THE ENERGY CONSUMER: WILL THE PUBLIC BUY INTO THE TRANSITION?

The Greater Appeal of Energy-Efficient Appliances Is a Reduction in Energy Costs, Not in Emissions

3 in 4 say saving money on electric bills is a major reason they’d considered efficiency in appliance purchases

(Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Tadiana Martinez)
  • Nearly half of adults cited lowering the greenhouse gas emissions of their personal consumption as a major reason to consider efficiency in buying electric appliances.

  • More than 4 in 5 respondents said they have considered energy efficiency when buying electric appliances, including 44% who said it was a major consideration.

  • 56% of respondents said they would not be willing to spend more on an energy-efficient appliance than they would for a conventional one, with a third citing their budget as the reason.

A new series from Morning Consult explores the individual consumer’s relationship to energy and climate — by way of purchases, preferences and behaviors — as the Biden administration works to speed an energy transition with 2035 and 2050 benchmarks for decarbonization. The data is drawn from three polls of 2,200 U.S. adults each. Other stories in the series: Support for higher fuel economy and building efficiency standards | Considering everyday environmental impact in behaviors, purchasing | Pinpointing consumers’ ideal price and range for a new EV | Electric vehicle holdouts fret most over charging infrastructureAmid push to replace natural gas, public is split electrifying homes 

From supporting higher fuel economy levels to backing stricter building efficiency standards, the Biden administration’s clean-energy push appears broadly popular among the public — with the caveat that transition costs are regularly cited as a concern.  

Consumer attitudes toward purchasing electric appliances are no different, as over half of U.S. adults say they wouldn’t consider buying an energy-efficient model if it cost more than a conventional air-conditioning unit, space heater, refrigerator or other major electric good.

But for lawmakers and industry leaders alike, there is a silver lining to that seemingly discouraging data: A healthy majority of American consumers give at least some thought to energy efficiency when it comes to buying major appliances, and those who do are primarily motivated by the long-term cost savings they expect to see. 

In a Morning Consult poll conducted Jan. 27-28, 76 percent of the 1,853 survey respondents who said they have taken energy efficiency into account when purchasing electric appliances cited saving money on their electricity bills as a major reason for doing so, while another 21 percent said it was a minor reason. 

At 81 percent, Republicans were 9 points more likely than Democrats to identify savings as a major reason behind efficiency considerations, while independents nearly split the difference at 78 percent.

The survey, which sampled 2,200 U.S. adults overall and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points, comes after a November 2020 report from the Appliance Standards Awareness Project and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that $1.1 trillion in savings on utility bills could be generated through 2050, assuming the Biden administration follows through on having the Department of Energy update efficiency standards for 47 kinds of appliances and products.  

The tangible result of purchasing an energy-efficient appliance — in this case, lower electricity bills — is a stronger motivator for consumers than lowering greenhouse gases, the survey found. Reducing emissions via personal consumption was singled out by 46 percent of adults as a major reason for considering energy efficiency in buying electric appliances — 30 points lower than the share that pointed to cost savings in their bills. 

Forty-one percent, meanwhile, identified lowering their personal emissions as a minor reason — 20 points higher than the share that selected less-costly electricity bills. 

Overall, 44 percent of U.S. adults said energy efficiency is a major consideration when buying electric appliances, and another 41 percent said it merits minor consideration. 

Whether the Biden administration pursues its energy-efficient appliance initiatives through executive action remains to be seen, but the survey results suggest that the public would be mostly receptive to the idea of electric goods made with efficiency in mind, especially if President Joe Biden is able to provide direct cash rebates and low-cost financing to families to upgrade and electrify their home appliances under his clean energy plan

Though higher costs in energy-efficient appliances are not viewed as a daunting obstacle on the level of electric vehicles, they are still a barrier to more widespread purchasing behaviors.

Fifty-six percent of adults said they would not be willing to spend more for an energy-efficient electric appliance than they would for a conventional one. Included in that share are 33 percent who said their budget wouldn’t allow it, 16 percent who said they’d only be interested in an energy-efficient electric appliance if it cost less than a conventional version and 7 percent who said they’re not interested in an energy-efficient appliance no matter the price. 

Overall, 44 percent of adults said they would spend more for an energy-efficient electric appliance than a conventional one, including 54 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of independents and 36 percent of Republicans.

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