Americans need new incentives to save energy at home

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A national poll released in 2011 finds new incentives will be needed to persuade Americans to make energy-efficient improvements to their homes.

Beginning in 2011, tax incentives that once rewarded Americans for energy-efficient improvements were slashed. For many Americans, the survey found, those incentives were a prime reason for making such improvements as replacing windows, adding insulation and buying energy-efficient appliances.

The survey found:

almost one quarter (23%) of Americans who made energy-efficient improvements said they’d received a rebate or financial incentive. Of those, most said they’d received either a utility rebate (41%) or a federal tax incentive (39%).
A full 25% of respondents said they wouldn’t have acted without the incentive, and
another 7% said the incentive encouraged them to pay slightly more for a higher-efficiency model.

“That means at a minimum, about one third of Americans who made their homes more energy efficient would likely not have done so if it weren’t for the incentives,” said Suzanne Shelton, president of Shelton Group.

The new tax law chops incentives from 30 percent to 10 percent of costs for many improvements — reducing the maximum cumulative credit from $1,500 to $500. In addition, there are now lower caps such as $200 for energy efficient windows, compared to $1,500 in credits before.

“That means utilities, manufacturers and retailers are going to have to step up their incentives and get a lot more creative and targeted in marketing energy efficiency,” Shelton said.

SMART Meter Support

There is significant interest in time-of-use billing plans, smart meters and online energy information management systems. Over half of respondents, if given access to more information about their energy use, said they would utilize it regularly to try to shift or reduce their consumption. That includes 61% who are interested in receiving a smart meter that would notify the utility if they lose power and offer more information about when they were using electricity.

When it comes to meeting customer needs, many utilities fear the vocal minority, Shelton said. “They’re concerned about resistance to smart meters and slow to roll out time-of-use billing. As a result, utilities are missing out on a huge opportunity to help people take control of their energy use by giving them the information they need and the choices they want.

· Asked what specifically they’ve done to save energy, the largest percentages of Americans had replaced most incandescent bulbs with CFL’s (63% of homeowners and 61% of renters), added sealing/caulking/weather-stripping (55% of homeowners and 29% of renters), purchased ENERGY STAR appliances (49% homeowners; 38% renters) or added insulation (36% owners; 27% renters).

Source: ENERGY STAR and Natural Resources Defense Council

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