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Study Finds Many Americans Miscalculate Relative Value of Energy Saving Steps


Latest News > Green Building News

December 8 — A recent online survey conducted by researchers from Columbia, Ohio State and Carnegie Mellon Universities indicates that although many Americans want to save energy, they frequently under- or over-estimate the value of the actions they take.

In general, people seem to think of saving energy as they do saving money, says Felicity Barringer in the New York Times "Green" blog. They think, "they can save by simply reducing use, the study found. But the biggest energy savings are tied to replacing things that use a lot of energy with things that use far less," she wrote.

For example, participants thought:
  • Line-drying clothes saves more energy than changing the settings on the washer. The reverse is true.
  • Central air conditioners use 1.3 times the energy of a room air-conditioner. They use 3.5 times as much.

The energy savings actions that participants cited most often in the survey—turning off lights, using public transportation, lowering thermostats in the home, opting to change lifestyles or not have children—result in far less energy savings than activities, like driving a more fuel-efficient car, cited by many fewer participants.

"Notwithstanding a few bright spots (e.g., knowing roughly how much energy is saved by a CFL), participants in this study exhibited relatively little knowledge regarding the comparative energy use and potential savings related to different behaviors. Relative to experts' recommendations, participants were overly focused on curtailment rather than efficiency, possibly because efficiency improvements almost always involve research, effort, and out-of- pocket costs (e.g., buying a new energy-efficient appliance), whereas curtailment may be easier to imagine and incorporate into one's daily behaviors without any upfront costs," the study states.

The reasons for these public misperceptions aren't entirely clear. Contributing factors likely include inaccurate or unclear information being conveyed by the government and media and that, "Many people's concerns about energy are simply not strong enough, relative to their other concerns, to warrant learning about energy conservation," says the report.

Read the New York Times "Green" blog here.

See the complete research report here.