Are Consumers Getting Tired of Hearing about Green Energy?

Are Consumers Getting Tired of Hearing about Green Energy?

American consumers say they continue to strongly favor solar power, wind turbines and greener cars as energy solutions, but their overall support for clean energy concepts is eroding, Pike Research finds.

The slippage is among the more striking trends seen in the latest Energy & Environment Consumer Survey from Pike, which annually queries U.S. adults about  their perceptions and awareness of energy concepts.

From 2009 to 2011, the average favorability rating for various solutions fell from an initial 50 percent to 43 percent, according to recently released findings of a survey conducted late last year.

Solar power, wind energy, hybrids and electric cars are the four most favored concepts for a third year in a row. Cap and trade, LEED certification and carbon offsets and credits received the fewest favorable responses.

Here's a look at the favorability trends for 13 concepts and solutions based on responses from the more than 1,000 people who participated in the 2011 survey:

Researchers made a distinction between favorability perceptions and the responses made when consumers were specifically asked to consider whether they view each concept as being unfavorable. That question produced a slightly different lineup. Carbon offsets and credits, nuclear power and cap and trade were deemed the most unfavorable solutions. Here's a look at those trends:

In a white paper on the results, Pike said its survey "did not probe consumers on why they responded as they did," but added that "the increase in unfavorable ratings was not as steep as the decrease in favorable ratings ... suggesting that consumer support for clean energy concepts is waning, but is not necessarily turning into animosity."

From my seat in the bleachers, the reason for the apparent ebb in support for clean energy concepts remains an open and an important question. Is it a concern over potential costs? Lack of knowledge about payback periods and possible savings? Weariness or confusion over energy issues? Purveyors and advocates of various solutions could get a better handle on how to slow or reverse the slippage with a little more information.

The findings do suggest, however, that better information or messaging about some concepts, such as carbon management and building efficiency, could boost favorability trends.

Here are other takeaways from the survey findings:

Energy Concepts -- The responses to energy sourcing questions related to solar, wind, "clean coal" and nuclear power were "generally positive," the white paper said. The report emphasized, however, that nuclear power remains a highly controversial subject and, of the four concepts, respondents said they know the least about clean coal.

In an interesting aside, the report also noted: "While it is commonly assumed that younger consumers are more enthusiastic about renewable energy technologies, the percentage of favorable responses in the under 30 age segment was 8 points lower than in the 45-64 segment."

Smart Grid -- Consumers could use more education on what the smart grid is, how they can be connected to it and the benefits it can bring. "As with carbon management and building efficiency topics, what stood out in the survey results for the smart grid and smart meters was the high number of respondents reporting they were unfamiliar with the concepts," the report said.

Carbon Management -- A significant number of respondents said they are unfamiliar with cap and trade (36 percent) and carbon offsets and credits (29 percent). Of those who said they knew about the concepts, 22 to 25 percent said the solutions are unfavorable. "This consumer reaction is interesting given that these concepts are designed to be utilized by businesses; it may be that some negative media coverage has drawn consumer attention to these topics," said the report.

In viewing survey results in context with the age, income and education of respondents, researcher said: "Both cap and trade and carbon offsets/credits were better received by younger consumers and consumers in the higher income level."

Building Efficiency and LEED Certification -- Here's another area where providing more education for the public could pay off. Forty-five percent of consumers are "simply unfamiliar with this green building certification program," said the report. Despite its position as a market leader among green building programs in the United States, LEED and programs like it "have yet to draw significant attention outside of the real estate industry and penetrate the mass market," the report said. On a positive note, consumer awareness of LEED has increased slightly since 2010, when 53 percent said they were unfamiliar with the concept, the report added.

The report is available for free download with registration from Pike.

 Photo of solar power installation via Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: Don't miss VERGE DC (March 14-16) convening senior executives and thought leaders at the intersection of technologies and services related to energy, information, buildings, and transportation.