Survey: Americans overestimate US solar leadership, use

A survey of US residents finds most want more assurance over cost benefits (and even simply more information), but they also overestimate solar energy’s domestic impact and where the US sits in terms of solar “leadership.”

June 22, 2011 – As solar PV marches toward grid parity — $1.25/Watt for solar PV panels, vs. $4/W in 2008, with 19 countries (plus California) poised to reach grid parity by year’s end — a survey of US residents finds a majority overestimate how much solar energy contributes domestically, and where the US sits in terms of solar “leadership.”

Among the findings of Applied Materials’ annual Summer Solstice survey (also compiled in infographic form):

  • One-fifth (21%) of Americans believe the US is “the solar energy leader.” (Fact: Germany, Spain, Japan, and Italy all use more solar power, and China is by far the leader in solar manufacturing.)

  • 51% of Americans think solar energy makes up >5% of total US energy consumption; one-third thinks it’s somewhere between 0%-5%. (Fact: it’s less than 1%.)

  • 32% think solar energy is the “most efficient renewable energy source” vs. wind and hydro, defined as easiest to convert raw material into usable energy.

  • One in four Americans (27%) would consider installing solar panels on their home; 48% aren’t currently considering it, but 80% would if they were assured about cost savings both for installation and as a long-term investment. (72% would expect energy-savings ROI in 10 years or less.) In order of preference: government incentives to offset installation costs (65%), increased home value (54%), having more information (49%), and ability to resell excess power back to the utility (47%).

  • Solar interest skews to a younger generation; almost a third (32%) of respondents age 18-44 would consider installing solar, vs. 27% for age 45-64, and 15% aged 65+.

The results are from a June 9-12 telephone survey conducted by Opinion Research of ~1000 adults living in private households in the continental US; margin of error is ±3%.

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