Survey: Is Renewables’ Role In U.S. Energy Landscape Overestimated?


There’s no doubt about it: Solar and wind power continue to become a larger part of the energy landscape, both in the U.S. and around the world. However, a new survey and corresponding report by Makovsky suggest that U.S. consumers might overestimate renewable energy’s current role in the country’s overall energy usage.

The integrated communications consultancy says other findings include that U.S. consumers base their energy decisions on societal impacts, have the most trust in the solar industry and get a majority of their energy information from television news.

Makovsky says the report, titled “How Americans Make Energy Decisions,” incorporates findings from a survey of over 1,000 adults across the U.S., representing varied political viewpoints and a wide range of age groups and diverse income levels.

According to the report, Americans considerably overestimate the contribution of renewable energy in powering the U.S. and underestimate the role of coal, oil and natural gas now and in the future. Citing U.S. Energy Information Administration data, the report says solar and wind currently make up about 3% of U.S. energy consumption, while survey respondents put the figure at 20%.

Furthermore, respondents predict that wind and solar will make up 34% of energy consumption in five years; however, the report says some experts predict that the resources will be less than 5% of the country’s energy consumption in five years. Conversely, respondents perceived fossil fuels to be a much lower percentage of the energy mix than they are today and projected them to be even less in five years.

“There’s an imbalance between perception and reality with regard to renewable energy’s role in the American energy economy,” said Andy Beck, executive vice president of energy, manufacturing and sustainability at Makovsky. “Consumers are hearing a lot about the rapid growth of solar and wind, but perception will not start to become reality until after 2025 – the projected peak year for coal, gas and oil. Nevertheless, what our data indicates is that the renewable energy industry has done a better job of communicating its successes, and they are winning the minds of Americans.”

The report says energy efficiency ranked as the “most important/absolutely essential” energy solution for the future, according to multiple generations.

Decisions on energy use are driven more by “how society will be impacted” than “personal impact,” the report continues. More than half of respondents (53%) indicate societal impact is more important in energy use decision-making than personal impact (38%). Where societal considerations take precedence, most often energy choices are driven by concerns for the environment (29%), health (27%) and future generations (26%). For those whose energy choices are motivated by personal impact, more weight is placed on financial concerns (58%) than on personal health aspects (42%).

According to the report, Americans also actively seek and pay attention to energy news on a wide range of topics and what’s happening in the industry. More than half of those surveyed (57%) report getting information or hearing about energy issues a few times a week.

TV news stands out as the go-to energy information resource, while survey respondents say they rarely visit corporate websites. The majority of respondents (72%) say they receive most of their energy information from television news. Online news (49%) and newspapers or magazines (41%) were the next most frequently cited information sources.

The report says the responses for Millennials, GenX and Baby Boomers regarding online news were about the same, but Baby Boomers were much higher than Millennials with regard to receiving information from newspapers and magazines. Importantly, the report continues, very few respondents said that they view corporate websites (6%) as sources of information.

“The wide gap between TV news and industry websites highlights the need for energy companies to re-evaluate their website content and user experience, as well as the critical need to use video to better educate and influence Americans,” commented Beck.

The report says U.S. consumers consider the solar industry most trustworthy for information. The natural gas industry is a close second, and the coal industry ranks last.

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