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Do people think “cleaner is cheaper?” Can you sell it?

In our recent research, the vast majority of Americans either thought that the cost of clean energy in recent years has stayed the same or has gotten more expensive. Perhaps shockingly, fewer than 20% of Americans think that clean energy has become cheaper, even though the cost of solar has fallen by 90% over the last ten years. And based on the nearly two dozen focus groups with Americans across the political spectrum we’ve watched in the last few months, that perception feels fairly entrenched. People want clean, they just don’t want the cost of it – or at least, what they think it will cost. So, can we just tell people that “clean is cheap” to spur more adoption and increased support for clean energy products and projects?

The data says …

After four large scale studies with a total sample of more than 24,500 responses: unfortunately, just telling someone that “it’s cheaper” doesn’t appear to be a great sales pitch – even if cost appears to be the stated barrier to action. Consistently in our message tests, trying to sell “clean energy as cheap” was much less effective than the top performing message in the same study. Average lift across message testing For the uninitiated… is clean energy cheap? Yes. Actually, it is. It’s not only cheaper than before, it is objectively cheap. In the last ten years, the cost of solar energy has decreased by 85%, and the cost of wind has dropped by 55%, and even the cost of lithium ion batteries, which are critical to the deployment of EVs, has fallen by 85%. But more than just becoming dramatically cheaper over time, in many cases it’s now reaching the point of being even cheaper than the status quo. Compared to their natural gas and coal-powered counterparts, new clean energy production is consistently the least expensive option. (Specifically, this is true for utilities; for the consumer, intermittency makes pricing more complex, but it is certainly getting closer each and every year.) image That’s interesting …

The “clean is cheap” message isn’t a very credible message, and therefore isn’t very effective – unless it’s coming directly from their neighbors. With rising energy bills, gas prices, food prices, rising everything, it’s hard to believe that, of all things, clean energy is getting cheaper. Confronted by their staggering energy bills at the end of the month, Americans aren’t parsing out exactly how much of that 10% increase is due to price increases by fossil fuel companies, energy utilities, or clean energy. Furthermore, accessing clean energy savings, disentangling tax breaks, or accounting for lifetime value often isn’t in the calculus of the average citizen. (Recall that 56% of Americans can hardly cover a $1,000 emergency expense with their savings. And yet, energy is adding roughly $800, on average, to the financial burden of American families.) They do know two things: energy prices are going up, and clean energy is increasing. image It’s no wonder simply saying “clean energy is cheap” can feel a bit like screaming into the void. At the same time, for some, hearing that clean energy is “cheap” may feel like gaslighting. But the truth is on our side. Clean energy is becoming more affordable, and it will continue to decrease in costs as the technologies improve, economies of scale improve, and new laws take effect. What to do about it … talk about abundance Our message testing indicates the best way for people to understand the economic value of clean energy is not to just assert that it is lower cost, but rather to teach people that it is abundant and limitless, and therefore becomes less expensive over time. Limitless sun, limitless wind, limitless American ingenuity – all in our backyard. Supply and demand are intuitive concepts, and it’s easy to grasp that dirty fuels face limitations in supply. Abundance frame beats Cheap Education on costs is a long-term investment. In addition to “abundance,” we can rely on other value pillars, like safety, independence, and resilience, which often gets us much farther in building clean energy appeal. In the meantime, here are two other ways to better engage citizens:

  1. Focus on a key driver of today’s increased prices and let people draw their own conclusions. “Our dependency on fossil energy is driving up costs.”
  2. Show, don’t tell that clean is getting more attainable, more accessible. “Clean” is still perceived as elite, but the more we showcase “clean” as part of everyday life, without fanfare, the more everyone can see that clean is for “people like me.”

To really drive consideration, let’s meet them where they are.

John and Jessica