Overcoming the dirty secret of clean energy

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Courtesy of Energy Efficiency Markets LLC

A dirty secret of clean energy is that being green can be an expensive pursuit. The cost of solar panels and hybrid cars is declining, but they remain too expensive for many people. As a result, the green energy movement is often viewed as an upper-income trend in the United States.

But a recent survey indicates energy efficiency may be a more egalitarian product.

The intent of “The 2008 Energy Costs Survey,” released this week by the Energy Programs Consortium and the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, is to show the sacrifices made by low, moderate, and middle-income households because of rising energy costs. Households are cutting back on food, medicine, clothing, heating and cooling, education and eating out. And they are paying their bills later, according to survey of more than 500 households in May.

But, the data also reveals an interesting phenomenon about energy efficiency. Even low-income earners invest in appliances and home improvements that reduce energy costs.

In fact, those in the lowest income bracket were most likely to purchase an efficient air conditioner. Eighteen percent of the lowest income households made such purchases compared to 13-14% of those with middle and moderate incomes. Poor households edged close to wealthier ones when it came to installing efficient heating (11% compared with 15% of those richer). In purchasing efficiency appliances, 15% of low-income households reported doing so.

Having 11% to 18% of low-income households invest in EE may not sound like a lot. But compare it to how much solar energy we consume. Only 1% of the electric power used last year in the United States came from solar energy, according to the federal Energy Information Administration -- and that includes business use.

If 11% of households installed solar panels, renewable energy advocates would be ecstatic and many of our energy woes would ease. Clean energy advocates often lament how hard it is to bring renewable energy to the mass market. This is a problem efficiency products do not appear to face. It is easy and not overly expensive to become an EE consumer. This is one reason why EE advocates may be right when they say the efficiency explosion ramping up in the US will easily dwarf any other energy trend.

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