It is no surprise that during last year's electricity crises, Californians were motivated to conserve energy. What is surprising is that they did so "to stop energy suppliers from over charging."

In the most comprehensive and complete study on behavior regarding conservation actions prepared to date, almost 80 percent of consumers surveyed listed this rationale among their top reasons for energy conservation. This new data from the on-going study, Consumer Conservation and Demand Reduction Behavior in Summer 2001, was commissioned by the California Energy Commission, and developed and conducted by researchers from Washington State University.

The electricity crises forced California to face predictions of diminished energy supplies, rolling blackouts and spiking prices. Although the State did experience some of the anticipated events, consumers reacted with a dramatic conservation response, reducing electricity demand at record levels. By June of 2001, household consumption in the State's two largest utility service territories had declined by 10 percent to 12 percent over the previous year and continued to stay low throughout the summer.

The updated information reports consumer responses, using data obtained by phone calls and from utility billing records. Researchers found that Californians were and continue to be concerned about energy and that they are willing to shoulder responsibility for addressing these problems through conservation actions.

By far the most common (and easiest) action was turning off lights (73 percent) and TVs and other equipment (50 percent) when not in use.

Using air conditioning less or not at all (38 percent) and shifting specific energy use to off-peak hours (20 percent) were the actions that saved the most energy and cost. A remarkable number of consumers (36 percent) surveyed moved beyond behavior measures; 19 percent installed compact florescent bulbs and 17 percent low-cost or major energy efficiency hardware such as: appliances, whole house fans, or air conditioning systems.

Past experiences or common sense (83 percent) was a major source of influence on consumer decisions and, not surprisingly, news stories (44 percent) played an important role as well. One-fifth of those surveyed commented that product rebates related to conservation were also influential in their behavior changes.

Although residents of three of the five utility service territories had experienced some price increases in recent months, one-third said that price increases had "little" or "no" influence on their actions.

While these findings are still in the preliminary stage and further analysis is needed. They reported commitments to continue their current conservation practices and expresses their willingness to do more, if necessary.

The summary of the recent statewide analysis, How We Survived the Summer of 2001, was presented last week at a meeting of energy professionals. This presentation as well as the preliminary draft report, An Exploratory Analysis of Residential Electricity Conservation Survey and Billing Data: Southern California Edison, Summer 2001 are available at www.energy.ca.gov/efficiency/behavior.