What Australia thinks about the energy transition

Tuesday, 16 April, 2024

What Australia thinks about the energy transition

CSIRO has released its most recent survey into Australians’ attitudes towards the renewable energy transition.

The survey, which the national science agency said is one of the most comprehensive to date, canvassed more than 6700 people in all states and territories, across capital cities and regional areas, between August and September 2023. It was conducted in partnership with the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

The survey had two main aims: to find out what Australians generally think about the renewable energy transition; and to explore how they feel about existing and planned renewable infrastructure in Australia, specifically solar farms, onshore wind farms, offshore wind farms, and the transmission lines needed to get renewable energy to the electricity grid.

Results from the survey are intended to inform planning, programs and other initiatives undertaken by government, industry and communities as part of the energy transition.

Australians reported that their top three priorities for the energy transition were affordability, energy self-reliance and emissions reductions. Reliability came a close fourth.

The survey found that most Australians supported change towards an energy system that relies more on renewables; however, views differed on the speed and extent of the transition, with almost half (47%) preferring a moderate-paced transition scenario compared to faster and more extensive change (40%). 13% preferred a slower transition.

The 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,” Walton said.

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

Views on renewable energy infrastructure

While most Australians said that they were interested in the energy transition, many reported little or limited knowledge of large-scale renewable infrastructure. There was a large range of opinions about living near this type of infrastructure, but most people were in the middle.

“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,” Walton said.

The survey revealed that, when considering a hypothetical scenario, more than 80% 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 these were less favourable in 2023 (88% would at least tolerate living near a solar farm) compared with an earlier survey conducted in 2020 (95%).

More than 80% of people surveyed said they would at least tolerate or be okay with living near a wind farm. However, those living in proposed offshore wind farm regions were more likely to reject living near them.

Transmission lines were the least popular form of renewable energy infrastructure, with 23% of people rejecting them and 77% at least tolerating them.

While the survey indicated responses were broadly similar between metropolitan centres and regional cities and towns, people living in regional areas outside of cities or towns 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,” 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.”

Image credit: iStock.com/AndrewDickmanPhotography

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