Both Commercial and Residential Respondents Favor Solar Power, Mercom Capital Group’s India Consumer Survey Reveals

The “India Consumer Perceptions on Renewable Energy Survey,” conducted by Mercom Communications India, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mercom Capital Group, llc, a global communications and consulting firm, focused on gauging people’s and businesses’ perception and attitudes toward non-conventional sources of energy in India. Over 1,700 residential and commercial and industrial customers were surveyed. 

When asked about their impression of solar energy, 58 percent of both commercial and residential survey respondents said they strongly favor solar. Opposition to solar was negligible, with fewer than one percent of commercial and residential respondents either somewhat or strongly opposed.

Despite the higher favor respondents gave solar relative to other generation sources, throughout our survey, we found a general lack of education and awareness, and in some instances misconceptions about solar, such as its use being limited to water heating.

This may be because the solar industry has done almost nothing to inform and educate consumers about its potential and versatility. For an industry that is completely dependent on subsidies at the moment, they have not invested much time and effort in getting consumers on their side.

In most cases, solar companies have been focused on courting the government to ensure they are in the ‘good books’ and sign their next lucrative PPA.

Ultimately, it is the residential and business customers who consume their main product – electricity. End users will become even more important to solar’s success as the market shifts towards distributed generation, commercial and residential rooftops.

The solar industry will need stronger support from consumers to pressure policy makers on subsidies, supporting policies, land use and others because solar is still a nascent industry in India. It is simply not enough to have a line in a press release showing how much CO2 emissions will be reduced.

As we are seeing in the United States and Europe, the market has quickly shifted in a few years from “business-to-government” to “business-to-business” to “business-to-consumer.” The companies that comprise the solar industry need to begin investing in customer education and moving public opinion immediately if they want a large sustainable customer base in the long run.

Given its low operational costs and environmental benefits, it is somewhat surprising that strong wind favorability was less than 50 percent for commercial and residential respondents. About 50 percent of commercial and about 46 percent of residential consumers strongly favored wind.

Twenty-three percent of commercial and 25 percent of residential respondents somewhat favored wind. Twenty-one percent of each group said their impression was neutral while 6 percent of commercial and 7 percent of residential respondents had no opinion.

Although wind projects tend to be larger in size than solar and away from population centers, the perception of wind as a clean energy source and its benefits need to be communicated to the people.

Like solar, wind is dependent on subsidies and the withdrawal of accelerated depreciation and generation-based incentives in 2012 hurt the industry a great deal resulting in a drop in installation growth in 2013. Without education and information, you cannot expect constituencies to demand clean wind energy, and there will be little to no pressure on policymakers to do something about it.

A plurality of both commercial (47 percent) and residential respondents (39 percent) had a neutral impression of coal. Only 14 percent of commercial and 18 percent of residential respondents were either somewhat or strongly opposed to coal. Despite its relatively low favorability numbers, it is good news for the coal industry and not so good news for clean energy sectors because the coal industry is entrenched in the power sector whereas clean energy is still trying to gain significant market share.

It is up to the clean energy industry to tout not only the benefits of clean and renewable energies, but also to clearly differentiate them from conventional fossil fuels. Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel and a large contributor to regional and global air pollution.

Depending on the quality of coal and control equipment at the power plant, air pollution from coal combustion includes SO2, NOx, CO2, particulate matter, and mercury. Coal plants can also emit lead, cadmium, and other toxic heavy metals, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, and arsenic. Taking just one pollutant, sulfur dioxide, which contributes to regional health and environmental problems, India is now second in the world in emissions. Roughly half of India’s SO2 emissions come from coal-fired power, according to NASA data.

Countries like the United States and China, as well as the European Union are aggressively regulating coal power plants and phasing them out.

Even though India has the fourth largest reserves of coal, domestic coal supply has never been able to keep up with demand resulting in large coal imports of about 20 percent which is a threat to national security.

The price of coal, imported coal especially, has also continued to rise, eating into precious foreign capital reserves; the coal shortage has been one of the primary causes of power shortages in the country.

Unless the clean energy industry adds their voice and aggressively communicates the disadvantages of coal, informing consumers and creating awareness, coal’s culpability in India’s power crisis will continue to fly under the radar.

Click here for a copy of the survey: India Consumer Perceptions on Renewable Energy Survey

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