The Mainstream Consumer and the New Stimulus Package
Karen Barnes, our Director of Insight, weighs in on what, exactly, $787 billion means to the Mainstream American Consumer. The stimulus package signed earlier this week by President Obama means different things to different people. For politicians, it’s a highly public grandstanding opportunity. For taxpayers, it’s another check in the mail. And for those of us marketing energy efficiency and sustainability, it’s a great start. But what does all that money earmarked for energy efficiency mean to average consumers? What does $11 billion for smart grid design and development, $7.5 billion for renewable energy and transmission-line construction and $300 million for the appliance rebate program for ENERGY STAR® products all mean? It’s all potential good news for us regular folks. For Mainstream Consumers, the most immediately visible benefit of a more efficient grid might be fewer power outages. Unexpected blackouts are becoming more commonplace as the current system strains to meet peak demand. Plus, since more power can be captured for use with a smart grid, our energy supply can increase without burning more fossil fuels. One estimate states that a 5% more efficient energy grid would be the same as taking 53 million cars off the roads in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. For a country whose ravenous appetite for energy will soon outstrip its ability to meet demand, an increased energy supply is a welcome light at the end of the tunnel. It means our utility companies might not have to build expensive, coal-burning power plants and pass on the cost to us. True, we’ll end up paying for the smart grid one way or another – whether through rate increases from our utilities or our tax dollars – but at least we’ll be getting more bang for the buck from our limited natural resources while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gases. In addition, a smart grid allows power generated from residential solar panels, small wind turbines, and other alternative energy sources to be fed into the grid, which should further stimulate the green energy industry. For mainstream consumers, this means more reliability, more control, more choice about where their energy comes from and an assurance that we’re living a little more green. In the meantime, we now have extra incentives to buy more energy-efficient ENERGY STAR appliances with the help of $300 million in rebates. Our research shows that 35% of consumers have already installed ENERGY STAR appliances, and another 30% of consumers say they’re likely to do so in the future. We know that if the right ROI message is placed in front of certain segments of the population, there’s a chance that they’ll replace inefficient appliances before they break to help control their energy costs and consumption. So thanks for the money, Congress. Now it’s up to us to do our part. But here’s the rub: our research shows that about 80% of Americans don’t believe that rising energy costs are their fault (despite the fact that we’re all plugging in more and more devices), only 58% believe that global warming is caused by human actions, and 96% don’t know that most of their power comes from coal-fired power plants, a primary source of greenhouse gases. So the question is: will we rise to the occasion? Will we look beyond our own front doors to see the bigger picture? Will we stop asking “What’s in it for me?” and start asking “What’s in it for we?” The answer likely is that “what’s in it for me” will continue to win out. But that’s OK. This is one case where doing something to benefit ourselves will also benefit our global community, whether we intend for it to or not.