It Turns Out That You Can't Divide Americans Over Renewable Energy

04/08/2015 11:08 am ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015

In our second annual survey on American homeowners' attitudes toward clean energy, one thing is resoundingly clear. In a nation divided on climate change, immigration policy and so many other issues, Americans are overwhelmingly united in their support of renewable energy. The poll, commissioned by our firm Clean Edge with SolarCity, and conducted by national polling firm Zogby Analytics, finds that nearly nine out of ten Americans (87 percent) believe renewable energy is important to the country's future.

When homeowners were asked to specifically name which energy sources were most important to the nation's future (we gave respondents the opportunity to select up to three choices), solar (50 percent) and wind (42 percent) led the pack, followed by natural gas (33 percent) and energy efficiency (25 percent). Much lower in the rankings were one-time energy stalwarts nuclear power (14 percent) and coal (eight percent).

This reflects similar findings in a recent Gallup poll. While Gallup asked a different question (which domestic energy sources should receive more, the same, or less emphasis than they currently receive), their findings were strikingly consistent with our survey. Both solar and wind were at the very top for the energy sources that should receive more emphasis moving forward, followed by natural gas. Coal and nuclear both trailed in the rankings.

There's a widespread misconception that the nation is divided on its attitudes toward clean energy, but our research shows this to be false. There is broad support for renewables across the political spectrum -- it's not just the domain of one party or political affiliation. Opposition to solar fees charged by utilities, for example, is higher among Republicans (66 percent) and conservatives (64 percent) than Democrats (53 percent) and liberals (58 percent).

But here's the rub. While members of Congress appear divided on whether or not to extend federal tax incentives for clean energy, their constituents are not. Nearly three quarters (74 percent) of Americans polled favored continuing federal tax incentives that support the growth of the solar and wind industries, including 82 percent of Democrats, two thirds of Republicans (67 percent) and 72 percent of Independents.

While some would like you to think that the nation can be easily divided on this issue -- our survey findings tell a different story. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), for example, has worked to oppose solar expansion, block or weaken net metering laws, and overturn or suspend state renewable portfolio standards. In recent months, however, tech titans such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Yelp, Microsoft and AOL have cut their ties with the group for their anti-climate positions. In the end, the majority of Americans believe the nation is better off supporting and advancing solar and wind over other options, and most (though not all) recent legislative efforts to oppose renewables have failed.

One need look no further than the numbers issued by the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) to see just how dramatic this shift has been in recent years. In 2014, more than half of all new electricity generating capacity additions in the U.S. came from wind and solar.

For those of you who (like me) geek out over compound annual growth rate (CAGR) data, our most recent report also includes historical growth rates for a range of clean-tech sectors. Our research shows that 11-year CAGRs for the sales of many clean-energy products and services in the U.S. continue to be in the double digits, with LEED-certified projects at 56 percent, solar PV at 52 percent, hybrid electric vehicles at 24 percent, and utility-scale clean electricity generation at 20 percent. Between 2009 and 2013, LED lights experienced a CAGR of 145 percent and EVs chalked up a 309 percent CAGR between 2010 and 2013. All of these CAGRs are more akin to high tech than the usually staid energy industry.

But as noted above, perhaps the most striking finding in our annual survey is how support for clean energy in the U.S. crosses so many geographic, political, and social boundaries. Solar power, for example, was the top choice among most of the demographic groups in our survey, including Republicans, Democrats, Independents, conservatives, liberals, city and rural dwellers, youth, and the elderly. And as noted earlier, opposition to utility charges on solar was stronger among Republicans than Democrats, as well as stronger among rural than urban dwellers.

In a time of so much rancor and disagreement on other important issues, I find this support for the shift towards renewables important and notable. Renewables continue to expand, with some states and cities shooting for 30 percent, 50 percent, or more of their energy from renewables. It's good and important to know that the majority of American homeowners -- whether they call the West Coast home, bike to work and maintain a vegan diet, or live in the Rust Belt and love NASCAR -- voice strong support for such efforts.