Renewable energy support high and bi-partisan, but more public education is needed

By John David Baldwin on May 16, 2019
Chart shows consistent renewable energy support over time.

It took 40 years for the United States to reach the milestone of one million solar installations. The second million took only three years. A key reason solar energy adoption has grown so quickly is that the public wants more solar. This fact was confirmed recently by a decade-long study that finds that the public’s support for renewable energy has remained consistently high and spans the political spectrum. Still, there is significant room for improvement when it comes to public understanding about specific policies. These findings were presented in a webinar late last year, which was hosted by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA). (Slides from the webinar are available here.)

Given by Sarah Mills, a Senior Project Manager at the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan, this presentation drew upon data from the National Surveys on Energy and Environment (NSEE). For the last decade, the NSEE team has been conducting national public opinion surveys on energy and environmental policy, as well as about energy and people’s attitudes towards climate change.

Americans like renewable energy and the policies that support it

The study specifically looked at support for policies known as renewable portfolio standards (RPS). More than two-dozen states have an RPS, or similar law, that sets a target for the amount of electricity used in the state that comes from renewable energy sources, like solar.

The poll is useful because rather than being just a single snapshot in time of public opinion, it tracks public support over time. Most importantly, support for renewable energy remained positive even when respondents were asked if renewable energy were to cost more.

After reviewing the NSEE data for the last ten years, Mills summarized the results of the single most recent survey, that of Fall 2018. Consistent with the previous 10 years of surveys, the new survey shows overwhelming support across the political spectrum for increasing renewable energy sources.

More work needs to be done

Despite the positive reception for renewable energy and the policies that support it, the survey also found considerable lack of knowledge among the public about specifics. For example, most respondents didn’t know whether or not their state had an RPS policy. In the survey, more respondents guessed incorrectly than correctly as to whether their state had RPS regulations. This question also had the highest rate of “not sure” responses of any question asked.

This is why it’s so important to educate our friends and neighbors about solar energy. One way you can do this is by signing up for the National Solar Tour. Taking place October 6 and 7, the Tour will bring together solar supporters from across the country to learn about solar in their communities and how they themselves can go solar. Click here to learn more.