Do Tomorrow's Consumers Know Enough About Energy?

By Gary Swan
Vice President, Development at the National Energy Foundation

What do high school seniors think about current issues such as climate change and energy independence? How much do they know about where our energy in the U.S. comes from and how we get it? Do they understand the difference between fossil and renewable fuels, and do they have any idea how much we use of each?

If you’re an energy professional, or just interested in energy issues, you may have wondered about questions like these. And you’re not alone. The National Energy Foundation (NEF), a 501 (c) (3) non-profit educational organization and a national leader in the promotion of “energy literacy,” decided it was high time to actually find some answers!

During the 2016-17 school year, NEF launched an unprecedented national initiative called the National Energy Literacy Survey. In partnership with Cicero Social Impact, a prominent market research firm, NEF surveyed 2,005 high school seniors across the country to measure their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors related to energy. I’d like to share some of the survey’s fascinating results.

When it comes to energy-related knowledge, as one might expect, our high school seniors have a long way to go. For example, consider these results:

We asked students whether the following statement was true or false: “Electric vehicles use electricity generated only from renewable energy.” With a 50% chance of just guessing the right answer, only 53% of students correctly answered “false.” Ouch!

Here’s another true or false question: “Nuclear reactors do not produce air pollution or carbon dioxide while operating.” Only 33% of respondents correctly answered “true,” meaning not only do they not know the correct answer, but there is a strong misconception at play.

We asked many more questions about the use of natural gas and coal, the use of wind and solar, some science of energy basics questions, and some questions about energy use and efficiency. Students certainly knew more about energy efficiency than other topics, but even then the results were not great. Overall, students scored an average of 48.8 out of 100, with a score of 63.2 on the efficiency portion of the test.

How about attitudes? We asked students how much they agreed or disagreed with a slate of 22 attitudinal statements, ranging from those focused on environmental concerns, such as climate change, to those focused on energy independence and the role that the government should play in promoting energy efficiency. From these questions, we have preliminarily created some distinct “personas” (think psychographic profiles such as the widely known “soccer mom”). With tentative names like “agents of change” and “big talkers,” these personas promise to provide insights into how attitudes about energy drive both knowledge and behavior (and vice versa).

Finally, we asked students about their energy usage behaviors. While the basic behavior of turning off lights when leaving a room was reported to be pretty common (81% always or almost always), all other wise energy usage behaviors we asked about were below 40%.

There is so much information available. For detailed results of the survey, including recommendations about how your organization can help make a difference in improving energy literacy, please visit our national survey web page.  You can also contact me at or 801-327-9504


Rhetoric Without Reason: The Dangers of Divestment

Over the past several years, PACE has reported on the energy stock divestment movement, noting this misguided social activism’s potential to weaken university endowments and spread misinformation about energy. Today, we are releasing a new paper describing a renewed and expanded divestment push, now also aimed at pension funds and financial institutions. Today’s PACE blog is the white paper’s Executive Summary; please take a look and share this with colleagues and on social media.

Simply put, divestment is the selling of stocks deemed by an individual or institution as unworthy of holding. Over the past several years, a small but vocal faction of environmental advocates has seized on the idea of energy stock divestment. Reports earlier this year showed 701 global institutions managing assets estimated at $5.46 trillion divesting energy holdings.

While energy divestment first targeted university endowments, it soon spread to public pension funds. As the U.S. continues to back away from the Paris Climate Accord, and oil and gas pipeline projects continue to develop to serve growing demand, divestment activists have begun to target specific projects. In spring 2017, USBancorp issued a lengthy public statement announcing it would no longer finance oil and gas pipelines.

Cloaked in grassroots populism, energy divestment is one of the most anti-democratic social movements afoot today, gambling with the retirement security and education costs of untold numbers of U.S citizens. Arguments against divestment are clear and compelling:

  • University endowments are meant to support students’ education now and for the long haul. Endowments are not intended to be political vehicles.
  • Similarly, pension funds are created and maintained to support employees and their families in retirement. Employees deserve the most financially rewarding retirement possible; divestment advocates should not be allowed to use other people’s money to advance social causes.
  • When divestment targets specific banks and energy projects, costs rise for millions of consumers as much-needed energy may be delayed in coming to markets. This in turn may slow economic growth or recovery.
  • Divestment fails to accept the fact that fossil fuel-based energy is needed now and will be for decades to come, until technology enables widespread, viable alternatives.

In response to these trends, PACE has expanded our own examination of divestment. It is critical for regulators, lawmakers and consumers to understand that the spread of energy divestment isn’t a smarter way forward for pensioners, investors, or even for clean energy proponents. On the contrary, divestment threatens pension beneficiaries, investors, and may even deter leading energy companies from pursuing sustainable energy projects.


Vogtle 3 and 4 Still Common Sense for Georgia

The Georgia Public Service Commission is once again holding hearings and taking public testimony on the merits of proceeding with construction of Units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle. This week’s Vogtle Construction Monitoring (VCM) hearings have, as usual, included spirited debate, sometimes set to ukulele music. (As Florida’s sage Dave Barry used to say, “I am not making that up.”)

As the Commissioners and staff continue to closely and responsibly examine the costs and timelines for the massive construction project, they are being bombarded with half-truths and histrionics. But there are just as many rational voices in the debate, including that of Georgia’s esteemed former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn.

In November 2017, Sen. Nunn, who has devoted his post-congressional service to studying nuclear issues and global security, authored a memo applauding the Vogtle partners’ “unity and determined commitment to overcome remaining obstacles and to complete this important project which will be a long-term asset for Georgia and for our nation.”

Sen. Nunn continued, “There are many reasons to support commercial nuclear energy including – jobs created through nuclear construction – meeting the needs of citizens added to our rolls through Georgia’s dynamic growth – and providing for a diversity of electric options that assure power delivery over the long haul. From a climate change perspective, zero carbon nuclear power is important in its own right and as a backup for growing renewable sources of energy, including wind and solar.” He continued, saying that “…a viable commercial nuclear energy enterprise in the United States is essential to our national security.”

Sen. Nunn also quoted and strongly agreed with former Obama Administration Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who has said, “Nuclear power development is a critical factor in global security. U.S. national security is enhanced if the public and private sectors work in tandem to shape the global spread of nuclear energy consistent with energy security, safety, environmental stewardship and geopolitical stability.”

A similar opinion is expressed by University of Georgia Associate Professor David Gattie, who writes in The Hill, “With respect to nuclear power and U.S. national security, the U.S. electric power sector is a vital and critical infrastructure.  The absence of a vibrant and robust civilian nuclear power sector would risk reducing the United State’s position of dominance and influence over the global nuclear energy cycle, which is the foundation to nuclear safety and nonproliferation.”

Debate will continue this week at the PSC, but so will construction at the Vogtle site. Every day, Georgia gets closer to a resource that will serve its citizens with safe, affordable, reliable energy for decades to come. I’m not making that up and neither are Sen. Nunn, Sec. Moniz, or the hundreds of witnesses across the years who have provided data that support moving Units 3 and 4 forward.