Do you know the sources that are used to generate electricity for your home and town? I have to admit that, until a couple of years ago, I wasn’t aware. So I did what every inquiring US mind would do: I did a Google search. Here’s what I found.
“The electricity consumed in Rhode Island homes, businesses, and institutions is generated at power plants, transported through a network of high-voltage transmission lines, and distributed via local poles and wires to end users. Rhode Island’s electrical grid is connected to a larger regional power grid composed of more than 350 generating resources (natural gas, coal, and oil-fired power plants; hydroelectric dams; nuclear stations; biomass plants; and renewable energy units like wind and solar), 8,000 miles of transmission lines, and 6.5 million households and businesses that create electric demand throughout New England.” (Source: State of Rhode Island, Office of Energy Resources)
Well, that’s a very nice broad overview about how electricity travels through networks to my home. But that didn’t really answer my original question, so I kept hunting.
Rhode Island has an option to choose to buy electricity from a company other than the primary utility, which is known as customer choice. Since I had selected that option, I logged into my non-regulated power producer, also called a competitive supplier, and checked out my state’s proportions of energy sources needed to create electricity. Here’s what I found.
You see, about a year or so ago I learned that my state was a natural gas (“bridge fuel,” my ass) and nuclear bastion, so I had activated my right for customer choice, which was wind power.
An equation of education, awareness, and convenience seem to be the keys to motivating more people like me to pay closer attention to their carbon footprints, including the sources that generate residential electricity. Studies have shown, however, that most people do not spend much time thinking about their electricity bills at all.
Communicating about Climate Change is Step #1
Over the past 100 years, the Earth’s average temperature has increased by 2.0°F, and it is estimated that the average temperature will increase anywhere between .5 and 8.6°F within the next century. According to NASA, climate change is largely attributable to human activity that emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is “unprecedented over decades to millennia.”
The major source is fossil fuel burning, which has devastating consequences for the natural environment, animal ecosystems, and humankind.
Prices for renewable energy are dropping, but the US still relies heavily on coal and natural gas. Conversely, public outcries for clean energy have never been higher. Sure, our lives seem to be more and more hectic by the day. It makes some sense that changing where our home energy comes from could be overlooked as a part of a larger toolkit way to fight climate change.
Many approaches have been used to garner people’s interest in climate change action. Some different emotional appeals about climate change and clean energy have included media campaigns that focus on fear, humor, or information.
Millennials Want Clean Energy, and So Do You, But Does Your Generation Understand Their Energy Choices?
A recent Arcadia Power study surveyed more than 1,500 American homeowners and renters to get a better idea of how much they know about where their electricity comes from and how they feel about their electricity choices. The results? Nearly 50% of US respondents felt like they have no control over where their electricity comes from. More west coast residents feel like they have control over where their electricity comes from than east coast residents.
Another interesting statistic emerged. While studies show that millennials — who were born after 1982 — want clean energy, are vocal about climate change, and want smart home technologies more than older generations, these survey results showed that 60% of millennials have never looked into the sources that power their residential electricity generation.
It’s important to break apart the Arcadia Power survey data on millennials in order to understand their responses. In the survey about millennials:
- 63% rent their residences.
- Their areas of living were equally distributed: rural 22%, urban 38%, and suburban 40%.
- Most held only a partial understanding of how the US power grid works (39%).
- 45% have never looked into where their electricity comes from but would like to know more.
- 62% admitted that they knew that clean energy can be as cheap, and sometimes cheaper, as fossil fuel energy.
Young adults constitute an increasingly large portion of the US electorate, yet display low levels of political engagement despite considerable interest in social issues, according to the Pew Research Center. Evidence suggests that they often prefer digital advocacy (termed “slacktivism”) to traditional forms of activism. A pattern with millennials seems to suggest that their interest in social issues and technological change has yet to translate into individual action.
But there’s hope.
It’s about the Savings, Stupid
Cost savings was the most cited motivator for switching to clean energy, among all generations, especially millennials. It makes special sense for millennials, as they are in a place in their lives in which they’re beginning their journeys toward college, career, and lifestyles.
Over 80% of millennials said cost savings would motivate them to switch their home to clean energy, while only 62% said environmental savings would be enough. Thus, cost savings on residential energy bills is an important factor as millennials move from dependence on fossil fuels to clean energy for their personal energy usage.
More money in their pockets means that millennials will start paying closer attention to what sources of energy their monthly bill payments support. We in the climate change activist movement can start there to help millennials join actively with us.
It’s Time to Take Control over Residential Electricity
If other people like me realize they have energy choices, they will be able to make more informed energy decisions that are better for themselves — and the environment. It starts with educating the general public about the benefits of understanding their energy bills and the energy options available to them. It’s time for homeowners and renters in the US to learn about the energy choices they have to gain greater control over their carbon footprints.
Millennials (and other age groups) can and need to take steps to get greater control over the sources of their electricity and other power generation. Arcadia Power CEO Kiran Bhatraju says, “Accessing clean energy doesn’t need to be difficult, or expensive.” He suggests that advocacy with the energy industry will “make it easier for millennials to access clean energy choices in ways that fit their needs and lifestyle.”
By supporting renewable energy and cutting back on our energy usage, each person in the US can take a part in applying energy bills for the common good. Indeed, if more people accepted energy choice options available to them through their state legislature, there would likely be new demand for new wind farms and new community solar developments.
It’s time we encouraged everyone to look at their monthly energy bills, to think about what their monthly payments are supporting, and to seek out clean renewable energy choices.
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