Why is U.S. Energy Efficiency Stalling?

Why are more Americans relaxing energy efficiency? Maybe because they’re too comfortable setting their sights too low.

The venerable polltakers quizzed over 2,000 Americans for a week in February and found less of them are turning off lights, replacing appliances, going low-watt and taking shorter showers than in years past. They still constitute a majority over those who do no such things — 75 percent this year versus 79 percent last year and 82 percent in 2012 — but it is nevertheless a “diminishing” one.

Filtered by gender, women beat men in reducing hot water 46 percent to 33 percent, while men have taken more pains to seal inefficient floor gaps and buy smart TVs. Variations also occurred regionally, notably in the drought-ridden West, which installed way more low-flow showerheads than their less parched American compatriots in the East, Midwest and South. Yet still all of the Americans that Harris polled “would appear to have their wires crossed,” because 62 percent considered themselves literate in energy and efficiency, despite the fact that a paltry 11 percent of them have actually conducted an energy audit or evaluation.

“Even though understanding of energy sources remains at historical levels, in the last few years fewer consumers are taking steps to reduce energy consumption in their homes,” spokesperson Carol M. Gstalder hedged in a statement. “As energy prices drop, so do consumers’ commitment to energy-saving decisions from replacing light bulbs and water heaters to installing solar.”

Speaking of, Harris Poll found that solar energy kicked butt on every other form of energy it suggested to respondents. Seventy-eight percent felt that solar’s benefit outweighed its risk — what, if any, there is — while 69 percent of respondents felt it is the best energy technology for the environment overall. Wind predictably arrived closely in second place, with 75 percent of respondents feeling that its benefit outweighed its marginally higher risk, while 60 percent felt it had the most positive environmental impact.

Meanwhile, much less efficient (and much dirtier) also-rans like natural gas, nukes, coal and oil struggled to gain popularity. (No one understood biomass enough to make an impression. Poor biomass.)

But it is indeed America’s aging, creaking demographics –from what Harris calls “Matures” to better-known “Baby Boomers” — who tend to think that natural gas and coal actually have a future. It’s not a stretch to argue, without the use of the Harris Poll, that it is Generation X, starved of the green leadership they have deserved since the Reagan Revolution crashed into the Great Recession, and Millennials want most to run America on solar and wind.

Which one hopes is the ultimate point of all of this data mining in the first place. Let’s cross our fingers that The Harris Poll is indeed as “highly regarded throughout the world” as it says it is, because the statistical common sense it is receiving from the American people, especially on solar and wind, desperately needs to be translated into immediate policy and financial support, from Main Street and Wall Street to Congress and the White House.

This article appeared at Solar Energy

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