According to a poll by Harris Interactive, Americans continue to discuss and consider alternative-energy options and lifestyle changes.
Six in 10 (61 percent) Americans describe themselves as knowledgeable about energy issues, including sources of electrical power and energy efficiency. Energy knowledge varies by region and age with Americans in the East (67 percent) and West (64 percent) and those over the age of 65 (65 percent) most knowledgeable. Three-quarters of men (75 percent) and less than half (47 percent) of women say they are knowledgeable about energy issues.
Awareness has led to eight in 10 Americans (84 percent) reporting that they turn off lights and appliances when not being used to conserve energy. The majority of Americans also reported replacing incandescent lamps with fluorescent lamps (60 percent), using power strips (60 percent), using low-wattage lamps (56 percent), and purchasing Energy Star appliances (53 percent).
When it comes to sources of energy, the public indicated that the benefits outweigh the risks for solar power (77 percent) and wind (75 percent). Natural gas (64 percent) and geothermal (52 percent) resonate as beneficial. These results are slightly down from a 2009 Harris Interactive poll when approximately two-thirds of Americans said that, when used, the benefits of solar (82 percent), wind (78 percent) and natural gas (66 percent) outweighed any associated risks.
In 2009, two in five Americans (42 percent) said the risks of using coal outweighed the benefits while 36 percent believed the benefits outweighed the risks. Further, almost one-quarter of Americans (22 percent) said they were not sure. Today, that view has not changed very much, as 43 percent believe the risks outweigh the benefits and 38 percent say benefits outweigh risks; those unsure has dropped to 19 percent.
When asked if renewable energy and climate change are issues states should manage as opposed to the federal government, Americans are split—36 percent agree these are issues for individual states to handle, 43 percent disagree and 21 percent are not sure.
Coal provides approximately half (49 percent) of electrical power production in the United States, is the most heavily used source of energy and is being subjected to a high degree of regulatory scrutiny. It is estimated that 16 percent of the existing United States coal plants will be shut down over the next five years because of the cost of regulatory compliance. The question is what will replace coal, especially in the eastern United States?
However, limited knowledge of many alternative-energy sources remains, as new debates over national security and foreign oil dependence, gas prices at the pump and the correlation between energy costs and economic recovery rage on. Room still exists to educate the public on the pros and cons of each energy source including factors such as current and future use of each source, reliability, cost, environmental impacts, safety, security and more.