Pew Research Center study shows Americans support using a diverse mix of energy resources even as society decarbonizes.
High voltage power supply and power line. iStock/lovelyday12
A recent Pew Research Center study found a majority of Americans support transitioning to a carbon-neutral society by 2050. But the same study also found they support using a diverse mix of energy sources—including fossil fuels and renewables—to get there. More than 67 percent of Americans say that fossil fuels should remain in the fuel mix alongside renewables, compared to just 31 percent who support phasing them out completely. These findings echo learnings from polling conducted by Morning Consult for EPSA, which showed that 79% of Americans support maintaining some existing generating facilities, like natural gas plants, as backup options to renewable energy sources to ensure reliability.
In recent years, there has been an uptick in “100 percent renewable” pledges and net zero goal setting, but these polling results show that most Americans aren’t on board with such a one-size-fits-all approach, especially if it means sacrificing reliability. It also shows that the public appears to understand grid reliability better than many advocates.
Natural gas will continue to play a critical role in power grids, providing vast amounts of cost-effective energy whenever it is needed and providing an irreplaceable backstop to intermittent sources like wind and solar. Keeping our power system equipped with a range of dispatchable, low-emission and cost-effective power sources enables our economy’s ability to keep churning without jeopardizing reliability.
This will be especially critical as the electrification of the economy moves forward. We will demand more from our power grids as transportation and industries electrify—driving higher overall demand, increasing the need for flexibility, and raising the stakes for reliability. The energy system must keep pace.
This issue played out in the geopolitical landscape a year ago as energy scarcity and geopolitical tensions unfolded, leading to inflation and supply chain challenges. The U.S. economy was impacted, but not as negatively as Europe’s, which experienced energy shortages that led to skyrocketing prices, chronic supply chain problems, significant inflation, and mounting job losses.
High energy prices and supply constraints weren’t as severe in the United States as they were in Europe due to the U.S.’s strong energy production and highly diversified electricity sector—which relies on a resilient mixture of wind, solar, hydropower, nuclear, coal, natural gas, and more.
As electrification continues to rise and drive increased demand to the power system, we will need more – not fewer – sources of energy. Renewables, storage, natural gas generation, and other technologies like carbon capture will be needed to drive emissions reductions, and dispatchable energy and battery storage will be needed to back up intermittent resources that still depend on favorable weather conditions to generate energy. Investments and advancements in renewable and clean energy technology must continue.
Not only are fossil fuels like natural gas the most affordable option in many cases, but they offer irreplaceable flexibility as dispatchable resources that can be deployed whenever the grid needs them—not just when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.
During recent Winter Storm Elliott, many homes in New England preserved power amid freezing temperatures only using propane and other heating fuels. Similarly, California relies overwhelmingly on natural gas to meet energy demand during heat waves, despite having one of the nation’s largest portfolios of renewable energy.
Emerging technologies like energy storage will play a key role, but it will likely be some time before they can fully replace the dispatchable resources relied upon today.
Americans require a power system that can deliver amidst economic growth and changing weather patterns, ensure reliability, and foster innovation now and into the future.
That means an all-of-the-above power mix—and Pew’s latest findings make it clear that the majority of Americans agree.