As the U.S. presidential election approaches, U.S. voters
are being bombarded with anti-solar ads, courtesy of super-PACs backed
by fossil-fuel industries. Last month at Solar Power International,
Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President and CEO Rhone Resch
told attendees that 80% of negative campaign ads target clean energy.
the presidential candidates themselves - as well as their respective
political parties - have made clear their stark differences in their
approaches to funding (or not funding) solar energy technologies and
Whether through acceptance speeches at the recent Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention or in formal policy position papers, Republican nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have presented divergent views on U.S. energy policy.
But as Romney and Obama prepare to go head to head in their first televised debate this week, a new national survey reveals - perhaps surprisingly - that most voters of all political stripes actually support solar.
the eve of our first presidential debate, I can say that public support
for solar has never been stronger," Resch said during a conference call
discussing poll results.
According to the survey, which was
conducted by Hart Research for SEIA, more than 9 in 10 - 92% - of voters
believe it is "important" for the U.S. to develop and use more solar
energy. Fifty-eight percent described developing more solar as "very
important," while 34% thought it was "somewhat important."
poll, which was conducted online and included responses from 1,206
adults, was deliberately structured to include a larger-than-usual share
of swing voters, noted Molly O'Rourke, a partner at Hart Research.
wanted to focus on the opinions of likely voters," she explained during
the conference call. "In particular, we wanted to capture the opinions
of swing voters."
Those swing voters generally were found to have
favorable views of solar energy and government programs, such as tax
credits and other incentives, designed to accelerate solar deployment.
78% of respondents said that the federal government should provide
financial incentives for solar; 79% of swing voters agreed. Ninety-one
percent of Democrats surveyed supported this type of government support,
as did 78% of independents and 63% of Republicans.
the political fallout from bankrupt solar module manufacturer Solyndra
and the resultant investigations into the Department of Energy's
loan-guarantee program, a large number of voters from both political
parties, as well as independents, stated that the government should do
more to help promote solar power.
Although the share of Democrats
(83%) and indepedents (80%) with that view was larger than the share of
Republicans (50%) who agreed, 70% overall wanted to see the government
play a larger role in promoting solar power - a "strong majority,"
according to Hart Research.
According to O'Rourke, it is unusual
to see such a high number of voters extend their support of a particular
cause or issue into agreeing that government should provide funding.
"This is not an automatic or obvious jump to make," she pointed out.
"There are many things that voters like and feel good about that they
still don't want the government to play a role in."
voters' "good feelings" about solar were firmly grounded in specific
attributes - another rare finding in these types of political surveys,
Solar's environmental friendliness ranked at the
top among swing voters and survey respondents in general. Respondents
also praised solar power's potential to reduce electricity costs and the
U.S. dependence on foreign oil, as well as its capacity for supporting
Voters even showed a clear preference for solar over
other forms of renewable energy: When asked which energy source (if any)
the federal government should support, 64% selected solar. Wind power
placed second at 57%, followed by hydropower, at 38%. Notably, however,
20% of respondents said that no tax subsidies or incentives should be
provided to any energy source.
Similarly, when asked to describe
their overall impressions of various types of renewable and nonrenewable
energy types, respondents ranked solar at the very top, with 85%
stating that they had a positive impression.
"While there are
certainly other favorable energy sources on this list - including wind
power, hydropower and natural gas - none of them rival the favorable
feelings around solar," O'Rourke said.
Solar professionals will
likely find such results encouraging, but they must also be aware that
some of the public's standard qualms persist.
two-thirds of respondents still think that solar power is "too expensive
for most consumers," and more than half (54%) believe that solar is
impractical for many regions of the U.S.
Additionally, whether as
a consequence of super-PACs' anti-solar ads or as a result of other
factors, a sizeable number of voters - 42% - stated that the federal
government's promotion of solar power has caused "wasteful" government
spending. Forty-three percent of swing voters expressed similar
Doubts about reliability and efficiency also cropped
up, with 29% of respondents agreeing with the statement that solar is
inefficient and 27% agreeing that solar is not reliable.
Resch suggested that consumers' top concern - costs - may be a result of
lagging perceptions. Industry professionals know that module prices
have dropped precipitously in recent years, but the average voter does
not pore over market research reports on a regular basis.
the industry is doing what we can to lower costs, and we need to
continue to communicate to consumers what's happening," Resch said.
Additional survey results and related materials are available here.
SOURCE: SOLAR INDUSTRY