Last week, in a detailed analysis, Vox reported that utilities are facing a problem: the public wants 100% renewable energy, and quick. Renewable energy has become an incredibly popular choice over the last few years, because it’s the wave of the future — it’s clean, it’s high-tech and it creates new jobs. According to The Sierra Club, in the US, over 80 cities and five counties have committed to 100% renewables, out of which, six cities have already achieved it.
A recent market research and polling done for Edison Electric Institute highlights this. The research, done by Maslansky & Partners, “analyzed existing utility messaging, interviewed utility execs and environmentalists, ran a national opinion survey, and did a couple of three-hour sit-downs with “media informed customers” in Minneapolis and Phoenix.”
The results lay out the public opinion landscape on renewables, and shows where different groups have advantages and disadvantages.
What Does the Public Want?
When we say the public loves renewables, we mean they love it.
However, the utilities don’t believe it’s a deliverable goal. The following shows the industry truth against the public opinion.
What’s astonishing is that the majority of people that were surveyed believe that 100% renewables is a good idea even if it causes their electric bill to rise by 30%. Now this is unprecedented. As a rule, Americans do not like people raising their bills, let alone by almost a third! But this research establishes that that’s what the majority wants. Which means that the utilities have lost the public relations war over renewables.
The group RE100 has recorded 144 private companies across the globe that have committed to 100% renewables. This list includes giants like Google, Ikea, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Nike, GM, and, Lego.
Why Can’t the Utilities Deliver?
Utilities have a variety of reasons due to which they find 100% renewables infeasible, but customers do not want to hear excuses. The following message was tested on the public: “Today, we can choose between a balanced energy mix, which provides reliable energy whenever we need it, and 100% renewable energy. But we cannot have both. We also need to consider the costs. (…) The logistics, resources, and costs would be immense.”
But like we said, the customers didn’t want to hear it.
“You could tell what side he was leaning toward,” said one Phoenix focus-group participant. “He offered no solutions. It was just problem, problem, problem.” Whereas a Minneapolis participant said, “I want to hear about how the work would get done. I don’t want to hear him complain about how much work it will take.”
More similar reactions were heard, which the utilities find difficult to counter:
What is the Excuse?
In the 100% renewable energy debate, there are three teams. The first, the one with the most activists and advocates, supports 100% renewables “as a clear, intuitive, and inspiring target, an effective way to rally public support and speed the transition.” The second team believes that the cost-efficient and safe way to achieve carbon-free electricity is to not rely completely on renewables. Instead, supplement them with zero-carbon alternatives such as hydro, nuclear, geothermal, biomass, or fossil fuels with carbon capture and sequestration — much like the strategy California has taken. And the third team, the team of utilities and conservatives, doesn’t believe that 100% carbon-free electricity is possible in the near future.
The basic message from the public, if I could pull together all the strands of the research, is this: We want clean, modern energy, and we’ll pay for it. We’re willing to let experts work out the details, but we don’t want to hear that it can’t be done. Just do it. Utilities can’t make that sentiment go away, though they can and will try to soften it. In the meantime, in the off-chance that their messaging efforts fail, they’d better get serious about giving customers the clean energy they want.