Americans Eager to Save Energy If Actions are Affordable

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, January 14, 2009 (ENS) – Many Americans want to save energy at home and when they travel, if they can afford to do so, Yale University said today, releasing the results of a new public opinion poll.

Based on a nationally representative survey of more than 2,100 Americans conducted in September and October, the poll shows that cost is the highest barrier preventing Americans from taking more energy-saving actions.

“Overall, many Americans are ready, willing and able to save energy at home and on the road. Many others are ready and willing, but need some help,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change and lead investigator on the survey. “A national strategy to conserve energy and invest in energy efficiency will find the American people a willing partner.”

“Simply not being able to afford to take the action is by far the most pervasive barrier to improving energy efficiency in American homes and cars,” Yale said in a statement accompanying the survey results. This is especially true for people who currently have functional, but energy-inefficient, home heating and cooling systems or cars.

The report concludes that reducing this barrier “may require developing a different financial model to help people to take these actions.” As an example, Yale points to the way mobile phone providers eliminate upfront costs by financing the cost of the phone through the monthly service fees.”

“These data make clear that large numbers of Americans are eager to use less energy and that they have many and varied reasons for doing so,” said Edward Maibach, professor and director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication and co-principal investigator on the research.

The solar panels on this Boulder, Colorado home will meet nearly 100 percent of the homeowner’s annual electric needs. (Photo by Cecile Warner courtesy NREL)

“We think this survey also lays to rest the notion that Americans feel that saving energy somehow involves sacrifice,” Maibach said. “Quite the contrary, far more people believe that saving energy will improve the quality of their lives.”

While saving money is the most common reason why people take energy-saving actions such as insulating and weatherizing their homes, installing solar panels, setting their thermostats to more energy-efficient levels and buying a more fuel-efficient car, many respondents said they also were motivated to reduce global warming, because it is the moral thing to do, or because these actions make them feel good about themselves.

Overall, roughly half of respondents say they have already made energy-efficiency improvements to their homes, while many others say they intend to do so in the next 12 months.

“A national strategy to conserve energy and invest in energy efficiency will find the American people a willing partner,” Yale states in the report.

A separate analysis released today by the Electric Power Research Institute shows that energy efficiency programs in the United States could offer a substantial payoff in reducing electricity demand. The rate of growth for electricity consumption could be cut by 22 percent over the next two decades if barriers to consumer action can be addressed.

A nonprofit research organization based in Palo Alto, California, EPRI is made up of utilities that generate and deliver more than 90 percent of U.S. electricity.

The demand for electricity over the next two decades could be reduced from the 1.07 percent annual growth rate projected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in its 2008 Annual Energy Outlook down to 0.83 percent, slowing the rate of increase by about 22 percent, EPRI says.

The potential energy savings in 2030 would be 236 billion kilowatt hours, an amount of energy that EPRI compares to the annual electricity consumption of New York City times 14.

“This study is well suited to inform utilities, policymakers, regulators, and other stakeholder groups,” said Arshad Mansoor, vice president of power delivery and utilization for EPRI.

“Estimates of energy efficiency potential affect forecasts of electricity demand,” he said, “and electric utilities must make prudent investments in generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure to reliably and cost-effectively address this demand.”

The analysis comes at a time when utilities, regulators, and policymakers are seeking ways to meet growing electricity demand while reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. The emission of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from human activities such as burning fossil fuels to generate power is the main driver of global warming.

The report defines what EPRI calls “a realistic achievable figure that includes a forecast of likely customer behavior, taking into account existing market, societal and attitudinal barriers as well as regulatory and program funding barriers.”

EPRI says barriers could reflect “customers’ resistance to doing more than the minimum required or a rejection of the attributes of the efficient technology.”

The key challenge, EPRI says, is to “maximize potential gains in energy efficiency while ensuring adequate new electric generation to maintain reliability and meet future demand.”

The EPRI analysis, “Assessment of Achievable Savings Potential From Energy Efficiency and Demand Response in the U.S.,” found that under an ideal set of conditions, the consumption growth rate could be further reduced to as low as 0.68 percent annually by 2030.

Achieving that ideal would require costly investments as well as political and regulatory support, EPRI concludes.

The Yale survey, “Saving Energy at Home and on the Road: A Survey of Americans’ Energy Saving Behaviors, Intentions, Motivations, and Barriers [],” was funded by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, the Surdna Foundation, the Eleventh Hour Project, and the Pacific Foundation. Respondents completed two separate questionnaires, two weeks apart, using the nationally representative online panel of Knowledge Networks. The margin of error for the survey was +/- 2 percent.

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