One in ten Americans say they are knowledgeable where electricity comes from

Rochester, N.Y., July 30, 2009 – While Congress debates the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, much education is needed to enhance public knowledge, understanding and interest in various sources of electrical power, their associated benefits and risks and the value of becoming more energy efficient.

These are some of the results from The Harris Poll, a new study of 2,177 U.S. adults surveyed online between June 8 and 15, 2009 by Harris Interactive.
Only one in ten Americans (9 percent) are very knowledgeable about sources of electrical power, while half (50 percent) are fairly knowledgeable.

Further, only one in five U.S. adults (21 percent) are very interested in keeping up to date about energy issues related to the sources of electrical power and energy efficiency with 53 percent saying they are fairly interested.

When it comes to renewable sources of energy and natural gas, the public overwhelmingly indicates that the benefit of the source outweigh the risks. At least two-thirds of Americans believe that when used, the benefits of solar (82 percent), wind/turbine (78 percent), hydroelectric (water) (73 percent) and natural gas (66 percent) outweigh any risks associated with the different sources.

Coal, which provides approximately half (49 percent) of electrical power production in the United States and is the most heavily used source of energy, is perceived differently. Two in five Americans (42 percent) say the risks of using coal outweigh the benefits while 36 percent believe the benefits outweigh the risks.

Further, almost one-quarter of Americans (22 percent) say they are not at all sure. Nuclear energy, which is seeing resurgence in the number of new plants, leans towards the benefits with 44 percent of Americans saying the benefits outweigh the risks and 34 percent believing the risks outweigh the benefits. With regard to biomass and geothermal, large numbers (60 percent and 40 percent respectively) are not at all sure.

So What?
With limited knowledge and interest in the topic, as the debate over the Energy bill rages on, public opinion can be based on incomplete or inaccurate information about the various sources of energy and their perceived benefits and risks.

Significant room exists to educate the public on the pros and cons of each source of energy, including factors such as; current and future use of each source, reliability, cost, environmental impacts and ways to become more energy efficient. Much work is needed by Congress, energy companies and communities to engage consumers in the dialogue around this new energy economy.

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States June 8 and 15, 2009, among 2,177 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

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