Seasonal trends in how consumers feel about the reliability of energy

When we look at what consumers are telling us about various aspects of energy use over time, we sometimes find little trend in the responses. That’s the case for how Americans feel about the reliability of the energy they use in their everyday lives, for example.

One of our Energy Survey questions is, “Considering all sources of energy you usually use in everyday life, how reliable would you say they are — not at all reliable, slightly reliable, moderately reliable, or very reliable?” A prior post on the topic described how answers varied according to income; no surprise, lower income consumers found energy to be less reliable than higher income consumers found it to be. But as a chart in that post shows, consumers’ average views on the topic have changed very little over time. American’s feel that energy is quite reliable overall, and their overall perceptions of reliability are about the same now as when we launched the survey in Fall 2013.

Nevertheless, we do see a lot of variability in the responses from quarter-to-quarter. That made us ask whether there might be a seasonal pattern in the how consumers view reliability. In fact, statistical tests do reveal that a seasonality effect is significant. When surveyed in the summer and winter, consumers report that they find energy to be less reliable than they say it is when surveyed in the spring and fall. The results are shown in the following chart.

The average responses are plotted on a zero-to-ten scale, where zero represents response of “not at all reliable” and ten represents “very reliable.” The winter and summer responses, based on samples taken in January and July, respectively, both averaged 9.0 with margins of error of about ±0.05. In contrast, the fall (October) responses averaged 9.1 (±0.04) and the spring (April samples) responses tallied to 9.2 (±0.05) on average over the 18 quarterly energy surveys made to date.

Thus, when surveyed in winter and summer, consumers felt that their energy was slightly, but significantly in a statistical sense, less reliable than when surveyed in spring and fall. Given the months in which the seasonal surveys are made, the responses would reflect consumers’ recent experiences. The limited time allotted for the survey means we cannot probe why consumers answer in a particular way. However, we suspect that the winter and summer samples capture the effects of winter storms and, in the summer, perhaps both thunderstorms and other weather conditions that can cause electrical outages due to peak power loads from air-conditioning in hot weather. In contrast, most of the country generally experiences milder weather conditions in the spring and fall.