Since the early 20th century, Americans have been working strenuously to harness the power of the sun and use it to supplement our dependence on fossil fuels. By 1979, solar energy was even incorporated into the White House. At the time, President Carter referred to this as “just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people: harnessing the power of the Sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”
Now, thirty-five years later, a recent Harris Poll asked American adults to think ahead 2-5 years and assess if they feel solar energy will contribute to meeting our energy needs. Presently, 31% of Americans believe it will make a major contribution to meeting our energy needs within the next 2-5 years, while 53% feel it will make a minor contribution and 16% expect it will make hardly any contribution at all.
On the other hand, when pushed to look 15-20 years into the future, American confidence flips: over half (57%) the population feels it will make a major contribution, while 35% believe it will make a minor contribution and only 8% expect that solar energy will make hardly any contribution at all.
As for whether Americans believe we now have the technological know-how for solar energy to become a really important part of our nation’s energy needs, the answer for the majority is that we do (63%), while 20% believe that we do not and 17% are not sure at all.
The sun is still shining
Interestingly, when these same questions were asked in a Harris Poll six years ago, adults showed similar levels of confidence in the promise of solar. At the time, 27% felt solar energy would make a major contribution in the coming 2-5 years (making for a 4-point increase to today’s 31%) while 60% stated solar energy would make a major contribution in the next 15-20 years (with today’s 57% this representing a 3-point drop).
Confidence in our technological know-how has marginally increased, with the 63% who currently feel we have the technological know-how for solar energy to become a really important part of our nation’s energy needs representing a 4-point increase over the 59% of Americans who said the same in 2008.
Still looking at the potential contributions of solar energy to our overall energy needs in the future, American feelings are split along political party lines.
- Democrats are more likely than Independents, and both are more likely than Republicans, to believe solar energy will make a major contribution in the next 2-5 years (39% vs. 29% vs. 22%, respectively).
- This also holds true for feelings around contributions over the next 15-20 years with 69% of Democrats confident it will make a major contribution vs. 56% of Independents and 44% of Republicans.
- Majorities across the political gamut acknowledge that we now have the technological know-how, though Democrats are still the most confident (73% vs. 61% Independents & 56% Republicans).
Thinking about the sunny side
The Harris Poll listed four separate solar energy products and asked whether adults have ever purchased or considered purchasing any of them. While only a few indicated owning a solar charger for personal electronic devices (5%), a solar system to provide electricity (3% Americans, 4% homeowners), a solar water heating unit (3% Americans, 4% homeowners), or a solar system to heat their homes (2% Americans & homeowners), higher percentages of Americans have considered making these purchases (29%, 34%, 25%, & 28% respectively).
Millennials prove to be most likely to consider purchasing each one of these products:
- Solar Charger: 38% Millennials vs. 28% Gen Xers, 25% Baby Boomers, & 19% Matures.
- Solar System to Provide Electricity: 41% vs. 32%, 32%, & 21% respectively.
- Solar Water Heating Unit: 31% vs. 23%, 22%, & 20% respectively.
- Solar System to Heat Your Home: 36% vs. 26%, 25%, & 16% respectively.
Who has the sunniest disposition?
When asked about those possibly under- or over-representing the promise represented by solar energy, pluralities are unsure about all groups tested (43% Republicans in Congress, 42% Democrats in Congress, 39% both U.S. Department of Energy and The White House, & 38% U.S. news media). Looking specifically among those Americans who did share an opinion, only small minorities feel any of the groups tested have represented the promise accurately (19% U.S. Department of Energy, 14% White House, 12% Republicans in Congress, 11% U.S. News Media, and 10% Democrats in Congress).
About half of adults who gave responses feel that The White House (50%) and Democrats in Congress (49%) are over-representing the promise of solar energy, while over four in ten feel the U.S. News Media (46%) and the U.S. Department of Energy (43%) are also doing so. Republicans and Independents are more likely than Democrats are to find each of these groups guilty of over-representation:
- White House: 68% & 55% vs. 31%
- Democrats in Congress: 66% & 55% vs. 32%
- U.S. News Media: 61% & 52% vs. 30%
- U.S. Department of Energy: 62% & 45% vs. 27%.
On the other hand, the majority of those with an opinion feel Republicans in Congress under-represent the promise of solar (63%). This is true across the political spectrum, albeit with Democrats and Independents (72% & 62%, respectively) more likely than Republicans (51%) to express this viewpoint.
ST Staff Writers
This post was prepared by Solar Thermal Magazine staff.