Survey Reveals Australians’ Attitudes Toward the Renewable Energy Transition

Image: CSIRO

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, has today released the most comprehensive survey of Australians’ attitudes toward the renewable energy transition.  

More than 6,700 people were surveyed in all states and territories, across capital cities and regional areas, between August and September 2023. 

With Australia transitioning to a low carbon energy system and transforming the way energy is generated, transmitted, stored, exported and used, the survey explored people’s attitudes to the renewable energy transition generally.  

It also explored attitudes toward existing and planned renewable infrastructure in Australia: solar farms; onshore wind farms; offshore wind farms; and the transmission lines needed to get renewable energy to the electricity grid.   

The insights will help federal policy makers, local, state and territory governments and industry understand what people think, and what that means for Australia’s renewable rollout.  

Australians reported their top three priorities of the energy transition to be affordability, energy self-reliance, emissions reductions, with reliability being a close fourth. 

The survey found most Australians supported change towards an energy system that relies more on renewables. Energy affordability was a high priority for most people, whether or not they were struggling to pay bills, and views differed on the speed and extent of the transition, with almost half (47 per cent) preferring a moderate paced transition scenario compared to faster and more extensive change (40 per cent). 13 per cent preferred a slower transition. 

Senior social scientist on the project, Dr Andrea Walton, said the survey was developed to ensure views were representative and included people with experience living near existing or proposed renewable energy developments.  

“The value of such a large survey is we can report with a higher degree of certainty what a range of people think,” Dr Walton said.  

“The survey showed that most Australians supported the energy transition, but opinions varied about the rate and extent of change. 

“Many Australians held generally moderate attitudes towards living near renewable energy infrastructure, suggesting a broad willingness to support, or at least tolerate, the development of solar farms, onshore and offshore wind farms, and associated transmission line infrastructure.” 

Dr Walton said more research is needed to understand different geographic contexts like living out of town in regional areas and living near existing energy infrastructure. 

The survey, conducted in partnership with the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, indicated responses were similar between metropolitan and regional communities. Though people living out of town in regional areas were more negative towards the transition. 

“This makes sense because people living out of town are more likely to be living near current or proposed developments,” Dr Walton said.  

“Transmission lines were seen less favourably compared to other renewable energy infrastructure. The survey revealed an important reason for this was that people didn’t always recognise the role of additional transmission lines in the renewable energy transition. 

“What this survey indicates is that when people believe that a piece of infrastructure has an important role in the energy transition, they’re much more likely to accept it.” 

Survey results found: 

  • Affordable energy is important to Australians, with 82 per cent ranking it in their top three priorities.  
  • When considering a hypothetical scenario, more than 80 per cent of Australians would, at least, tolerate living within 10 km of renewable energy infrastructure. 
  • Solar farms had the highest level of acceptance, although attitudes to solar farms were less favourable in 2023 (88 per cent would at least tolerate living near a solar farm) compared with an earlier survey conducted in 2020 (95 per cent).  
  • More than 80 per cent of people surveyed would at least tolerate or be okay with living near a windfarm. However, those living in proposed offshore windfarm regions were more likely to reject living near them. 
  • Acceptance of living near associated transmission lines was lower than other forms of renewable energy infrastructure, with 23 per cent of people rejecting it and 77 per cent at least tolerating it.  

Overall, the survey showed communities want comprehensive, transparent information on renewable energy infrastructure developments, their benefits, and any potential drawbacks of renewable energy projects, including their impact on the local environment, communities and individuals.