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Renewable Energy  
15 December 2016

Energy 21: Cost trumps passion for renewables, says US survey

South Africans know about the benefits of renewable energy and are generally supportive of these – but, in general, they remain concerned about the cost.

Energy21 said in a statement on Wednesday, that this was the main finding of the US Department of State’s ‘General Public Opinion on Renewable Energy in South Africa’ study, which showed that, despite the interest, awareness and support of renewable energy, the affordability argument needs to be tackled to change people’s willingness to take up renewable energy.

Energy 21 initiative

The survey was conducted to support the US Embassy Pretoria’s Energy 21 initiative, which was launched this month.

“These findings reveal an urgent, industry-wide need to promote and emphasize renewable energy as a reasonable and affordable energy solution,” said David Shelby, Director of Public Engagement at the US State Department, which led the survey.

The survey was administered to 3,000 participants across urban and peri-urban areas in South Africa’s main metropoles – Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape – and amongst individuals between the ages of 18-60. The survey was conducted in September and October 2016.

The survey generated the following key observations:

  • We don’t have to convince South Africans that renewable energy is beneficial – they already believe this.
  • We do need to convince South Africans that renewable energy can be affordable and help them save money.
  • We do need to raise awareness of ways that the government is supportive of renewables – the population currently thinks the government is an obstacle.
  • It is not necessarily useful to focus on people’s personal impact on the environment when using non-renewable energy sources as South Africans are more concerned with their pocket books than their environmental impact.

Five key take-outs

  1. Support: 87% of South Africans expressed either support or strong support for the increased use of renewable energy. Regionally, the greatest enthusiasm for renewables was found in Kwa-Zulu Natal where 54% of the population indicated strong support for their increased use. Respondents indicating strong support in Gauteng and Western Cape were 32% and 31% respectively.
  1. Highest potential: South Africans see the greatest potential in developing solar resources (70%) followed by natural gas (53%), wind (50%), coal (43%), nuclear (34%) and oil (34%).
  1. Benefit: Many are well-aware of the widespread benefits of renewable energy particularly for job creation (87%), economic growth (82%) supporting South African innovation (82%), a cleaner environment (81%) and more reliable energy availability (80%).
  1. Obstacles: The expense of building renewable facilities (59%), the distance of those facilities from consumers (54%), the lack of public concern about energy (54%) and a lack of support from energy companies (51%) are all identified as obstacles to renewable energy expansion.
  1. Global benchmark: South Africans believe they are doing a good job of utilising renewable energy but are not entirely aware of what other countries are doing in this area. South Africans view the United States (89%), China (88%), Brazil (84%) and Germany (82%) as particularly influential countries in promoting renewable energy.

Shelby added: “These findings show that South Africans don’t need to be convinced of the benefits of renewable energy. Most are already well-informed of the advantages and associated environmental benefits. They do, however, need to be convinced regarding costs – and how, in the long run, renewable energy will help them save money.”

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