One thing liberals and conservatives agree on

By Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
We're often told how far apart the red states and blue states are. Aside from the obvious stalemates and squabbles in Washington, conservative and liberal Americans watch different TV shows, eat different foods, drive different cars and listen to different music. But there is one thing lefties and right-wingers seem to agree on: Using less energy is a good thing.

Because when you inform an American about exactly how much energy they are consuming, it doesn't matter whether they voted for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Either way, they want to use less electricity.

Given the news stories about compact fluorescents vs. incandescent light bulbs or hybrid cars vs. sport utility vehicles, this might come as a surprise. However the evidence — as gathered by Opower — backs it up.

The survey examined the energy use habits of customers across party lines (conservative, liberal and unaffiliated) from several regions of the country. The differences between political ideologies and geographical locations were quite close. All saved energy, and it didn't much matter how they were affiliated politically.

In the Mountain West region, liberals saved a little more than others, but only by a single percentage point. In the Northeast and Southeast, conservatives saved a little more than the liberals or the unaffiliated. So, in the end, people will save energy when they participate in programs that inform them of their electricity use, but the exact percentages can vary a bit from place to place.

There is, however, a "backfire" effect the surveyors noticed that is exclusive to conservative users. It seems that when a customer learns they are using less energy than average, the liberal-minded customer will continue doing what they are doing. The conservative-leaning one, however, will sometimes increase their energy use — perhaps feeling they're off the hook. This behavior was not observed in liberals or the unaffiliated.

The reason for this backfire effect was not fully explained by the analysis, but it appears that providing detailed information on energy use to customers who are already energy efficient is still well worth it. The more information people have, the more behavioral changes they will make in the interest of using less energy.

When it comes to trying to encourage customers to make positive behavioral changes on energy use, tech firms and energy companies can leave politics out of the equation. This is good news because making human beings of any ideological bent change their behaviors is already difficult enough.


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