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Americans Significantly Overestimate Renewable Energy’s Role in Powering the Nation

Oct. 26, 2016
Makovsky Survey Reveals How Consumers Make Energy Decisions and the Information Sources and Channels They Trust the Most

Americans considerably overestimate renewable energy’s role in the U.S.’s overall energy use; base their energy decisions on societal impacts; have the most trust in the solar industry; and get a majority of their energy information from television news. These are just a few of the insights from a new national survey and corresponding report by Makovsky, an integrated communications consultancy. The report, How Americans Make Energy Decisions, offers an instructive look into where U.S. consumers think energy comes from; how they make energy consumption decisions; which channels they turn to for information; and which energy sources they trust the most.

The survey of over 1,000 adults from across the U.S., representing varied political viewpoints, a wide range of age groups and diverse income levels, shows that:

Americans overestimate the contribution of renewable energy in powering the U.S. and underestimate the role of coal, oil and natural gas now and in the future. In 2016, solar and wind together made up just 3% of U.S. energy consumption, while survey respondents put the figure at 20%. Furthermore, respondents predict that wind and solar will make up 34% of energy consumption in five years; however, the experts predict that they will be less than 5% of our energy consumption. Conversely, respondents perceived fossil fuels to be a much lower percentage of the energy mix than they are today and projected them to be even less in five years.

“There’s an imbalance between perception and reality with regard to renewable energy’s role in the American energy economy. Consumers are hearing a lot about the rapid growth of solar and wind, but perception will not start to become reality until after 2025—the projected peak year for coal, gas and oil. Nevertheless, what our data indicates is that the renewable energy industry has done a better job of communicating its successes and they are winning the minds of Americans,” said Andy Beck, Executive Vice President of Energy, Manufacturing and Sustainability at Makovsky.

Energy efficiency ranked as the “most important/absolutely essential” energy solution for the future, according to multiple generations.

Decisions on energy use are driven more by “how society will be impacted” than “personal impact”. More than half of respondents (53%) indicate societal impact is more important in energy use decision-making than personal impact (38%). Where societal considerations take precedence, most often energy choices are driven by concerns for the environment (29%), health (27%) and future generations (26%). For those whose energy choices are motivated by personal impact, more weight is placed on financial concerns (58%) than personal health aspects (42%).

Americans actively seek and pay attention to energy news on a wide range of topics and what’s happening in the industry. More than half of those surveyed (57%) report getting information or hearing about energy issues a few times a week.

TV news stands out as the go-to energy information resource, while Americans say they rarely visit corporate websites. The majority of respondents (72%) say they receive most of their energy information from television news. Online news (49%) and newspapers or magazines (41%) were the next most frequently cited information sources. Millennials, GenX and Baby Boomers response for online news was about the same, but Baby Boomer where much higher than Millennials with regard to receiving information from newspapers and magazines. Importantly, very few respondents said that they view corporate websites (6%) as sources of information.

“The wide gap between TV news and industry websites highlights the need for energy companies to re-evaluate their website content and user experience as well as the critical need to use video to better educate and influence Americans,” commented Beck.

Consumers consider the solar industry most trustworthy for information—the natural gas industry is a close second and the coal industry ranks last.

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