The vast majority of China’s urban consumers are willing to pay higher bills to buy “green electricity” from renewable sources like wind, solar or biomass, a recent survey commissioned by the China Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA) has found.
Th survey, by the market research firm Ipsos, found that 97.6 per cent of respondents favoured using green electricity to tackle air pollution, and that 44 per cent of those surveyed were willing to accept a 10 yuan (US$1.50) increase in their monthly bills for a greater share of green energy.
But energy sector experts warn that consumer power in China’s utilities sector is too weak to produce a decisive shift in China’s energy mix, despite plentiful sources of clean power.
China’s “green electricity” sector generating from wind, solar and biomass has grown fast, and China now has more combined wind and solar generation capacity than any other country in the world. Yet nearly three quarters of China’s electricity in 2015 came from thermal power stations burning coal, causing air pollution and carbon emissions.
Interviewees in all cities expressed concern over environmental issues, with over 40 per cent “very concerned” about China’s environment. Concern about China’s dirty air motivated 85.6 per cent of respondents, while 44.2 per cent cited worries about climate change.
Attitudes to “green electricity” were strongly linked to disgust at China’s air pollution; more than 90 per cent of interviewees thought green electricity would help reduce pollution.
The survey found a strong willingness to purchase “green electricity”. Over 90 per cent (97.6 per cent) said they were willing to buy it, and 40.7 per cent said they definitely would. Willingness to pay more was stronger in Beijing than elsewhere.
Consumers also strongly supported showing the source of electricity on electricity bills. However, Chinese consumers cannot choose their supplier, unlike some consumers in the US and Europe, so, they cannot “vote with their wallets” to support the development of clean and renewable sources of energy.
The majority of interviewees (90.6 per cent) said they were willing to pay more for “green electricity”, with more than 40 per cent ready to accept a monthly increase of 10-30 yuan, which is more than 10 per cent of the average household electricity bill of roughly 100 yuan a month.
Earlier research has found that the Chinese public is willing to incur significant extra costs for the sake of clean air, given that consumers already spend that on such items as domestic air purifiers. The current survey seems to support that finding. And this willingness is stronger than levels in the developed economies of the UK or US.
In order to achieve its climate targets, the EU requires member states to be drawing 20 per cent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.
A 2015 survey of UK households found that almost half (48 per cent) “would pay more on their monthly energy bill” to fund investment in green electricity. A second study, by Riccardo Scarpa and others of the University of Waikato found a majority of UK households value green electricity enough to pay more, though not enough to shoulder the costs of micro-generators such as home solar panels.
In 2014, researchers in the US found that about half (52 per cent) of respondents were willing to buy green electricity. An earlier review by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory of 20 years of research by electricity companies found the public preferred and were supportive of renewable sources of electricity than other sources, but knew little about the technologies involved.