KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Although residential electricity consumption is increasing, a national survey finds Americans blame their utilities or their inefficient homes for their rising energy bills rather than putting the blame on themselves for using more power.

The survey, conducted by the Shelton Group, found Americans are more likely to blame an inefficient home — 25 percent think their homes are inefficient — or utilities (18 percent), and not their own demand for energy (12 percent). In addition, many of those who’ve made energy-efficient improvements say their utility bills have remained the same, or gone up.

“We’re seeing an unfortunate consumer tendency to avoid responsibility for wasting energy. Instead, more people are blaming outside forces over which they feel they have little or no control,” said Suzanne Shelton, CEO of Shelton Group. “It’s a case of learned helplessness: People are giving up on conserving energy because they think there’s nothing they can do.”

The national poll, Shelton’s eighth annual Energy Pulse™ survey, found 80 percent of Americans think they’re using the same or less energy than in the past. Yet residential electricity consumption has actually increased, according to government statistics.

Shelton’s survey also found:

• Consumers have a high tolerance for utility bill increases. When asked how much their bill would have to increase to convince them to make energy-efficient improvements, the average answer was $120. Based on the average reported winter heating bill ($162.80), this would be a 74 percent increase. Based on the average reported summer cooling bill ($164.50), it would be a 73 percent increase.

• Americans have increasingly unrealistic expectations for the return on investment for energy-efficient improvements. When asked how much they would have to save to justify spending $4,000 on energy-efficient improvements, expectations were beyond realistic — $139 per month. That works out to an annual savings of $1,668, or a reduction of approximately 85 percent based on the average reported utility bill. There was a significant jump in the number of Americans expecting to knock more than $200 off their monthly energy bills — up 10 percent this year to 16 percent. This would require a homeowner to be nearly off the grid, generating his or her own energy.

• The propensity to make energy-efficient product purchases is generally down from last year. Improvements with the highest propensities include solar (with 32 percent saying they are likely or very likely to install, up 8 percent over last year) and a new water heater (15 percent, down 5 percent).

• When offered a solar lease option, requiring no money down, interest jumped to over 60 percent. This increased desire for solar connects back to consumers’ desire for an 85 percent reduction in monthly bills.

Installing solar is, most likely, the only way most could achieve such a reduction. This may be another clue to some Americans’ emerging desire to pull away from today’s centralized energy systems and establish personal energy independence.

What about those Americans who have given up trying to conserve energy? Shelton says utilities could take steps to get Americans back on the bandwagon, including:

• Offering incentives that reward multiple energy-efficient improvements, in order to help homeowners see a substantial reduction in their bill.

• Shifting to time-of-use billing to give homeowners new incentive to conserve energy at peak use times.

“It’s all about giving consumers a feeling of control,” Shelton said. “Americans want power over their utility bills, and right now, they feel they don’t have that.”

An executive summary of the report can be accessed at

Publication date: 12/10/2012