Consumer conservation behavior motivated by overcharging

provided by California Energy Commission

t is no surprise that, during last year's electricity crises, Californians were motivated to conserve energy. What is surprising is that they did so “to stop energy suppliers from overcharging.”

    In the most comprehensive and complete study on behavior regarding conservation actions prepared to date, almost 80 percent of consumers surveyed listed this rationale among their top reasons for energy conservation. This new data from the ongoing study, Consumer Conservation and Demand Reduction Behavior in Summer 2001, was commissioned by the California Energy Commission, and developed and conducted by researchers from Washington State University.

    The electricity crises forced California to face predictions of diminished energy supplies, rolling blackouts and spiking prices. Although the state did experience some of the anticipated events, consumers reacted with a dramatic conservation response, reducing electricity demand at record levels. By June of 2001, household consumption in the State's two largest utility service territories had declined by 10 percent to 12 percent over the previous year and continued to stay low throughout the summer.

    The updated information reports consumer responses, using data obtained by phone calls and from utility billing records. Researchers found that Californians were and continue to be concerned about energy, and that they are willing to shoulder responsibility for addressing these problems through conservation actions.

    By far the most common (and easiest) action was turning off lights (73 percent) and TVs and other equipment (50 percent) when not in use. Using air conditioning less or not at all (38 percent) and shifting specific energy use to off-peak hours (20 percent) were the actions that saved the most energy and cost.

    A remarkable number of consumers (36 percent) surveyed moved beyond behavior measures; 19 percent installed compact florescent bulbs and 17 percent low-cost or major energy efficiency hardware, such as appliances, whole house fans, or air conditioning systems.

    Past experiences or common sense (83 percent) was a major source of influence on consumer decisions and, not surprisingly, news stories (44 percent) played an important role as well. One-fifth of those surveyed commented that product rebates related to conservation were also influential in their behavior changes.

    Although residents of three of the five utility service territories had experienced some price increases in recent months, one-third said that price increases had “little” or “no” influence on their actions.

    “Californians showed remarkable resilience and willingness to make changes in their energy use in response to the 2001 crises. I applaud their efforts,” stated Governor Gray Davis, “Although the outlook for this summer is better, conservation remains one of the most important ways consumers can help the State balance electricity demand with available supplies.”

    While these findings are still in the preliminary stage and further analysis is needed, the data reports commitments by Californians to continue current conservation practices and expresses their willingness to do more, if necessary.

    The summary of the recent statewide analysis, How We Survived the Summer of 2001, was presented last month at a meeting of energy professionals. This presentation, as well as the preliminary draft report, An Exploratory Analysis of Residential Electricity Conservation Survey and Billing Data: Southern California Edison, Summer 2001, are available at:

    The report on statewide household conservation responses will be presented at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings in August 18-23, 2002. These findings will be available after that date at: