Majority of Americans anticipate positive solar impact in near future

A survey of 2,205 U.S. adults conducted in October last year has found that the majority are confident that solar energy will play a transformative role in their lives within the next 20 years.

The Harris Poll asked American adults to think ahead 2-5 years and assess how much of a contribution to the U.S. energy landscape solar will make. The majority – 53% – said that they feel solar power will make a minor contribution in that time, while 31% believe solar’s impact will be "major". A mere 16% are of the opinion that solar will make hardly any contribution to the U.S. energy landscape.

However, when the poll asked Americans to think ahead some 15-20 years, an encouraging 57% stated that they believe solar energy would, by then, make a major contribution to the U.S. energy landscape. By contrast, just 8% felt solar’s impact would still be negligible by that date.

This latest Harris Poll comes six years after the survey institution asked exactly the same questions. It has been designed to gauge changing opinions among the U.S. public in light of various technical advances.

Interestingly, Americans appeared to be more confident of solar’s long-term transformative potential back in 2008, when the poll revealed that 60% believed solar’s impact within 15-20 years would be major. In the shorter term, fewer citizens in 2009 were confident that solar energy could prove impactful – just 27% believed the technology would make a “major” contribution within 2-5 years, compared to 31% today.

These shifting attitudes suggest that solar’s rapid growth over the past five years has convinced the U.S. public that the pace of change is set to increase, leading to greater contributions in shorter timeframes.

Indeed, the Harris Poll found that confidence in technical know-how has increased. Today, 63% believe that the industry possesses the required technical expertise to position solar at the forefront of the U.S.’s energy landscape, compared to 59% who believed the same in 2008.

Political division

Unsurprisingly, the Harris Poll also found that American Democrats are more likely to believe in the transformative potential of solar energy in the short term. Thirty nine percent of Democrats hold this belief, compared to 22% of Republicans and 29% of Independents.

Looking further ahead, 69% of Democrats are confident that solar energy will make a major contribution to the country’s energy landscape within 15-20 years. For Republicans that figure is 44%, and independents 56%. A massive 76% of Democrats also believe that the solar industry currently possesses the technical know-how to effect drastic change (compared to just 56% of Republicans and 61% independents).

The poll also waded into the often-murky waters of political and media representation, asking its respondents: which U.S. entities and organizations are most guilty of over-representing the promise of solar energy? Around half of those polled felt that the White House was guilty of this, with 49% also of the opinion that Democrats in Congress have a tendency to overplay solar power’s potential.

For U.S. New Media that figure was 46%, and for the U.S. Department of Energy it was 43% of respondents. Conversely, 63% of those polled felt that Republicans in Congress are guilty of underplaying solar’s potential.