Environment pulls ahead of affordability as Americans’ top energy-related concern

In our very first survey, taken in October 2013, we were surprised to find that consumers were at least as worried about the impact of energy on the environment as they were about its affordability. The number of respondents who said that they were concerned either “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about the environmental impact of energy was 60 (±5) percent. At the same time, the number who expressed the same levels of concern about the affordability of energy was 55 (±5) percent.

Although ecology edged out the wallet numerically, the difference was not statistically significant in our initial sample of 500 U.S. households. For that reason, we reported an essentially equal level of consumer anxiety about these two energy-related concerns, a finding that was noteworthy in and of itself.

As time went on and each new quarterly U-M Energy Survey was taken, the environmental concern retained its edge. And now, with five quarterly samples and a total of 2,500 consumer interviews, concern about the environment clearly beats concern about affordability, 60 (±2) percent to 55 (±2) percent.

concerns-thru-oct-2014These response trends are shown in the graph above. The shaded areas around each curve represent the 95% confidence intervals. Given the consistency of the responses, the error bands narrowed as the cumulative sample grew, revealing the separation between the degree of concern about the impact of energy on the environment and that about energy affordability.

The level of anxiety about the reliability of energy has consistently trailed that of the other two issues. Based on the five quarters of data, 32 (±2) percent of consumers said they had either “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about the reliability of the energy they use in their everyday lives.

Moreover, the data show that a relatively high number of respondents say they worry “a great deal” about the impact of energy on the environment. In other words, the environmental concern appears to be more intense than the concern about affordability, reflecting the strong feelings that many consumers must have about the issue.

We did find regional differences in the levels of concern. For one, consumers in the South are less likely to believe that energy affects the environment by at least a fair amount than those in the Northeast. At the same time, consumers in the Northeast are more likely to personally worry about the environmental impact of energy than those in other regions.

We also examined how concerns about the affordability, reliability and environmental impact of energy differed according to a consumer’s household income. Not surprisingly, the levels of anxiety about energy costs and reliability both decline as household income rises. In contrast, concern about the environmental impact of energy is steady across all income classes.

For further details on these findings, get the report here or by clicking on the download button above.