2017 was a year of great change, and people’s evolving relationship with energy was just part of the story. For a variety of reasons, US consumers are trending toward taking greater charge of their energy usage, output, and choices, and setting serious goals for themselves and their communities.
Here are four trends to watch that began making waves in 2017 and are sure to gain more momentum in 2018.
1. The Buying Power of Millennials
2015’s Nielson Global Corporate Sustainability Report indicated that 66% of consumers are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. That number rises to 73% when surveying the millennial market. Millennials are a force of nature—and environmentalism, and will arguably lead the way on more of these issues as they grow into decision-making roles. And this isn’t just applicable to what they buy, it’s also how they invest: according to Morgan Stanley, 61% of millennials have taken at least one sustainability-oriented investment action in the last year. They may be the younger market, but they are becoming the leaders, and businesses should follow.
2. Smart Thermostats
We live in a “smart” age. Smart TVs, smart phones, and now, energy is at the forefront of smart technology. Consumers are adding smart thermostats to their homes at a rapid pace: the global smart thermostat market is forecast to reach $3 billion by 2022, according to Grand View Research Inc. This is likely a result of people’s evolving relationship with their energy usage: their attention is no longer just about consuming, but instead the how and why of consuming. Smart thermostats are at the center of this need, as one of the easiest and most accessible technologies a homeowner can use not only to understand their energy output, but to reduce and save money in the long term as well.
Microgrids may not yet be ubiquitous, but they are growing at a quick and steady rate. The global microgrid market was at $12 billion in 2017 and GlobalData predicts it to reach $23 billion by 2021. Microgrids have become an ideal energy solution for consumers in disparate communities, ranging from lower income areas, to regions that experience serious weather threats, to people desiring an eco-friendlier lifestyle. Microgrids create an entirely new economy where people are localizing and taking greater control of their energy source, decreasing their dependency on the utility companies.
4. Waste-to-Energy (WTE)
When we think of renewable energy, the primary methods that come to mind are usually solar and wind. But there is another source of renewable energy that is rapidly on the rise: Waste-to-Energy (WTE). According to 2014 data from the EPA, we produce 258 million tons of waste in the US each year. 53% of that waste goes to landfills, 35% to recycling, and 13% is burned for energy, specifically electricity via the WTE process. While this form of renewable energy produces a relatively small amount of the US’s overall electricity, 5.5% growth is expected by 2023. By the end of 2015 there were already 71 WTE plants, up from 63 in 2011, which produced 2.3 gigawatts of electricity in 20 states.
There are many unknowns for what 2018 will hold, but it’s apparent from the technologies that have emerged that consumers want smarter ways to spend and save their money and their energy. And that’s a trend that we will continue to see well into the year.