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When green energy is the 'default' choice consumers stay loyal to renewables

When green energy is the 'default' choice consumers stay loyal to renewables
A study in Switzerland, where hydropower from sources such as the Mauvoisin Dam are responsible for a significant amount of electricity, found consumers are willing to pay a bit more for renewable energy sources if it is the default option. Photo by 4000er/Wikimedia

March 11 (UPI) -- Both commercial and residential consumers accept the slightly higher price for energy from renewable sources when green energy is presented as the "default" option.

The strategy -- dubbed the "green default" and described Thursday in the journal nature Human Behavior -- could help policy makers speed up the transition from traditional electricity sources to renewable energy sources.

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Scientists recruited two Swiss energy suppliers to test the efficacy of the green default strategy.

The two companies serviced a combined total of 234,000 households and 9,000 businesses in both rural and urban areas. Both companies offered three power supply options: conventional power, renewable power and "renewable plus."

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Most energy companies use conventional power as their default option, but for the study, the two companies automatically assigned the renewable package unless customers opted out.

Prior to the change, the companies supplied conventional energy sources to 97 and 98.8 percent of their residential customers.

After the change, those numbers dropped to 15 and 11 percent. After six years, roughly 80 percent of households were still using green energy.

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Conventional energy usage also declined significantly among small and medium-sized businesses, from 97 to 23 percent for one supplier and from 99.3 to 15.3 percent for the other.

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Roughly 70 percent of commercial customers were still using green energy, six years later.

The data showed energy usage patterns remained largely the same, regardless of the type of energy being supplied.

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"Our study shows that 'green defaults' have an immediate, enduring impact and as such should be part of the toolkit for policymakers and utility companies seeking to increase renewable energy consumption, not only among household customers but also in the business sector," lead study author Ulf Liebe, professor of sociology at the University of Warwick in Britain, said in a news release.

Researchers found women decision makers in both households and businesses were more likely than men to accept and stick with the green default.

Green defaults in countries with large conventional energy usage rates could reduce their carbon emissions by adopting green defaults, though scientists said the scale of the strategy's benefits would depend on the nature of the energy market and social cost of carbon in each country.

Researchers estimated that if green defaults were universally adopted by power suppliers in Germany, annual CO2 emissions could be reduced by roughly 45 million tons.

"Overall, non-monetary incentives can be highly effective in both the household and business sectors," researchers wrote.

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