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Although residential electricity consumption is increasing, a national survey finds Americans blame their utility or their inefficient home for their rising energy bills rather than putting the blame on themselves for using more power.

The survey, conducted by Knoxville-based Shelton Group, polled 1,003 U.S. consumers. It found that Americans are more likely to blame an inefficient home - 25% think their homes are inefficient - or utilities (18%), and not their own demand for energy (12%). In addition, the study discovered many of those who have changed habits or made energy efficient improvements say their utility bills have remained the same or gone up.

“We’re seeing an unfortunate consumer tendency to avoid responsibility for wasting energy. Instead, more people are blaming outside forces over which they feel they have little or no control," says Suzanne Shelton, CEO of Shelton Group. “It’s a case of learned helplessness: People are giving up on conserving energy because they think there’s nothing they can do.”

The national poll, Shelton Group's eighth annual Energy Pulse survey, found 80% of Americans think they are using the same or less amount of energy than in the past. However, the company says that government statistics show residential electricity consumption has actually increased.

Shelton Group's survey also found the following:

- Consumers have a high tolerance for bill increases. When asked how much their bill would have to increase to force them to make energy efficient renovations, the average answer was $120. Based on the average reported winter heating bill ($162.80), this would be a 74% increase - or a 73% increase over the average reported summer cooling bill ($164.50), according to the study.

- Americans have increasingly unrealistic expectations for returns on energy efficient improvement investments. When asked how much they would have to save to justify spending $4,000 on energy efficient improvements, expectations were beyond realistic -$139 per month, Shelton Group says. That works out to an annual savings of $1,668, or a reduction of approximately 85%, based on the average reported utility bill.

- The propensity to make energy efficient product purchases is generally down from last year. Improvements with the highest propensities include a solar system (with 32% of respondents saying they are likely or very likely to install one, up 8% over last year), new water heater (15%, down 5%) and windows (15%, down 3%).

- When offered a solar energy lease option, requiring no money down, interest jumped to over 60%. This increased desire for solar connects back to consumers’ desire for an 85% reduction in monthly bills. Installing solar is, most likely, the only way most could achieve such a reduction. This may be another clue to some Americans’ emerging desire to pull away from today’s centralized energy systems and establish personal energy independence, Shelton Group adds.

What about the many other Americans who have given up trying to conserve energy? Shelton Group says utilities could take several steps to get Americans back on the bandwagon, including the following:

- Providing more smart meters and energy-monitoring tools to get consumers more engaged and educated on their energy consumption;

- Offering incentives that reward multiple energy-efficient improvements, rather than one-off improvements, to help homeowners reach the number of actions required to see a real reduction in their bill; and

- Shifting to time-of-use billing to give homeowners new incentive to conserve energy at peak-use times.

“It’s all about giving consumers a feeling of control,” Shelton says. “Americans want power over their utility bills, and right now, they feel they don’t have that.”

For more information about the survey, click here.




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