Study shows U.S. consumers want to know when their power is coming from renewable sources

June 1, 2017 by Will Ferguson, Washington State University
Around 15 percent of US power was generated from renewable energy sources in 2016, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Credit: StockSnap/Jason Blackeye

Do Americans want to use more renewable energy?

Yes they do - regardless of whether they're Democrats or Republicans, according to new research by Washington State University sociologists.

Christine Horne, professor of sociology, and Emily Kennedy, assistant professor of sociology, published a study in the journal Energy Policy that shows many Americans would prefer to power their homes with wind, solar and other forms of if given the option.

"Our work shows that U.S. consumers, regardless of political standing, age, or gender, want to use more renewable and less ," Horne said. "With new communication technologies, it is now possible to give them the option to do it."

A fine balancing act

Utility companies have struggled for decades with the challenge of incorporating more renewables into the grid. Because demand for electricity fluctuates, utilities need to maintain generation plants that can be brought online quickly to meet peak demand. These plants typically rely on fossil fuels.

In their study, Horne and Kennedy wanted to find out if energy customers would be interested in shifting the time they run their appliances to reduce broad reliance on fossil fuel-based power plants, which could help decrease carbon emissions.

They surveyed 234 U.S. consumers online to determine their interest in two hypothetical apps that would help them either to lower their monthly power bills or to use more electricity generated by renewables.

Overall, respondents were equally interested in reducing their carbon emissions and saving money, the researchers found. The study participants also reported far more positive feelings about a person who reduced her monthly than a person who cut her monthly electricity costs.

An app for consumers

Horne and Kennedy's study suggests giving consumers the ability to monitor where their electricity is coming from at any given point during the day. This approach could be a viable addition to providing financial incentives and rebates to lower electricity consumption and change usage patterns.

Work being done at WSU's Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture may make this possible. Horne and Kennedy are collaborating with scientists there to develop an app prototype that would allow users to monitor in real time whether electricity is coming from a renewable source or the burning of fossil fuels.

They hope the new app will help Americans lower their household electricity consumption and shift to using their devices and appliances during periods when more renewables are powering the grid.

"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 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."

Explore further: Iran and Middle East could adopt fully renewable electricity systems

More information: Christine Horne et al, The power of social norms for reducing and shifting electricity use, Energy Policy (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2017.04.029

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JamesG
3 / 5 (2) Jun 01, 2017
A pool of 234 respondents means absolutely nothing. I doubt the integrity of the results and the ethics of doing a "scientific" paper to sell an app.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jun 02, 2017
A pool of 234 respondents means absolutely nothing. I doubt the integrity of the results and the ethics of doing a "scientific" paper to sell an app.


That depends on how well the group is randomized.

https://stats.sta...pulation
Sample size doesn't much depend on the population size, which is counter-intuitive to many.

Most polling companies use 400 or 1000 people in their samples. There is a reason for this:

A sample size of 400 will give you a confidence interval of +/-5% 19 times out of 20 (95%)
A sample size of 1000 will give you a confidence interval of +/-3% 19 times out of 20 (95%)


Simply put, when you pick random samples, the law of large numbers starts to work after about 32 picks and adding more and more samples just increases your confidence level. Even for millions of people, 2,000 well randomized samples is enough to get a fairly confident answer.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Jun 02, 2017
Or to put it otherwise, the accuracy of your result is proportional to the square root of the number of your samples, which grows quickly with small numbers, and starts growing less and less with larger numbers, so polling with too many people is just a waste of time.

gkam
1 / 5 (4) Jun 04, 2017
I am happy as hell with our PV and EV.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jun 05, 2017
I am happy as hell with our PV and EV.
Yeah I bet. All it required was a coupla cans of spray paint and a few phony window decals.
https://www.zazzl...stickers

Cheap.
UKCatFan
not rated yet Jun 05, 2017
"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."

This right here shows that they do not have a complete understanding of the energy industry. Regardless of if there are renewables or not currently supplying during the day, the notion to increase the load during that time is insane! The day time, especially morning, is one of the already largest peaks of the day. That is the time where we need to be reducing load, not ever encouraging it to increase!!! Clueless, simply clueless.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jun 06, 2017
the notion to increase the load during that time is insane!


The idea falls flat on its face anyways, regardless of the time of day.

If a person observes that right now, 100% of the demand is covered by renewable energy, and they choose to switch their load on - where does the power come from? Not from renewables, because there's no knob that you can turn to make it more windy or sunny.

Instead, the extra power to run their load has to come from fossil fuels, and the fraction of renewable power on the grid starts to drop. Maybe not for a single washing machine, but for hundreds and thousands - soon the gas turbines start up again.

The only times when the information would make any difference is when there is a surplus of renewable energy which would otherwise go to waste - but that problem is a systemic issue in the grid and represents insufficient storage and/or transmission capacity, and misguided subsidy policies that incentivize overproduction.
gkam
1 / 5 (3) Jun 06, 2017
How easy it must be to sit somewhere away from the Real World and opine about the mistakes of others.

Has Eikka actually done anything but criticize?

Anything?
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jun 07, 2017

Has Eikka actually done anything but criticize?

Anything?


Don't shoot the messenger.

Where and when people pretend that things are going fine when they're not, it's expedient to point out the truth, that the emperor has no clothes. If there's no problem, then it's unnecessary to say anything - you won't add to the success of other people with idle praise.

All you may do is try to steal some valor - to pretend that by clapping your hands along with the crowd you're somehow part of the team and part of the glory.
AGreatWhopper
not rated yet Jun 07, 2017
35??? Yeah, the Central Limit Theorem starts to kick in there, but you get better studies with multiples of 3-4 times that.

I'm all for not accepting correlational studies with high N- give truth a chance- but I don't think they did that.

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