57% of Americans Believe Solar Energy Will Make Major Contributions… in 15-20 Years

photovoltaic cells

NEW YORK , N.Y. – January 7, 2015 –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.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,205 U.S. adults surveyed online between October 15 and 20, 2014.

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.

Politically charged

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.

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TABLE 1

SOLAR ENERGY’S ESTIMATE LEVEL OF CONTRIBUTION FOR NEXT 2-5 YEARS

Summary by Political Party

Thinking ahead to the next two to five years, do you feel that solar energy will make a major contribution in meeting our energy needs, a minor contribution, or hardly any contribution at all?

Base: U.S. Adults

2008 Total

2014 Total

Political Party

Republican

Democrat

Independent

%

%

%

%

%

Major Contribution

27

31

22

39

29

Minor Contribution

55

53

59

51

54

Hardly Any Contribution At All

18

16

19

10

17

 

TABLE 2

SOLAR ENERGY’S ESTIMATE LEVEL OF CONTRIBUTION FOR NEXT 15-20 YEARS

Summary by Political Party

What about in the next 15 to 20 years? Do you think that solar energy will make a major contribution, a minor contribution, or hardly any contribution at all in meeting our energy needs?

Base: U.S. Adults

2008 Total

2014 Total

Political Party

Republican

Democrat

Independent

%

%

%

%

%

Major Contribution

60

57

44

69

56

Minor Contribution

32

35

46

27

35

Hardly Any Contribution At All

8

8

10

4

9


TABLE 3

TECHNOLOGICAL KNOW-HOW FOR SOLAR ENERGY

Summary by Political Party

Do you think we now have the technological know-how for solar energy to become a really important part of our nation’s energy needs or not?

Base: U.S. Adults

2008 Total

2014 Total

Political Party

Republican

Democrat

Independent

%

%

%

%

%

Have Technological Know-How

59

63

56

73

61

Do Not Have Technological Know-How

24

20

27

11

23

Not Sure At All

17

17

17

16

16

 

TABLE 4a

SOLAR PRODUCT OWNERSHIP

Summary Grid

Have you ever purchased or considered purchasing any of the following solar products?

Base: U.S. Adults

Have Purchased

Have Considered Purchasing

Have Not Considered Purchasing

%

%

%

A solar charger for personal electronic devices

5

29

66

A solar system to provide electricity to your home

3

34

63

A solar water heating unit

3

25

72

A solar system to heat your home

2

28

70

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 4b

SOLAR PRODUCT OWNERSHIP

Summary of Have Purchased
by Political Party, Generation, and Metro Status

Have you ever purchased or considered purchasing any of the following solar products?

Base: U.S. Adults

Total

Total Home Owners (Net)

Political Party

Generation

Metro Status

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Millennials (18-37)

Gen X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Urban

Suburban

Rural

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

A Solar Charger for Personal Electronic Devices

5

6

4

6

5

7

4

5

3

7

5

5

Solar System to Provide Electricity to Your Home

3

4

1

6

2

4

3

3

1

6

2

2

Solar Water Heating Unit

3

4

1

6

2

5

1

2

4

6

3

1

Solar System to Heat Your Home

2

2

1

4

 

3

1

2

2

5

1

1

= less than 0.5%

 

TABLE 4c

SOLAR PRODUCT OWNERSHIP

Summary of Have Considered Purchasing
by Political Party, Generation, and Metro Status

Have you ever purchased or considered purchasing any of the following solar products?

Base: U.S. Adults

Total

Total Home Owners (Net)

Political Party

Generation

Metro Status

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Millennials (18-37)

Gen X (38-49)

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Matures (69+)

Urban

Suburban

Rural

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

A Solar Charger for Personal Electronic Devices

29

28

26

28

32

38

28

25

19

30

27

34

Solar System to Provide Electricity to Your Home

34

37

28

33

40

41

32

32

21

33

34

33

Solar Water Heating Unit

25

27

20

27

29

31

23

22

20

25

24

27

Solar System to Heat Your Home

28

30

23

30

29

36

26

25

16

27

26

31

 

TABLE 5a

UNDER/OVER REPRESENTATION OF SOLAR ENERGY’S PROMISE

Summary Grid

To what degree, if at all, do you believe each of the following parties has under- or over-represented the promise represented by solar energy?

Base: All adults

 

Greatly/ Somewhat over-represented (NET)

Greatly over-represented

Somewhat over-represented

Greatly/ Somewhat under-represented (NET)

Somewhat under-represented

Greatly under-represented

They have represented its promise accurately

Not sure

The White House

%

31

17

13

22

13

9

9

39

Democrats in Congress

%

29

15

14

24

14

10

6

42

U.S. News Media

%

29

14

14

26

15

11

7

38

U.S. Department of Energy

%

26

12

14

23

14

9

11

39

Republicans in Congress

%

14

5

9

36

15

21

7

43

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 5b

UNDER/OVER REPRESENTATION OF SOLAR ENERGY’S PROMISE

Summary of Greatly/Somewhat Over-Represented
by Political Party and Gender

To what degree, if at all, do you believe each of the following parties has under- or over-represented the promise represented by solar energy?

Base: Adults who responded

Total

Political Party

Gender

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

The White House

50

68

31

55

54

45

Democrats in Congress

49

66

32

55

52

45

U.S. News Media

46

61

30

52

49

44

U.S. Department of Energy

43

62

27

45

46

39

Republicans in Congress

25

26

23

27

25

25


TABLE 5c

UNDER/OVER REPRESENTATION OF SOLAR ENERGY’S PROMISE

Summary of Greatly/Somewhat Under-Represented
by Political Party and Gender

To what degree, if at all, do you believe each of the following parties has under- or over-represented the promise represented by solar energy?

Base: Adults who responded

Total

Political Party

Gender

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

The White House

36

27

42

34

32

41

Democrats in Congress

40

31

47

38

36

46

U.S. News Media

42

28

55

38

39

47

U.S. Department of Energy

38

25

48

37

34

43

Republicans in Congress

63

51

72

62

60

67

 

TABLE 5d

UNDER/OVER REPRESENTATION OF SOLAR ENERGY’S PROMISE

Summary of They Have Represented Its Promise Accurately
by Political Party and Gender

To what degree, if at all, do you believe each of the following parties has under- or over-represented the promise represented by solar energy?

Base: Adults who responded

Total

Political Party

Gender

Rep.

Dem.

Ind.

Male

Female

%

%

%

%

%

%

The White House

14

5

27

12

14

14

Democrats in Congress

10

3

21

7

12

9

U.S. News Media

11

10

15

10

13

10

U.S. Department of Energy

19

13

26

18

20

18

Republicans in Congress

12

24

5

10

15

8


Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between October 15 and 20, 2014 among 2,205 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #2, January 7, 2015

By Hannah Pollack, Harris Poll Research Analyst