrid Porsche 918 ($845,000). (Editor’s Note: while plug-in, electrified vehicles have just hit the market — much more recently than hybrids — there are already 20 or more EV models in the US.)
Electric car sales are expected to follow a similar pattern. They have grown 435% in the three years studied (but are still only about 1% of the market). The most popular models are the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S. Cost of ownership is a determining factor, but this keeps coming down and the cost of gasoline is rising.
Lyndon Rive pointed out that, “People do not buy EV’s just because they are clean, but because they are a better product.”
During a time when the building industry is still performing at less than half of its 2003 level, both LEED-certified and Energy Star–rated projects have experienced double digit annual growth. Close to a quarter of the houses built in 2013 were “green” and McGraw-Hill predicts that number will be 33% by 2016.
While there has been a 20% annual growth of utility-scale renewable energy projects during the decade studied, that number pales when compared to the growth of distributed, grid-connected solar PV. There were almost no installations in 2004, as compared to 3.5 GW in 2012, and the number for 2013 is expected to be around 4.2 GW, with residential customers playing a major role.
This is the equivalent of 3 or 4 nuclear plants, whose average size is 1–1.5 GW.
“A 2011 Clean Power Research study estimated that the average household would save at least $10,000 over 20 years by going solar vs. traditional utility-supplied power. In five states, the savings would reach more than $40,000 over 20 years.
“What will the future look like? Increasingly, the U.S. electricity market is being built off of renewables, efficiency, and natural gas. Renewables, for example, accounted for more than a third (37%) of new electricity generating capacity added in the U.S. in 2013—three times as much as by coal and nuclear combined, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”
The vast majority of poll respondents (71%) cited economic reasons when asked what would convince them to purchase solar energy systems. Only 7% were motivated by environmental concerns.
“Clean energy is becoming mainstream,” Pernick said, “but price barriers persist.”
Rive said that SolarCity had noticed this when it came to selling installations. People were much more motivated to buy when solar was priced 10% below what they were paying for utilities.
Many people still entertain the belief that solar energy is a major investment, but in reality 65–70% of the people with solar pay nothing down and are leasing their system.
“I tell them we aren’t selling equipment, we are selling energy,” Rive explained
Rive also noted that the adoption of renewable energy was slower in areas where existing rates were low. Yet he expected to see Nevada opening up during the next year and Texas in two or three years.
Similarly, three-quarters of respondents cited cost and reliability as their principal considerations when it came to choosing a backup system.
While most viewed their utilities favorably, around 40% reported that they had experienced power blackouts and 3/4 believed that utilities should not be able to stop homeowners from installing distributed solar power, energy storage, and other onsite systems. Such sentiments were strongest among Republicans (80%), conservatives (83%), the middle-aged (89%), and elderly (94%). Close to 3/4 would welcome alternative to their utilities and 62% would like solar panels on their home.
Most utilities have not been supportive of the adoption of renewable energy.
“The part they do not like is losing their customers and giving customers choice,” Rive said. There have been strong battles in California, Arizona and Colorado, but “it looks like consumers want choice and they will get it.”
1,418 homeowners were contacted between January 7 and January 13, 2014. The margin of error for this survey is +/- 2.7 percentage points.