People love the idea of saving money and energy. It’s just the execution that’s the problem.

Survey responses are all over the place when it comes to efficiency upgrades. A small lighting survey by a major lighting company found that 30 percent of homes don’t use incandescents anymore. But a new study released by the Shelton Group, Utility Pulse 2013, shows that efficiency efforts are slowing overall.

The overall trend in the survey is that energy-efficient investments are pretty stagnant.

So what could pick up the pace? Shelton found nearly three-quarters of the 1,000 survey participants said that knowing their neighbors’ consumption data would influence their own actions.

One problem, however, is unrealistic expectations. One quarter of respondents said there’s absolutely nothing their utility could do to earn a perfect customer score. People are frustrated about rising rates, but unwilling to put up with outages after major storms. Nearly half of the survey participants who have invested in energy-efficiency measures said they aren’t seeing the bill impact they expected. 

Part of the problem is a lack of good information, something that is starting to change as utilities (and their third-party partners) offer more information about the biggest energy hogs in the house.

The Shelton survey does little to help the information gap. When it asks about energy conservation activities, it directs respondents to report if they unplug chargers when they’re not in use. The reality is that water heaters, heating and cooling are the major energy hogs. No one is unplugging the fridge on the way out the door. Nonetheless, about half of the respondents said they unplug chargers when not in use, even though the proportional  energy use of new small electronics is relatively minimal. But only about one-third of people reported having lowered the setting on the water heater.

Although most consumers appear to be somewhat uncertain about what uses energy in their homes, people still want energy-efficient options and rebates when they go shopping, according to the study. Again, new programs offered by big-box stores and startups like Opower are matching rebates and discounts with personalized messaging.

There are some bright spots to be found in the survey results. More than 40 percent of people are getting their utility bills online, which is a good jumping-off point via which to engage consumers in energy efficiency messaging and education or to offer rebates. Compared to 2009, people are more willing to learn more about dynamic pricing or demand response.

The timing is right for Obama’s proposed energy and grid modernization, a line item in the president's 2014 budget request. The budget item calls for $200 million for states that implement policies that will cut energy waste and modernize the grid, including “modernizing utility regulations to encourage cost-effective investments in efficiency, including combined heat and power and demand response resources, and in clean distributed generation; enhancing customer access to data; investments that improve the reliability, security and resilience of the grid; and enhancing the sharing of information regarding grid conditions.”

Utilities are finally joining the 21st century when it comes to customer interaction. Big-box stores tout their energy-efficient offerings (some Best Buys even have weather stripping). 2013 could be the year when Americans really learn, and then do something, about energy use.

Tags: electricity cost, energy efficiency, energy star, home energy use, utility rebates