Americans want to know when they’re going renewable

Americans want to know when they’re power is coming from renewable sources, according to a new study from Washington State University (WSU).

Interestingly, this concern over energy use isn’t connected to political beliefs, the sociologists behind the research finding both Democrats and Republicans were interested in using non-fossil fuel energy sources.

The study, by professor of sociology Christine Horner and assistant professor of sociology Emily Kennedy, has been published in the journal Energy Policy. It shows that many Americans would rather power their homes with wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy if given the choice.

“Our work shows that US consumers, regardless of political standing, age, or gender, want to use more renewable energy and less fossil fuels,” Horne said in a statement. "With new communication technologies, it is now possible to give them the option to do it."

Horne and Kennedy wanted to find out if energy customers would be interested in shifting the time they run their appliances so that they were using renewable instead of fossil fuel generated power. Incorporating renewable energy into the grid has been a challenge for utilities, meaning they often have to rely on “generation plants” at times of peak demand. Due to the speed at which these plants need to be brought online, they often have to rely on fossil fuel power.

234 US consumers were surveyed for the study to determine their interest in two hypothetical apps: one which would lower their monthly bills, one which would enable them to use more energy generated from renewables.

The results showed that the respondents were just as interested in reducing their carbon emissions as they were in saving money. Participants also reported far more positive feelings about a person who’d reduced their carbon emissions than those who’d managed to save money.

Horne and Kennedy are now collaborating with WSU's Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture to make the hypothetical a reality, developing an app that allows users to monitor in real time whether electricity is coming from a renewable source or the burning of fossil fuels.

"The huge increase in available information and new communications technology makes it possible to provide information to consumers like never before," Horne said. "For example, if consumers knew that during the day their energy mix was 30 percent renewables, and at night it was 100 percent coal, then they might well run their dishwasher in the morning when the sun is up instead of when they go to bed. We'd eventually like to link our app with smart home devices so that people can program their appliances to automatically run when there are more renewables in use on the grid."

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