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What do high school seniors think about current issues such as climate change and energy independence? How much do they know about where our energy in the U.S. comes from and how we get it? Do they understand the difference between fossil and renewable fuels, and do they have any idea how much we use of each?

If you’re an energy professional, or just interested in energy issues, you may have wondered about questions like these. The National Energy Foundation (NEF) has conducted the first ever National Energy Literacy Survey, a large-scale survey measuring young people’s knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to energy covering a wide range of topics including energy issues, energy consumption, and environmental impacts of energy production and use.

During the 2016-2017 school year, 2,005 high school seniors across the country were surveyed to measure their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to energy covering a wide range of topics including energy issues, energy consumption, and environmental impacts of energy production and use. Findings are communicated in a data series, white paper, and additional resources.

NEF chose to survey high school seniors because as students are transitioning into young adulthood and taking on greater responsibility for energy consumption and civic engagement. It’s a pivotal time to understand their knowledge base and attitudes. Surveying a high school student population also provides an opportunity to assess what young people have been learning about energy and what corresponding attitudes and behaviors they have developed.

In summarizing the National Energy Literacy Survey findings NEF notes, “Although students have a basic understanding of energy efficiency, many gaps and misconceptions about energy still exist. There is still much work to do.”

For example, NEF asked students whether the following statement was true or false: “Electric vehicles use electricity generated only from renewable energy.” With a 50% chance of just guessing the right answer, only 53% of students correctly answered “false.”

NEF asked many more questions about the use of natural gas and coal, the use of wind and solar, some science of energy basics questions, and some questions about energy use and efficiency. Students certainly knew more about energy efficiency than other topics, but even then the results showed room for improvement. Overall, students scored an average of 48.8 out of 100, with a score of 63.2 on the efficiency portion of the test.

Average Literacy Score - Energy

Questions about student attitudes also yielded informative results. NEF asked students how much they agreed or disagreed with a slate of 22 attitudinal statements, ranging from those focused on environmental concerns, such as climate change, to those focused on energy independence and the role that the government should play in promoting energy efficiency. From these questions, NEF preliminarily created some distinct personas. With names like “agents of change” and “big talkers,” these personas provide insights into how attitudes about energy drive both knowledge and behavior.

Persona Development

Finally, NEF asked students about their energy usage behaviors. While the basic behavior of turning off lights when leaving a room was reported to be pretty common, all other wise energy usage behaviors NEF asked about were below 40%.

Students who often or always

National Energy Literacy Survey Resources

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