Millennials want tech gadgets to save energy. But can they afford them?

A Nest thermostat installed in a home. (Photo illustration by George Frey/Getty Images)
A Nest thermostat installed in a home. (Photo illustration by George Frey/Getty Images)

Millennials are taking the lead advocating for cleaner energy and energy saving solutions and they’re doing it with their votes and their dollars.

A 2014 survey by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found two-thirds of millennials — those born after 1982 — were likely to cast votes for political candidates who made climate change and energy policies a central plank of their platforms, but only half of senior citizens would do the same.

In the same survey, 56 percent of millennials said they were willing to pay higher prices for energy if it would also protect the environment, while only 20 percent of seniors said they would as well.

One big problem: clean energy and energy-saving technology costs money, money millennials don’t exactly have.

“I think ultimately these things boil down to cost,” Alexa Marrero, deputy staff director at the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, a panelist at America Answers, a series of live events hosted by The Washington Post about how national and civic leaders can tackle 21st century problems.

“It all sounds great until you look at what it’s going to do to my monthly bill,” Marrero said.

Millennials are the demographic most likely to have college degrees, but many are struggling to find jobs. So even though young people want to find ways to cut down energy consumption and invest in renewable energy, they have to do it in ways that won’t break the bank.

At the end of the day, sometimes you just can’t do both, Marrero said.

Think about a Nest thermostat. It’s more responsive than the old kind you put on your living room wall and tweak in the middle of the night, it adjusts to seasonal weather and energy consumption because it’s connected to the cloud and it’s remotely controllable from a mobile device. What about Tesla battery-powered cars?

Those are devices young people see as technological solutions (and really cool toys) that could curb energy consumption, said panelist Claire Tramm, chief executive and co-founder of Effortless Energy and energy director of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust.

But many millennials still can’t afford them (though in some cases they could get Nest at a deep discount), leading some industry insiders to question how to increase sales and wonder how exactly millennials are going to lead on this issue.

“There’s awareness, but still questions about what the path forward is,” Marrero said.

Right now, that route looks like trying to make energy-saving technology more affordable, since another decade — when millennials will comprise 75 percent of the American workforce — until they can purchase that technology is a long time to wait. Even Pope Francis chimed in earlier this month to press for change sooner rather than later.

“Energy appeals to their compassionate ideals,” Anna Bautista, construction and workforce development vice president at GRID Alternatives, said at the panel.

That means young people are pushing the conversation on energy solutions both culturally and politically, said Tramm from Effortless Energy.


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