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Green Building News

What Homeowners Think About Clean Energy

Survey respondents say that solar and wind are the most important energy sources for the future, but most aren't planning any purchases

Solar was identified as the most important energy source for the future by half of all respondents in a recent survey. But far fewer say they will be buying solar panels anytime soon.
Image Credit: Namaste Solar Electric

Solar and wind energy enjoy broad popular support as the preferred energy sources for the future among U.S. homeowners, regardless of age or political affiliation, according to a new survey.

SolarCity, a solar installer, and Clean Edge, a marketing research firm, jointly sponsored the survey for a second year, polling 1,400 randomly selected homeowners about renewable energy, energy efficiency, conventional energy, transportation, and a number of related topics.

Half of all those surveyed identified solar energy as the most important energy source for the nation’s future, and it didn’t seem to matter where they lived or how they identified themselves politically. Wind was second with 42 percent of all homeowners, followed by natural gas (33 percent), energy efficiency (25 percent), oil (17 percent), hydro (17 percent) and nuclear power (14 percent).

Power sources with the least public support were geothermal (10 percent), coal (8 percent) and biofuel/biomass (7 percent).

Solar was popular across the board, but age did seem to play a role in support for both natural gas and nuclear power, the survey found, with older respondents looking on them more favorably than younger ones. For example, 43 percent of those over 70 said they favored natural gas while only 27 percent of those between 18 and 24 agreed. When asked about nuclear power, 24 percent of those over 70 were favorable but only 1 percent of those 18-24 said they were.

What motivates people to buy clean energy

A whopping 87 percent of those polled said that renewables are important to the country’s energy future, but it is “saving money” rather than “reducing my environmental impact” that emerges as the most important factor in decisions to buy clean energy products and services. Saving money got 82 percent of the vote, while reducing environmental impact had 34 percent.

“Sustained double-digit growth rates for more than a decade reflect the long-term nature of this current shift to more efficient, cleaner, and environmentally friendly products and services,” the report says. “But don’t be mistaken; as our research clearly points out, it is cost savings, much more than environmental factors, that are driving this monumental shift.”

The most popular energy upgrades people were planning in the coming year included a couple that have a relatively low cost — LED light bulbs (27 percent) and smart thermostats (12 percent) — while very few people were planning on big-ticket purchases such as photovoltaic panels (6 percent), electric vehicles (4 percent), or heat pumps (4 percent).

Support for electric and hybrid vehicles dropped from last year, but the report points out that oil prices also dipped dramatically. Enthusiasm for solar power and other clean-energy choices “held steady.”

Other findings

Here are some other key findings:

  • Saving money is the biggest motivator for people, but 65 percent of the respondents said they “consider or investigate” the environmental impact of their major buying decisions at least some of the time, and 75 percent said they were taking some steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Most Democrats (82 percent) and two-thirds of all Republican respondents (67 percent) said that they support federal incentives for wind and solar energy purchases. The number of Independent voters supporting incentives was 72 percent.
  • When asked whether they agreed with efforts by electric utilities to charge fees for the installation of grid-connected PV, 61 percent said no (and 43 percent strongly opposed). Opposition was stronger among Republicans (66 percent) than Democrats (53 percent).
  • Green building remains popular. The number of buildings winning LEED certification hit 5,800 in 2013, a compounded annual growth rate of 56 percent over 11 years. The number of Energy Star homes built in 2013 reached 77,000, a market share of 13 percent.

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