Electricity consumers in regional Australia: Social acceptance of coal-fired power and renewable energy

Breda McCarthy, Lynne Eagle, Amy Osmond

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PurposeThe purpose of this study is to explore the concept of social acceptance and examine public opinions on climate change, renewable energy and fossil fuels in regional Australia. Understanding public opinion is critical given the need for governments to transition energy production away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy in order to meet obligations under the 2015 UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change.Design/methodology/approachA survey was developed and respondents (n= 325) were recruited face-to-face in a regional city in Northern Australia. Data was then analysed using IBM SPSS 20 software. Frequency distributions, cross tabulations and non-parametric tests were performed. FindingsRespondent-completed questionnaires reveal positive attitudes towards renewable energy. Overall, respondents agree that climate change is occurring and that society has a responsibility to act to minimise its effects. Surprisingly, consumers who support coal-fired power show strong support for renewable energy, despite being undecided on the climate change issue and not perceiving a connection between electricity usage in the home and climate change. Consumers who are opposed to coal-fired power show low support for all fossil fuels, despite the fact that they will continue to underpin the Australian energy system for some time to come. In addition, demographic variables, notably gender and education, along with political affiliation, are associated with varying levels of support for particular energy technologies. LimitationsThe findings are based on a convenience sample of mostly urban North Queensland residents and hence is not fully representative of Queensland’s population. The study is descriptive in nature and there is a need for explanatory research to validate key findings on demographics.ImplicationsThe research has several policy implications. The cost competitiveness of both solar and wind technology over coal-fired generation needs to be emphasised. Furthermore, altruistic appeals such as benefiting future generations may also be effective. Commercial marketing techniques may be useful in boosting support for emerging renewable energy resources, such as geo-thermal and fuel cell technology, amongst females. It is recommended that misconceptions about coal-fired power be addressed, for instance through community-based programs, if Australia is to make a transition to a low-carbon electricity market. ContributionThis article represents an attempt to examine the attitudes of regional Australians towards a wide range of energy resources and show, by drawing on the literature on social acceptance, the key factors that underpin support for renewable energy.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberSB-2018-0026
Pages (from-to)253-275
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Business
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • Renewable Energy
  • Fossil Fuels
  • Climate Change
  • Social Acceptance


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