Governments and utilities will have to drastically reduce their carbon emissions in order to mitigate the risks associated with climate change. These reductions will require transitioning electrical infrastructure to systems that rely on cleaner fuels and power-generation technologies. Despite the many factors influencing both the process and the eventual outcomes of these transitions, it is typically the cost of the transition, along with individuals’ willingness to pay (WTP) for them, that dominates both strategic planning and political discourse.

It’s our assertion that most studies deployed to calculate the public’s WTP for energy transitions often rely on unrealistic policy options, ignore important social and environmental consequences, and fail to provide individuals with tools that help them to navigate complex tradeoffs across conflicting environmental, social, and economic objectives.

This research involved three studies aimed at improving the quality of judgments and decisions about energy transitions. As expected, our results show that individuals will often state at the outset of an elicitation that minimizing cost is their main priority when considering energy transitions. However, when provided with decision-support tools that help them to make tradeoffs across conflicting objectives, these same individuals will select among the most costly transition options as long as they perform well across other social and environmental objectives.

Thus, consumers’ WTP for climate-friendly energy transitions is likely much higher than has been estimated in other studies.

This research was led by Dr. Douglas Bessette, a PhD student in the lab between 2011 and 2014. Click here for more information about this research.