Attitudes toward alternative energy improve

BOULDER – After years of declining attitudes toward clean and renewable energy concepts, public attitudes in 2013 improved significantly, according to a new study released this week by Boulder-based Navigant Research.

The survey of 1,084 adults in the United States was conducted in the fall, and asked respondents their level of favorability – very favorable, favorable, neutral, somewhat unfavorable, strongly unfavorable, not sure or not familiar – on 10 clean-energy concepts. Those included solar energy, wind energy, nuclear power, hybrid vehicles, electric cars, natural gas vehicles, biofuels, smart grid, smart meters and LEED certification.

Solar energy continued to lead the way, with 79 percent of respondents answering favorable or very favorable to the concept. Wind energy was close behind with 72 percent viewing the idea favorably.

Those numbers came after each technology had declined in ratings in recent years. Solar energy’s favorability rating increased from 69 percent in 2012. Wind, meanwhile, had statistically significant drops for the last three years before jumping up from 66 percent last year.

Ratings for hybrid vehicles, electric cars, natural gas vehicles, biofuels and smart meters all experienced statistically significant increases. Only nuclear power saw a large decline, from 41 percent to 32 percent. The other two concepts changed only marginally.

On average, the favorability rating was 51 percent for all 10 concepts, up from 44 percent last year and the highest it’s been since 2010, also at 51 percent. The 2010 rating was down six percentage points from 2009.

Navigant officials said they generally don’t comment on what they think the reasons are for the shift in attitudes as the study doesn’t address causes specifically. The only real cause-and-effect relationship mentioned specifically in the report had to do with nuclear energy.

“The low rating for nuclear energy may be due to a combination of events, such as the continued alerts from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan to severe weather events, which raise the concern about another nuclear disaster,” the report stated.

The report addressed the ratings of clean-energy concepts against each other. Solar and wind have maintained the lead in favorability ratings for years.

“The similarly high levels of favorable views toward solar and wind energy indicate that consumers are generally supportive of the more established renewable energies that harness naturally occurring power sources,” the report stated. “Since these two concepts have retained their most favored status year after year, Navigant Research asserts that consumers consider these renewable energies to be important pieces in the power generation portfolio of the future.”

LEED certification received the lowest favorability rating at 22 percent. But much of that, the report stated, had to do with a lack of awareness about the program that certifies buildings with different levels of “green” credentials based on energy efficiency and things like the use of sustainable building materials. LEED certification saw only five percent of respondents rate it unfavorably, the lowest of any of the 10 concepts. Seventy-three percent responded unsure or unfamiliar to LEED certification.

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