Cleantech’s Nemesis: Consumer Awareness Still Lags

Ever wonder why cleantech has been slow to take off?

Ok, sure. The technology is still immature. Solar cell efficiencies are relatively low and the smart grid is, well, hardly a grid. What’s more, until now, energy has been relatively inexpensive.

But there is another big reason, in fact the big elephant in the room: consumer awareness.

Here’s a study from Deloitte that drives home the point. Despite all the discussion of global warming and the high levels of atmospheric carbon, only 55% of U.S. consumers are astute enough to worry about their carbon footprints. More than 62% say they don’t know entirely what fuels their electric companies rely on to generate electricity.

Awareness shifts with younger Generation Y consumers (ages 21 to 34). They are more inclined than their older peers to replace inefficient appliances with more modern, efficient ones, and to back the use of timer controlled household devices to better manage energy during peak use periods.

Still all is not dark and discouraging in the Deloitte study.

Oddly enough, the recession proved a useful tool for consumer energy management. Ninety percent of consumers say they are more resourceful when it comes to energy use and 68% looked to reduce their electric bills during the downturn. These steps included the obvious, easy ones of turning off lights when they were not needed and lowering thermostats in the winter and raising them in the summer. But 95% of consumers don’t intend to increase their use as the economy improves.

Also encouraging is this: about two-thirds of consumers say they would be willing to pay a surcharge for power if their electric companies invested in wind and solar. Will we ever find utilities bold enough to respond without a government mandate?