Just as coal-fired energy generation appears to be losing its social licence to operate in parts of Australia, a new survey has found that more than three quarters of Australians support the development of new, large-scale solar power plants.
The survey, conducted by independent market research company Ipsos, found that 77 per cent of Australians thought large-scale solar plants would play a significant role in helping meet the nation’s future energy needs.
Another 60 per cent thought funding for large-scale solar facilities should be prioritised over funding for non-renewable energy sources.
But the ARENA-commissioned (and funded) Ipsos report also found that community backing of large-scale solar projects was often dependent on clear communication from project stakeholders.
It also found that while a clear majority supported the development of big solar in Australia, almost one in five (19 per cent) Australians neither agreed nor disagreed with this view, or just didn’t know.
Similarly, while just under two thirds (63 per cent) of those surveyed agreed that large-scale solar could provide a consistent supply of electricity, more than a quarter (28 per cent) neither agreed or disagreed, or didn’t know.
This revealed a gap in the knowledge of many Australians that Ipsos said had the potential to be “a fertile breeding ground” for anti-solar theories, such as the inefficiency of the solar production process.
“Details of any potential employment opportunities, project timelines and information about the area of land required to establish a large scale solar energy facility are also important factors in establishing community support,” said Ipsos Research Director Jennifer Brook.
“Early and ongoing opportunities for consultation and engagement with local communities about proposed large-scale solar projects is vital to ensuring communities fully support these projects,” she said.
Based on these findings, Ipsos has produced best practice community consultation guidelines for proposed large-scale solar projects.
Ivor Frischknecht – the CEO of ARENA, which contributed $153,000 towards the report – said the findings would be an invaluable resource for establishing and maintaining community support to operate solar projects in Australia.
“The results show Australians strongly support renewable energy and demonstrate the importance of involving and consulting locals,” he said.
“Key industry participants have welcomed the best practice guidelines, which can help the solar industry more effectively communicate the economic, environmental and social benefits of solar projects to nearby communities.