Like many things in life, energy conservation is an exercise in delayed gratification.
The issue essentially comes down to whether we as consumers are willing to pay more today to save money and energy throughout the life of our appliances.
Unfortunately for the utility companies contemplating spending billions on new power plants, it appears that while we are opting for energy efficient versions of many of our less-expensive items, fewer of us are taking advantage of the even greater energy savings of most power-hungry appliances.
The news comes from the U.S. Energy Information Agency, which this week released its study of the adoption of Energy Star appliances, which are the top 25 percent most-efficient in their product class.
The EIA findings show that more than 90 percent of the dehumidifiers, dishwashers and televisions sold in the country are Energy Star rated.
That adoption level compares to less than 5 percent for water heaters and less than a 25 percent adoption for freezers and desktop computers
Room air conditioners, clothes washers and refrigerators scored adoption rates between 55 and 65 percent.
Overall, more than 5 billion Energy Star products have been sold since the program began in 1992.
As of 2009, 41 million homes or 36 percent of the country, had energy star-qualified clothes washers in their homes, saving about 300 billion kilowatt hours and 110 trillion BTUs of energy and avoiding more than 25 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
Televisions that meet current Energy Star requirements are on average 40 percent more energy efficient than conventional models, saving American consumers $45 billion a year on energy bills and preventing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 4.5 million vehicles.
My guess is that part of the reason consumers buy more TVs, dishwashers and laptops is because those purchases tend to be planned and budgeted. The cost of upgrading to Energy Star for those products also tends to be measured in tens — not hundreds — of dollars.
When the dryer goes out unexpectedly and you're forced to replace it, spending an extra few hundred dollars more for the Energy Star model may be much harder.
My wife and I are still using the inefficient washer and dryer we bought 12 years ago when we were newlyweds and still in college. I've dismantled and rebuilt both to replace key parts, but they're still running.
My wife already has picked out the energy-efficient, front-loading model she wants when our current appliances have spun their last spin.
But until then, we unfortunately will be like the more than 40 percent of Americans still using the old, inefficient models.