For the past eight years, we’ve traveled the country talking with Americans about their energy usage, habits, attitudes and behaviors. Many times, we hear the same things – but on occasion, we hear something that really perks up our ears or sparks a new way of thinking about things.
Such was the case in some recent focus groups. We were hearing the usual things about not wanting to sacrifice comfort and convenience, and about being willing to pay a higher energy bill to keep those things. That’s when my brain connected a couple of dots – if energy demand continues to rise (which it is), and supply remains about the same (how many new power plants have been built in the last decade? Not many), and the economic divide between the haves and the have nots continues to widen, could energy soon be considered a luxury product, available only to those who can afford it?
Some might argue that our medical system is close to reaching this point. Will energy be next?
Americans believe that access to cheap, abundant, reliable energy is practically guaranteed in the Constitution. Didn’t Jefferson include energy as an inalienable right, next to the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? We take it for granted that electrons will flow at the flip of a switch, powering our ever-growing appetite for gadgets.
We already see in our proprietary studies that many of the most affluent Americans, by and large, don’t think of their energy bills as a significant expenditure – they’re willing to pay more to maintain that thermostat at 72 degrees year-round. On the other hand, we see economically hard-pressed Americans wanting to do things to save on their bills, but not being able to afford the upfront costs to take action. Energy is something not to be wasted for these folks. It’s not something that they take totally for granted.
Perhaps energy is already a luxury for these folks.
So what could restore a sense of Jeffersonian equality to the situation? Here’s an idea: is there a way to pay someone’s else’s energy bill? Or can I gift card energy to my family and friends instead of another unneeded sweater? Can I gift card it to a stranger? Instead of putting little angels on holiday trees in December asking for toys, can we do this for those who need their energy bills paid? In this age of pragmatism, where’s the opportunity to provide or give the most basic of modern needs – electricity? We do see some utilities offering these programs — electric cooperatives, for instance, have long offered their Roundup program for this very purpose. The question here, though, is should paying someone else’s energy bill become as ubiquitous as bringing cans to an event for the local food bank?
Let’s face it – times are tough for everyone. Unemployment remains high. Consumer confidence remains low. House prices are still in the tank. Bankrupt former moguls in Palm Beach are turning their mansions into rooming houses. It’s time for practicality, and there’s nothing more practical than starting a gifting program for energy.