Energy: A Millennial Perspective

Contributed by Marcela Moreno

Different generations have different perceptions about different things - including energy. Much has been said about millennials, the first generation to come "of age" in the new millennium, but their voices are having a significant impact on current thinking. There is a growing concern within their ranks about the condition of the world and, in particular, the side effects and ramifications of energy on the planet. For a different perspective on energy, this blog entry was created by a self-defined millennial.

 

Energy from a millennial perspective is a tricky subject to tackle. Industry seems to paying attention to our generation these days, especially regarding our consumer behavior, spending habits, and collective values. A Business Insider article about industries "destroyed" by millennials reports that profits for chain restaurants, starter homes, diamonds, cereal... are all facing a downturn. The Brookings Institution published a research paper in 2014 on millennial values that may shape the future economy which include:
 
Emphasis on corporate social responsibility, ethical causes, and stronger brand loyalty for companies offering solutions to specific social problems
A greater reverence for the environment, even in absence of a major environmental disaster
 
Why are these traits important to professionals in the energy industry? I believe it is an opportunity for energy-related companies, utilities, and nonprofits to develop products, strategies and other innovative ideas to engage my generation. For example, something that might be the most important economic casualty (as it relates to energy), is our reluctance to buy a home. Speaking from firsthand experience, I do not own a home, nor do I plan to do so in the near future. As someone who considers herself a steward of the environment, it sure is frustrating that my options for energy efficiency and purchasing are largely out of my hands. 
 
With the surge in popularity of tracking devices such as fitbit®, Apple Watch as well as cloud-connected devices such as Amazon Echo, Nest, etc., there seems to be a space to engage millennials on their energy usage. Is Nest already the answer for a cloud-connected, modern, trendy tracking device? Yes and no. Nest is a great option for homeowners, and unfortunately, millennials are not jumping the gun for a mortgage, at least not yet.  
 
A hallmark of our generation is our focus on wellness, which could be considered a step beyond health --- “a holistic paradigm of physical and mental health”. For this reason, I want to make the argument that as a generation (really, everyone) should care about federal decisions being made about our energy future. Thinking through the potential impacts of our electricity and transportation prior to implementing these decisions could avoid unintended consequences to human health in the future (coal is a classic example). Ambient air pollution and water quality are issues that should concern all people across party lines, environmental enthusiast or not, and in general, those involved in the energy sector.
 
For example, ambient air pollution, which is caused by automobiles, industries, and households, creates fine particulate matter (PM), the most harmful type that comes primarily from fuel combustion.    
 
Several growing neighborhoods of Atlanta (Kirkwood, Candler Park, Inman Park, Old Fourth Ward and other parts of East Atlanta), experience less than ideal air quality. The map above is a tool used by the Atlanta Roadside Emissions Exposure Study (AREES), which “enables the Atlanta Regional Commission to evaluate air pollution at the neighborhood level”. The model shows annual average PM 2.5 from roadway sources (industry, households exempt). Consider an avid runner who runs along paths, sidewalks and sometimes arterial roads in areas identified as having a high PM level. For a healthy person, the effect may not be immediately obvious, but over time PM 2.5 has been associated with lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease. However, for someone with a condition that causes sensitivity to air pollution such as asthma, performing activities along the Ponce de Leon corridor could induce an asthma attack.
 
Energy is not something that I grew up learning much about, except how to avoid high costs. Conversations with friends divulge that many have not looked closely at their energy bill. They are shocked when I mention they have been paying a fee for a nuclear power plant. I think the utility companies have missed an opportunity for consumer education, particularly with millennials. This opportunity for engaging a new audience in environmental and energy literacy should be embraced and encouraged from all facets of the energy sector. Albeit a bit trite, knowledge is power, and giving this new customer base the knowledge they need to make choices that benefit us all -- in energy efficiency, in greener transportation, and in public – is important.
 
Overall, the point is that millennials, entrepreneurs, utilities and advocacy organizations should pay attention to this phenomenon of how my generation perceives energy and how we engage with rapidly evolving energy-related technology. 
 
For millennials, it is a call to be a steward for your environment, not only for Earth’s health but also your own.
 
For entrepreneurs, it is a call to develop innovative ideas that allow us to mitigate environmental stressors due to energy-related activities. 
 
For advocacy organizations, it is a call to engage new audiences in energy efficiency, conservation, and pollution reduction measures.
 
For utilities, it is a call to connect with this burgeoning generation to make a positive impact on the world and change the way we see energy forever. 
 
For everyone, we all need to foster collaboration and communication to move our nation’s energy future to a sustainable system that is just, environmentally conscious, and secure for the next generations to come.
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