ANAHEIM, Calif. — A new poll of U.S. voters and their energy preferences reveals a split on customer trust in utilities and large energy companies, and heavy support for solar generation.
The Global Strategy Group, in collaboration with Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), released the poll on Tuesday at the Energy Storage International / Solar Power International Conference. The results highlighted a growing consumer appeal for policies that advance solar power, including net metering and renewable energy mandates.
"Consumers hate the fact that utilities can control their choice of electricity," Dan Whitten, SEIA's vice president of communications, told Utility Dive. Many of SEIA's members — solar manufacturers, installers and developers — profit from pro-solar and pro-distributed energy policies.
The poll said 88% of voters agreed that utilities should not be able to block residential solar. That margin increased to 96% when asking "opinion leaders," or voters who self-identified as being college-educated, employed and engaged in public policy news.
"I think utilities are incredibly responsive to their customers and what this survey tells us is that customers want solar."
Abigail Ross Hopper
President and CEO, SEIA
At stake is the way utilities would reward distributed solar customers for selling the excess energy they generate back to the grid as utilities work to establish a transition from net metering rates. In recent post-net metering debates, some utilities argue that less competitive export rates for rooftop solar do not necessarily reduce solar deployment, especially given certain commitments for utility-scale solar.
The survey is meant to provide data to show "that a high percentage of the people we polled are resentful of the idea that utilities can restrict their options," Whitten said.
With customer choice debates occurring across the country, more utilities are trying to address their customers' demands.
However, SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper says the more important takeaway is customer support for solar power.
"I think utilities are incredibly responsive to their customers and what this survey tells us is that customers want solar," Hopper told Utility Dive. "I don't think customers have a particular care in the world about who owns it or how it gets there, they just want to make sure it happens."
The survey also highlighted support for a 'fair' net metering policy, a 50% renewable portfolio standard for utilities and other consumer attitudes toward the market, as highlighted in the graph below.
The online polling was conducted on 750 registered voters and on 480 opinion leaders. Each survey question asked the voters to identify their approval or disapproval on a scale of 0 to 10, with "5" being neutral.