By Michael Sanserino, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Energy efficiency is a priority for 79 percent of Americans, according to a poll released by the University of Texas. But nearly two-thirds believe political “squabbling” is the biggest barrier to increased energy efficiency.
While most people are concerned about the environmental impact of high energy use, the biggest motivator for energy efficiency is savings, according to the UT Energy Poll, a scientific survey of 2,133 U.S. residents age 18 and older conducted March 3-17.
“People pay attention to what affects them personally first,” said Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the UT Energy Poll. “Price seems to be the primary driver.”
Most Americans expect their energy bills to rise. Sixty-seven percent of those polled said they expect the portion of their household budget spent on energy to rise, and more than half of all Americans expect prices to rise for gasoline (78 percent), electricity (64 percent), heating oil (60 percent) and natural gas (60 percent) in the next six months.
That, Kirshenbaum, and increased media attention on energy efficiency — from appliances to cars — has made it more of a priority for Americans. In the previous UT Energy Poll, conducted in September 2013, 72 percent of those polled said energy efficiency was a priority.
When asked to select the top three reasons they purchase energy-efficient products, 75 percent of Americans said it helps them lower their energy bills. Forty-two percent said they do it because it helps the environment.
Though about 4 in 5 of those polled said they viewed energy efficiency as a “priority,” just 63 percent of people said they plan to seek more information about ways to decrease their energy use in the next six months.
Most polled said the home appliance and retail industry was most to credit for the proliferation of energy-efficient goods — 60 percent of respondents said the industry has made a “significant contribution.” Only 31 percent of respondents said the federal government made a significant contribution, while 30 percent of respondents said the same about state and local governments.
Some of that anti-government sentiment could be a matter of timing, Kirshenbaum said.
“We’re also asking this right before the midterm elections of an administration that has been around for a long time,” she said. “It’s not usually a popular time for government.”
Despite the pessimism about the government and the belief in rising prices, more Americans believe the United States will be in a better energy situation 25 years from now than it is today. According to the poll, 36 percent believe the US will be better off in 25 years, compared with 29 percent who believe it will be worse. In the previous version of the poll, 27 percent believed the U.S. would be better while 38 percent believed it would be worse.
The UT Energy Poll was published in conjunction with a similar poll of energy professionals conducted by OurEnergyPolicy.org. According to that study, 82 percent of energy professionals view energy efficiency as a priority while 65 percent also viewed political problems as a significant barrier.
Kirshenbaum said she believes more Americans need to be educated about energy issues. Just 3 percent of UT Energy Poll respondents said energy policy was the most important area for the U.S. government to invest tax dollars. Job creation was first at 28 percent and Social Security was second at 15 percent.
“Every single challenge we face from any sector — to climate change, to how we get our food — these are all energy topics,” she said.