It’s a case of learned helplessness: People are giving up on conserving energy because they think there’s nothing they can do. (Fortunately, there are steps that utilities can take to change this.)
Although residential electricity consumption is increasing, a national survey finds Americans blame their utility or their inefficient home for their rising energy bills rather than putting the blame on themselves for using more power.
The survey, conducted by Knoxville-based Shelton Group, found Americans are more likely to blame an inefficient home — 25% think their homes are inefficient — or utilities (18%), and not their own demand for energy (12%). Even worse, many of those who’ve changed habits or made energy efficient improvements say their utility bills have remained the same, or gone up.
“We’re seeing an unfortunate consumer tendency to avoid responsibility for wasting energy. Instead, more people are blaming outside forces over which they feel they have little or no control,” said Suzanne Shelton, CEO of Shelton Group. “It’s a case of learned helplessness: People are giving up on conserving energy because they think there’s nothing they can do.”
The national poll, Shelton’s eighth annual Energy Pulse™ survey, found 80% of Americans think they’re using the same or less energy than in the past. Yet residential electricity consumption has actually increased, according to government statistics.
Shelton’s survey also found:
— Consumers have a high tolerance for bill increases. When asked how much their bill would have to increase to force them to make energy efficient renovations, the average answer was $120. Based on the average reported winter heating bill ($162.80), this would be a 74% increase; or a 73% increase over the average reported summer cooling bill ($164.50).
— Americans have increasingly unrealistic expectations for returns on energy efficient improvement investments. When asked how much they would have to save to justify spending $4,000 on energy efficient improvements, expectations were beyond realistic —$139 per month. That works out to an annual savings of $1,668, or a reduction of approximately 85%, based on the average reported utility bill. There was a significant jump in the number of Americans expecting to knock more than $200 off their monthly energy bills – up 10% this year to 16%. This would require a homeowner to be nearly off the grid, generating his or her own energy.
— The propensity to make energy efficient product purchases is generally down from last year. Improvements with the highest propensities include a solar system (with 32% saying they are likely or very likely to install one, up 8% over last year), new water heater (15%, down 5%), and windows (15%, down 3%).
— When offered a solar energy lease option, requiring no money down, interest jumped to over 60%. This increased desire for solar connects back to consumers’ desire for an 85% reduction in monthly bills. Installing solar is, most likely, the only way most could achieve such a reduction. This may be another clue to some Americans’ emerging desire to pull away from today’s centralized energy systems and establish personal energy independence.
What about the many other Americans who have given up trying to conserve energy? Shelton says utilities could take several steps to get Americans back on the bandwagon, including:
— Providing more smart meters and energy monitoring tools to get consumers more engaged and educated on their energy consumption.
— Offering incentives that reward multiple energy-efficient improvements, rather than one-off improvements, to help homeowners reach the number of actions required to see a real reduction in their bill.
— Shifting to time-of-use billing to give homeowners new incentive to conserve energy at peak-use times.
“It’s all about giving consumers a feeling of control,” Shelton said. “Americans want power over their utility bills, and right now, they feel they don’t have that.”
About Shelton Group
Shelton Group is the nation’s leading marketing communications agency entirely focused in the energy-efficiency and sustainability space. The firm studies Americans on an ongoing basis and tracks their shifting attitudes and motivations around efficiency and sustainability and uses those insights to help some of America’s most progressive companies define and leverage their sustainability stories to gain a market advantage.