Utility-scale solar installations: social license to operate in Australia

The project involved undertaking comprehensive research to develop an understanding of the public knowledge and attitudes towards utility-scale solar projects.

Lead organisation:
Ipsos Social Research Institute
Artarmon, NSW
Hybrid and enabling technologies
ARENA program:
Former Australian Solar Institute initiatives and programs
Start date:
December 2012
Finish date:
February 2015


While past research undertaken by Ipsos SRI indicates broad support within the community for development of solar energy, there was a need to develop a comprehensive view on the public’s knowledge and attitudes towards utility-scale solar specifically.

This study set out to inform industry’s understanding of:

  • public perceptions of the cost of alternative methods of energy generation
  • public perceptions of the role of solar energy as a source of energy for Australia
  • drivers and barriers to the acceptability of utility-scale solar installations.

There has been a lack of guidance and information for solar energy project developers on the most appropriate practices and procedures to use in achieving a social license to operate for large scale solar projects.

Project innovation

No comprehensive research into public perceptions of the acceptability of utility-scale solar installations has been undertaken in Australia or internationally.

This research used both qualitative and quantitative research methods to break new ground in setting out the preconditions and best practice principles for community consultation that will help the solar industry streamline the project development process, thereby assisting in the development and acceleration of solar projects in Australia.


Understanding the necessary preconditions for community acceptance (also known as a social license to operate) will advance the commercial deployment of solar energy by allowing the industry to:

  • anticipate public concerns about utility-scale installations
  • prioritise communications to address the benefits and perceived drawbacks of solar energy
  • facilitate standard development processes that allow more installations to be undertaken
  • implement effective engagement plans in communities near installations
  • design installations that meet stakeholder requirements

By reducing headwinds in project implementation, the outcomes of the research will facilitate a reduction in the transaction costs involved in utility-scale solar projects.

Achievements and lessons learned

The project met its objective of achieving a comprehensive understanding on the public’s attitude towards the development and use of solar energy including the development of utility scale solar installations.

The best practice guidelines and summary guidelines will assist the solar industry in identifying the key areas for consultation. These include outlining the economic, social and environmental benefits as well as planning and operational requirements. These consultative processes will assist in reducing some of the approval and regulatory barriers and expedite the development of utility scale solar projects.

Ipsos report cover: Establishing the social licence to operate large scale solar facilities in Australia: insights from social research for industryReport

Establishing the social licence to operate large scale solar facilities in Australia: insights from social research for industry – Full report (PDF 539KB)

Summary report (PDF 273KB)

* Methodology: 1,197 adults living across Australia participated in an online survey. Fifteen focus groups involving 109 people were held in a variety of metropolitan and regional locations and 36 interviews were conducted with other community members and solar project stakeholders.

More information

Media release – 25 May 2015: New community consultation guidelines for large scale solar projects

Contact information

Jennifer Brook | Stuart Clark
jennifer.brook@ipsos.com | stuart.clark@ipsos.com