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Natural Gas and Oil Perceptions Improving while Nuclear Power Perceptions Sink

Solar seen as the best energy source for the environment; coal seen as the worst

NEW YORK, March 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- A growing majority of Americans (65%, up from 61% in 2012 and 59% in 2009) say that they are knowledgeable about energy sources, but are they showing a corresponding increase in energy efficiency-related upgrades and behaviors? Majorities of Americans are doing some basic things like turning off lights, televisions or other appliances when not in use (79%, down slightly from 82% in 2012) and replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones (55%, down slightly from 58%), but many easy lifestyle changes seem to be struggling to show growth in their adoption.

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These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,266 adults, surveyed online between February 12 and 17, 2014. (Complete results, including data tables and full lists of energy sources and energy saving activities, available here)

Diminishing percentages of Americans report looking for ENERGY STAR labels when replacing appliances (50%, down from 55% in 2012), using low watt bulbs where lighting is not critical (50, down from 54%) and using power strips for home electronics (49%, down from 56%).

Additionally, fewer than half of Americans have reduced hot water usage through shorter showers or using cold water in their washer's rinse cycle (45%), change air filters monthly (41%), use weather stripping around windows or doors to stop air leaks (37%), have installed a programmable thermostat (36%), sealed gaps in floors or walls around pipes or electric wiring (32%), installed energy efficient windows (29%) or low-flow faucets or showerheads (27%), added insulation to an attic, crawl space or accessible exterior windows (26%) or have a TV with Smart technology (24%). Only one ten U.S. adults (10%) have conducted a home energy evaluation or audit.

Some regional differences exist in these practices and adoptions. For example, just over half of Southerners (53%) change their air filters monthly, in comparison to roughly one-fourth (26%) of Easterners and just over a third (35%) of Westerners; over a third of Westerners (35%) have installed low-flow faucets, compared roughly one-fourth each of those in the East (27%), Midwest (25%) and South (23%); and 36% of those in the Midwest have added insulation to their attic, crawl space or any accessible exterior walls, as opposed to roughly one-fourth each of Easterners (25%), Southerners and Westerners (23% each).

Consider the source 
But of course, regardless of what Americans are doing with electricity or how much or little much of it they're using, it's got to come from someplace. When asked whether the risks outweigh the benefits, or vice versa, for several mainstream and emerging sources of electrical power in the U.S., solar (78%) and wind (76%) are most commonly seen as having benefits which outweigh their risks.

Natural gas has had – no pun intended – a few rocky PR years, with hydraulic fracturing being intensely scrutinized; nonetheless, it has grown slightly in the perception of its benefits outweighing its risks (68%, up from 64% in 2011).   Nuclear power, on the other hand, shows the inverse, with the 37% of Americans believing its benefits outweigh its risks down seven percentage points from five years ago.

Roughly half of Americans (52%) believe geothermal energy's benefits outweigh its risks, with its main impediment not a perception of risks outweighing benefits (with only 8% believing this), but rather indecision, with 40% of Americans being not at all sure. Meanwhile, Americans are evenly divided on whether coal's risks outweigh its benefits (41%) or vice versa (40%).

Biomass is the biggest question mark, with six in ten U.S. adults (61%) not at all sure of its risks or benefits; three in ten (29%) feel its benefits outweigh its risks, while one in ten (9%) feel the inverse is true.

There are some generational differences at work in benefit -risk perceptions. Perhaps most notably, each generation is less likely than its elders to believe the benefits of natural gas outweigh the risks (53% Echo Boomers vs. 67% Gen Xers vs. 76% Baby Boomers vs. 86% Matures). Matures are also more likely than any other generation to feel the benefits of coal (32% Echo Boomers vs. 39% Gen Xers vs. 44% Baby Boomers vs. 59% Matures) and nuclear power (34% Echo Boomers vs. 32% Gen Xers vs. 38% Baby Boomers vs. 51% Matures) outweigh the risks.

Environmental impacts 
When asked to select which two energy sources they believe are best for the environment, Solar (68%) and wind (57%) are the clear front frontrunners, though it's worth noting that wind fell by seven percentage points from 2008 findings. Roughly one in ten Americans selected hydro (12%), oil and natural gas (11%), electric (11%) and nuclear power (8%), which also fell seven points in comparison to 2008.

Turning to those sources seen as the worst environmental offenders, coal (53%) is the top selection when Americans are asked to identify which two sources they feel are worst for the environment.

The next most common responses, nuclear power (40%) and oil and natural gas (21%), have pulled a switch of sorts since 2008, with selection of the former growing 13 percentage points and the latter dropping by 14 points. Home heating oil selections, at 16%, have dropped 6 points, while ethanol/boil fuel holds steady at 13%.

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Methodology 
This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 12 to 17, 2014 among 2,266 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #26, March 20, 2014 
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Nielsen & The Harris Poll  
On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll.  Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.

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SOURCE The Harris Poll

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