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The clean energy industry faced several challenges this year, including the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the production tax credit for wind power and the demise of some high-profile solar energy firms. Public sentiment about issues related to clean energy and the environment, however, has not always reflected developments in the market and in the political sphere.

Despite efforts to educate consumers about the benefits of clean energy technologies, attitudes around these topics - which will be key to the proliferation of these technologies into the mass market - are slow or difficult to change.

To gain a better understanding of consumer awareness and attitudes about a variety of key issues, Pike Research conducted a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, asking respondents to provide their level of awareness and favorability of key concepts.

Consumer opinions of the clean energy concepts were generally positive. All four technologies analyzed - wind, solar, nuclear and clean coal - received favorable responses from at least 40% of respondents. Notably, the two renewable energy concepts - wind and solar - continued to generate favorable opinions among more consumers than any other topic included in the survey.

The non-renewable clean energy concepts - clean coal and nuclear power - did not enjoy the same level of enthusiasm from the respondent base. Nuclear power also earned the highest percentage of unfavorable and neutral responses among all energy and environmental concepts. These results have held steady year over year.

Solar led the favorability ratings, with 69% of respondents having a positive impression of the energy technology. Wind followed, with 66%, followed by hybrid vehicles, with 54%. All of the other clean energy technologies in the survey received negative (i.e., less than 50% favorability) ratings.

Wind energy
Only slightly less popular than solar power, wind energy was viewed as either favorable or very favorable by 66% of respondents, down slightly from 71% in 2011. Only 10% of respondents held unfavorable opinions of wind energy, up slightly (2 percentage points) from 2011.

The 66% favorability rating breaks down as follows: 36% of respondents indicated they had a “very favorable” view of wind energy, while 30% said they had a “favorable” opinion of it. Meanwhile, 18% were neutral, 6% had a “somewhat unfavorable” view and 4% had a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of wind power. (Pike Research lists 6% as “N/A.”)

The similarly high levels of favorable views toward solar and wind energy indicates that consumers are generally supportive of the more established renewable energies that harness naturally occurring power sources.

The demographic patterns of consumer views of wind energy are analogous to those of solar energy. Education, income and age exhibit the most significant impact on a consumer’s view of wind energy. The “high school graduate or less” segment displayed a slightly lower favorability response (57%) compared to the higher-education segments.

The 65-and-older age group had the highest favorability of wind energy (73%), while the under-30 age group was least enthusiastic about wind energy (59%). Favorable opinions of wind energy also rose with incomes. Of the respondents who made less than $35,000, 62% reported favorable opinions of wind energy, compared to 74% of those with incomes of $125,000 or more.

When viewed by behavioral and political segmentation, the survey results show that respondents who viewed themselves as the early majority or late majority in terms of technology adoption held positive views of wind energy, with 70% and 69%, respectively.

These results differ from those for other clean technology topics, such as smart grids, in which early adopters reported the highest level of favorability. This may be because wind and solar energy are becoming more mainstream, Pike Research says. Notably, respondents with electric bills in excess of $200 held more positive opinions of wind energy, as did those who identified themselves as Democrats.

Pike Research conducted the Web-based survey of 1,001 U.S. consumers in fall 2012 using a structured online questionnaire. The survey invitation was sent to a nationally representative and demographically balanced sample of consumers who are members of a large online panel. Respondents were offered a chance to win prizes in exchange for their participation. The margin of error for these survey results is +/- 3%, with a 95% confidence interval.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Charul Vyas is an industry analyst, and Carol L. Stimmel is research director, at Pike Research. This article was adapted from "Consumer Attitudes and Awareness of 13 Smart Energy Concepts," published this month by Pike Research.

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