By Roy L Hales
In January SolarCity and Clean Edge commissioned Zogby Analytics to poll US homeowners about Clean Energy. There were questions about 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. This opinion was shared by all political persuasions: Democrats (93%), Republicans (87%), Independents (83%). CEO Lyndon Rive, of SolarCity, and Managing Director Ron Pernick, of Clean Edge, introduced the media to the data.
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?”
“Support for renewables is very widespread,” Pernick said. Then he qualified that remark, “Homeowners weigh environmental impacts, but economics rule.”
Take note of how people spend their money.
Most respondents (70%) said they have considered environmental impact when purchasing cars or homes. 35% said they have this is mind “most of the time.” Only 14% said they “always” consider the environmental impact of their purchases. However the environment is becoming important. More than half said they are more apt to consider it now than they were three years ago.
These percentages were reflected when people were asked about other clean-energy purchases. The most popular items were: LED light, which 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 said they would consider purchasing an electric vehicle.
These answers are confirmed by available statistics.
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 vehicles 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 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).
Electric Vehicle sales are expected to follow a similar pattern. They have grown 435% in the three years studied, but are still only 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 grid connected PV solar. 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.”
As the economic value proposition of clean-energy products and services continues to increase, greater adoption by homeowners and other consumer groups seems inevitable.”
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 cited cost and reliability as their principal considerations when it came to choosing a back-up system.
While most viewed their utilities favorably, around 40% reported they have experienced power black-outs and 3/4 believe 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 13, 2014. The margin of error for this survey is +/- 2.7 percentage points.