Consumers are optimistic about solar energy despite having some serious misconceptions about the solar industry--this according to Applied Materials' international survey carried out by Ketchum Global Research & Analytics and Ipsos, In an attempt to better understand global consumers' outlook on solar power, the survey interviewed 1000 people from countries with high potential growth in solar energy. The chosen nations were China, Japan, India and the United States. The results can be separated into four sections: cost of solar energy, solar job prospects, rate of solar adoption and global solar leaders.
Cost of Solar Energy
PV Magazine reports that while Applied Materials' 2011 survey showed that solar technology would reach grid-parity at the end of the decade, this year's data indicate that it will be reached by the end of the year. In fact, a recent post on Applied Materials' blog reported that solar power has already reached grid-parity in over 100 countries. The blog notes that "105 countries make up 98% of the world's population, account for 99.7% of the world's GDP and consume 99.2% of the world's energy related to CO2 emissions" (See image here.). It is clear that solar energy prices are dropping fast. Dr. Charlie Gay, president of the solar branch of Applied Materials, recently explained to Reuters that this trend is "due to the dramatic and accelerated rate of cost reductions in the supply chain." He adds that "a continued focus on technology innovation will further drive down the total cost of solar electric power plants."
Respondents to the survey were overly optimistic in their perception of solar power prices. Overall 55% of those surveyed said that solar power is cheaper than other sources of energy such as natural gas and coal. Indian consumers were most likely to believe that solar electricity was the least expensive at 68%. Meanwhile, Japanese respondents had the most pessimistic outlook on solar energy's cost as 51% believe that it is more expensive than traditional sources of electricity.
Solar Job Prospects
Applied Materials' survey was also intended to evaluate whether the public thought a growing solar energy sector would generate jobs. Of the one thousand consumers interviewed, slightly less than half (46%) answered that solar energy growth would create jobs while exactly a quarter said that it would decrease employment. Japan and the U.S. ended up on opposite ends of this spectrum. The U.S. had the brightest outlook with 58% agreeing that the solar industry would have a positive effect on employment. On the other hand, 40% of Japanese believe that solar will have no effect. This is surprising considering that Japan just put huge subsidies on solar power, placing prices on solar electricity that are "triple what industrial users pay for conventional power", Bloomberg reports.
Rate of Solar Power Adoption
In both China and India consumers express concerns that the adoption of solar power is "too slow" in their nation. Reuters writes that the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy plans to increase "the contribution of renewable energy to six percent of India's total energy mix by 2022." Meanwhile China aims to raise its solar energy capacity to 15 gigawatt-hours by 2015. 58% of Chinese and 51% of Indian respondents think that their respective country should accelerate the rate of installations of solar technology.
Global Solar Leadership
Interestingly, each country's respondents are convinced that their country leads the world in solar panel installations. Applied Materials reports that "Almost six in 10 (57%) Americans say the U.S. has installed the most solar panels, 43 percent of Chinese think it is China, and half (52%) of India thinks it is their country". Despite each countries convictions, SolarBuzz finds that the current global solar leaders are in descending order: Germany, Italy, Japan, U.S.A., Spain and China. However, in terms of awareness Japan came out on top: 35% of interviewed Japanese correctly placed Germany as the country with the most solar installations.
It is important to note that the majority of Chinese and Indian citizens believe that their country is the world leader in solar energy and that their nation should increase the rate of adoption. This is a sign of very strong support for renewable energy. Furthermore, even in countries such as Japan, where respondents were skeptical about solar energy's ability to create jobs, governments are committed to promoting the solar industry.
Applied Materials survey demonstrates that the public has a high regard for solar power as an alternative energy source, but is not well aware of the current state of the industry. Despite this, consumers clearly believe that solar power has an important role to play in supplying global energy needs. This support is a good sign as we are in a pivotal point for global energy supply. Dr. Gay explained to Reuters that "since the planning horizon for utilities extends over time periods of 30 to 40 years, the opportunity to influence the world's long-term energy supply is now".