More than one-quarter of the American public believes they should never experience an electric power outage, unless there is an extreme weather event, including 34 percent of those living in the Northeast.

More than one-third of the public nationwide wouldn't accept a two-day power outage even if they were paid as much as $1,000 for it, including 42 percent of those living in the West.

These are some of the findings from the first Reliability Demand Survey (RDS) on American attitudes toward electric power outages. The RDS was a national opinion survey of over 500 Americans in April 2012 jointly sponsored by Build Energy America and Potomac Communications Group of Washington, DC and conducted by YouGov Definitive Insights of Portland, OR.

"An increasing hyper-sensitive segment of the public has developed a low tolerance for any outages," says Steven Mitnick of Build Energy America. "We wanted to know: How fast is the low tolerance segment growing, and what drives them to view outages so viscerally?"

Other key findings from the survey:

  • 45 percent said they would pay their utility $10, $20 or $40 per month more if power outages could be kept to 4 hours or less. In the South, where air-conditioning is a critical need, a 55 percent majority would pay their utility more if outages could be kept under 4 hours.
  • 64 percent responded that power outages cause "really significant problems" for their households. Among those with income less than $40,000, who may be more vulnerable to outages, as many as 71 percent said outages cause "really significant problems."

"This survey highlights one of the utility industry's toughest communications challenges," says Andy Hallmark, Partner of Potomac Communications Group. "Much of the public insists on near-perfect reliability. Would they accept the higher rates needed to upgrade our aging power system? We need to know more about different customer segments to make sure we reach them effectively."

Many Americans clearly demand no drop-off in reliability from their utility. Survey respondents' most-mentioned problems from even brief outages – after loss of air conditioning, refrigeration and heat – are loss of recharging mobile devices, entertainment and digital data.

"More and more Americans cannot and will not tolerate power outages, especially if they last two days or longer," says Mitnick. "Utilities and regulators are under increasing pressure to almost guarantee that current levels of reliability don't ratchet down by even a tick."