Key findings: research on public attitudes to solar energy
- Only 25% of people who live near solar farms oppose solar development in their area
- People living near a solar farm are over eight times more likely to become more supportive over time than more opposed
- The public wants to prioritise solar energy in national planning decisions
- 39% of the public feel minimising environmental impacts is most important when developing a solar farm, 28% think it is creating local jobs, skills and supply chain opportunities
A minority of people living near a solar farm oppose solar development in their area, while 56% support it.
These are the findings of the latest Attitudes to Infrastructure Report, developed by Copper Consultancy and Solar Energy UK, and looking at the public’s perception of solar energy.
They build on a key finding from our earlier report on public attitudes to low carbon energy generation, which indicated that solar is the most popular form of renewable energy in the UK.
Copper conducted its latest research to better understand where the public stands, provide further evidence on the priorities of local communities, and help ensure the solar industry is fully equipped to deliver the best projects possible.
As well as demonstrating overwhelming support for solar energy, the research found that 17% of people living in the vicinity of a solar farm have become more supportive of solar energy over time, while just 2% have become more opposed. The reasons for this are diverse – respondents said their increased support was due to solar’s provision of cheaper electricity, energy security, and their increased awareness of environmental issues.
The support that a large proportion of the public has for solar schemes, translates to views of energy policy, as 58% of the public wants to prioritise solar energy nationally, and less than one in 14 people opposite this.
There does, however, remain a number of issues that the public believe need to be addressed for specific solar schemes to be acceptable, these include minimising negative environmental impacts (38%) and creating jobs are the main issues for the public (28%).
The perceived environmental issue appears troubling given the evidence that solar projects can have long-term positive environmental impacts, including reduced flood risks and improved soil stability. So this apparent environmental issue could actually be a communication problem: the public is not aware of the positive impacts of solar, and are disproportionately concerned about potential negative impacts. It demonstrates the importance of effectively promoting research and case studies to the public and the media, as well as stakeholders.
Chris Hewett, Chief Executive for Solar Energy UK said: “If we are going to fulfil the Government’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050, this will require the UK to triple its solar capacity by 2030. The scale and pace of development required to meet this demand highlight why it’s so important to better understand the needs and priorities of local communities when it comes to solar projects.
“For the first time, this research clearly demonstrates that support for solar farms is strong not only amongst the wider public but crucially amongst those living closest to them.”
Sam Cranston, Energy Director at Copper Consultancy added: “2022 is set to be another historic year for solar energy in the UK as developers look to bring forward large scale sites in record numbers. Our research into public attitudes clearly shows widespread support for solar and, crucially, that this grows over time.
“The findings also show that developers and the wider industry can build advocacy even further by raising awareness of the physical and local benefits that solar projects offer, beyond their green credentials.”