In-depth community research reveals the challenges of shifting to renewable energy

A 12-month research project commissioned by Zen Energy has examined community opinions, values, and motivations related to Australia’s shift from coal and gas-fired electricity to renewable energy.

Renewable farm

A new study has found that while Australians have a positive view of the country's transition to renewable energy, there is a need for more communication on the capabilities of renewable energy technologies, guidance from the government, and infrastructure development, as well as a desire for community involvement and local ownership of energy infrastructure.

Drawing on consumer study results collected by Essential Research and commissioned by ZEN Energy, a white paper titled This is Transition has been published, to open discussion of the results which highlight both the support for, and challenges facing, the country’s renewable energy transition.

Findings from the Research

A majority of Australians, especially younger people, place the collective benefits of action on climate change and lower electricity prices ahead of their individual concerns about the impacts of renewable energy developments.

Only a small fraction, 17%, do not believe there will be any economic benefits from the transition.

Support for prioritizing national commitments to reducing climate emissions and shifting to renewable energy is strong among younger Australians, with 61% of those aged 18-34 supporting this over local community concerns about project developments. In contrast, 52% of those aged 55 and older feel local community concerns should take precedence.

When it comes to new energy project developments, the most significant concern is the impact on the natural environment and wildlife, cited by 61% of respondents. Visual impacts of development and transmission lines are the main concern for 27% of people.

Australians believe the country's energy transition is hindered by insufficient technological advancement and a lack of robust governmental leadership.

The desire for involvement in decision-making is also evident, with 53% of Australians wanting renewable energy developers to collaborate and involve them in the process. However, only 10% support communities having actual decision-making power. Many respondents indicated that community consultation often feels tokenistic, and they stressed that only genuine partnerships will lead to project acceptance by local communities.

“This research demonstrates that people don’t view the transition in isolation or on a project-by-project basis. It reinforces ZEN’s focus on solutions that will secure a healthy, safe future for all," said Anthony Garnaut, CEO of ZEN Energy.

Implications for the Industry

The findings suggest that renewable energy developers need to engage with communities early and involve them genuinely in decision-making and co-design of projects to gain social acceptance and overcome consultation fatigue. There is a clear call for consistent communication about the capabilities and benefits of renewable technologies to maintain public support.

The study found that both strong leadership and technological progress are necessary to address public concerns and facilitate the transition to renewable energy in Australia.

As Anthony Garnaut put it, “The findings show Australians have consultation fatigue and only genuine partnerships will earn a project a social licence. ZEN understands this is a transition that cannot afford to fail. We encourage all developers to engage early, involve people in decision-making and co-design of projects.”

Download This Is Transition, the white paper from Zen Energy here.

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