With each passing year, America’s electricity generation mix continues to get cleaner. In fact, according to a recent analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data by E&E News, wind and solar generated more electricity than coal through the first five months of the year – the first time this has ever happened over a five-month period.
According to the EIA, coal generated about half of U.S. electricity as recently as 2008, and this latest data point is just one among many that “illustrates the ongoing transformation of the U.S. power sector as the nation races to install cleaner forms of energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.”
The majority of consumers are highly supportive of this transition, according to new research from the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC). Based on a nationally representative survey of 2,000 Americans, the new report found that 74 percent of Americans over the age of 18 believe that it’s either very important or somewhat important that the country achieves 80 percent renewable energy generation by 2030.
When we remove the Comfort Seekers, the 12 percent of the U.S. population who are primarily interested in their personal comfort and are unlikely to engage in energy-saving programs and services or support renewable energy initiatives, we find that 81 percent of the remaining population finds it very or somewhat important to transition to renewable energy by 2030.
To further test consumer support for the clean energy transition, we asked respondents whether they would pay more on their electric bills each month if 100 percent of their electricity came from renewable generation sources and, if so, how much would they pay. In a challenging economic landscape where a quarter of all Americans have been struggling to pay their electric bills, roughly half (47 percent) of all consumers said they would pay more.
Among SECC’s consumer segments, the young, tech-savvy Connected Pragmatists are the most supportive, with 63 percent saying they would pay more. They’re followed by the Green Pioneers and the Simply Sustainable at 58 and 47 percent, respectively. While the Trusting Traditionalists, an older segment that tends to be technology adverse, are surprisingly supportive of the clean energy transition in some ways, their price sensitivity shows here as just 38 percent are willing to pay more for 100-percent renewable energy.
Across the segments, there isn’t significant attrition when asking consumers if they would be willing to pay $10 or more per month. For example, with the Green Pioneers, willingness drops from 58 percent to 54 percent, and with the Connected Pragmatists, it falls from 63 to 52 percent. However, relatively few consumers are willing to pay $20 per month, and almost none (one or two percent for each segment) say that they are willing to pay over that. To maximize interest, no more than $10 per month appears to be optimal.
We also analyzed the responses to this series of questions by income bracket (under $25K per year, $25K-$49K, $50-99K and over $100K). What we found is that, predictably, more affluent consumers are more likely to be willing to pay for 100-percent renewable energy, particularly as we move from $5 to $20 or more. With those earning over $100K per year, 55 percent are willing to pay more for renewable energy, with 53 percent willing to pay $5 more and 49 percent willing to pay $10 or more each month.
However, lower-income consumers, who are already facing disproportionate energy burdens, say they are willing to pay for clean energy in surprisingly high numbers. Forty percent of consumers in both the under $25K and $25K-$49K brackets say they will pay more for 100-percent renewable energy, and this remains at 32 percent and 38 percent, respectively, for $5 more each month. Thirty-five percent of consumers in the $25K-$49K bracket say they will even pay $10 or more.
Over the past year, the United States has seen some of the highest levels of inflation in more than 40 years, and on average, consumers paid 14.3 percent more for electricity in 2022 compared to the previous year, according to Consumer Price Index data. However, despite these economic challenges, many consumers indicate they are willing to financially support the clean energy transition via their monthly electric bills, sometimes at surprisingly high levels.
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 here.