Thursday, August 18

Consumers Want Clean Energy as Much as They Want Cheap Energy, New Results Suggest

The results of the latest University of Michigan Energy Survey, released Jan. 26, suggest that Americans are equally concerned about the environmental impacts of their energy sources and their affordability.

This marks the first-year result of the study, which has been carried out quarterly. It examines consumer attitudes toward the affordability, reliability and environmental impact of energy, as well as their individual concerns.

“This new survey is unique in how it examines personal concerns about energy as consumers view it in their everyday lives,” survey director John DeCicco, a research professor at the U-M Energy Institute, said in a statement. “This careful approach differs from surveys that prompt consumers for their responses on the often politically driven energy debates of the day.”

Sustainability Concerns

Among the survey’s participants, 59% said that they worry “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about the environmental impacts of energy generation and usage. That means sustainability slightly edged out pricing (which 55% said they worry about to the same degree) as the top concern.

That result, perhaps surprisingly, held even across varied income brackets.

Opinions on the importance of environmental impact did vary, however, based on region. Residents in the Northeast worried the most about environmental factors; there, 68% of the consumers surveyed worried at least “a fair amount.” In the South and West, that figure was only 56%. The Midwest was level to the national average at 59%.

“Many energy consumers desire effective ways to meet their energy demands with less costly, environmentally friendly, and sustainable energy sources,” says Duane Gereski of Starion Energy. “The future remains bright for continued development of alternative energy (like wind, hydro-power, and solar); and even perfecting methods that store eco-friendly energy for on demand usage.”

Thoughts on Costs

Of course, cost remained an important part of most people’s views on energy consumption. But a very large majority of the participants felt that energy costs are currently affordable. Averaged nationally, 93% of respondents said that home energy is affordable, and 95% said that gasoline is affordable (even though the survey results were collected before the steep decline in fuel prices that recently occurred).

Predictably, income heavily influenced consumers’ views of what prices would be considered affordable. Low- and middle-income consumers said that they would consider their home energy costs unaffordable if they doubled, while high-income consumers said their costs would need to triple to reach that threshold. And while consumers in general were more sensitive to gasoline price changes than home energy prices, there was also a $1 difference in the figure these different income levels set as the point at which gasoline would become unaffordable ($5.60 per gallon versus $6.60 per gallon).

Lower-income consumers also expressed a more pessimistic view of the future of energy costs. About a third (32%) of low-income consumers said they thought home energy bills would be unaffordable in five years, as opposed to 18% of middle-income consumers and only 10% of high-income consumers.

The full report is available online.

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