When President Biden announced that the United States would be rejoining the Paris Agreement in April 2021, he set a target to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030.
This major announcement at the federal level added to the momentum that had been building for years through state and utility renewable energy goals. In 2018, Xcel Energy’s landmark commitment to achieving 100-percent carbon-free electricity across its service territory by 2050 triggered a number of other announcements from electricity providers big and small.
Now, according to the Smart Electric Power Alliance’s Utility Carbon-Reduction Tracker, 82 percent of customer accounts in United States are served by a utility with a carbon-reduction target (or a utility owned by a parent company that has a target). In addition, 74 percent of accounts are served by a utility with a 100-percent carbon reduction goal.
On the state level, Hawaii, Washington, Minnesota, New York, California and others have been leading the way with standards to achieve 100-percent renewable energy generation. For example, Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) commits the state to 100-percent clean electricity by 2045.
While there has been undeniable progress from government at all levels and electricity providers of all types, what do American consumers know about these targets? And do they support them?
To uncover Americans’ concerns with renewable energy, their awareness and support for clean energy targets, their willingness to pay more for 100-percent renewable energy and more, the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) recently conducted a nationwide survey of 2,000 Americans 18 or older who are responsible for making energy-related decisions at home.
This research revealed that the vast majority of Americans are not aware of any clean energy targets set by their electricity providers or government. In fact, only 16 percent stated that they were aware of a target from either entity, and just six percent stated that they were aware of a target from their provider – despite, as noted, 82 percent of Americans being served by a utility with a carbon reduction target.
While this lack of awareness certainly points to an opportunity for more consumer education from both the government and providers, there’s still some positive news. First, younger consumers (18-34 years old) are more likely to be aware of carbon reduction targets; 22 percent are aware of a renewable energy target compared to just 14 percent of consumers over 35 years old.
Secondly, when made aware of these targets, consumers are generally very supportive. Sixty percent characterized the federal government’s “80-percent renewable energy generation by 2030” target as a step in the right direction. And when it comes to the utility’s role, almost half (48 percent) of respondents expect their utility to make it a high priority to contribute to this target. An additional 32 percent would like to see their utility make it a medium priority.
Furthermore, when asked how important it is that the United States achieves 80-percent renewable energy generation by 2030, 74 percent of all consumers stated that this was either somewhat or very important to them.
However, there are some notable discrepancies between SECC’s consumer segments.
Only 27 percent of the Comfort Seekers believe that it’s very or somewhat important. These consumers – who represent just 12 percent of the population – prioritize their own comfort and generally are not interested in energy-saving programs from their electricity providers. But, in this case, as in many others in our research, there is a considerable gap between the opinions of this segment and the other four.
For example, even with the Trusting Traditionalists, a segment that’s often overwhelmed by technology and isn’t strongly motivated by the environmental benefits of utility programs, there’s significant support for the 80-percent renewables target; 71 percent of consumers in this segment believe it’s very or somewhat important to achieve this goal.
When we look at the three remaining segments that have stronger environmental values – the Green Pioneers, Simply Sustainable and Connected Pragmatists – we see that 88, 82 and 79 percent, respectively, believe that it’s somewhat or very important the United States achieves the target of 80-percent renewable energy generation by 2030.
While there has been considerable progress in developing a cleaner energy industry in recent years, our research shows that consumers have largely been left in the dark on these efforts. However, as they are largely supportive of these goals, with the right education and outreach, many Americans are likely to be active participants in the clean energy transition.
To learn more about consumers’ understanding of and support for the transition to renewable energy, read the “Renewables: Engaging Consumers in the Clean Energy Transition” report.