Remember the energy crisis that ushered in a darkened New Millennium?
Worse than the feeble Y2K bug that threatened to crash computers and ruin digital data at the turn of the century, the energy crisis cost billions, threatened lives and spawned a generation of power conservationists.
Even with the nation's attention diverted by the war on terrorism and financial pirates (among them those who allegedly conspired to fraudulently generate the crisis), many haven't forgotten that blackouts did erase computer data, spoil groceries and leave families sweltering in the summer heat.
Thirty-five percent, a still growing number of U.S. home owners have an interest in generating their own electricity, according to "America Unplugged 2002" a survey by North Salem, NY-headquartered RKS Research & Consulting, a nationwide market research and public opinion polling firm.
That's up from 31 percent two years ago at the height of the so-called energy crisis, according to RKS' fourth national survey of the market potential for consumers adopting on-site power generation.
"People still feel a little hesitant. We have not seen less interest, in fact, it has gone up. It's the penetration of computers in homes and people have more than one and they get very upset when something has to be reset and they come home from work and all the clocks are blinking and they are inconvenienced. It's not just an outage of more than five minutes, it's the little stuff they remember," says Richard Claeys, vice president of the California field office in Santa Clara.
The desire for generating power is not restricted to high-income households, but when those with incomes of $50,000 or more were considered the interest rises to 38 percent.
Three in 10 of those interested in generating their own juice say they are likely to start the process of evaluating and acquiring generating equipment within the next five years. Most of them will start the process even sooner, within the next two years, according to the study.
"Now we'll just see who comes out first with a complete (equipment, service, financing and upgrades) residential on-site power solution," Claeys said.
RKS's results are in tune with current real estate trends. The desire to generate energy goes hand-in-hand with the increased demand for greater security, which often means buying a first or second home in a more remote location deemed safer than urban, densely populated areas considered more vulnerable to terrorists' attacks.
"The large percentages and the upward trends in these latest findings suggest that a viable home owners' market is starting to emerge for on-site generating solutions," said David J. Reichman, RKS Chairman and CEO.
"These levels of interest are clearly niche markets at the present time, but now, for the first time, we are seeing evidence in this survey of strong interest backed by an expressed willingness to buy," he added.
Interest in generating power at home was most keen from households with actual experience or perceived problems with power reliability and quality. Four in 10 of households surveyed said they would be willing to pay more each month for increased power reliability.
A significant number of households also see value in energy independence and self-sufficiency. More than half of the independent-minded residential customers -- 56 percent -- expressed a high degree of interest in on-site power.
RKS findings are from a telephone survey of 602 heads of households during the months of April and May this year. The results were sent to sponsoring utilities, energy marketers, and energy service companies.
Claeys said most consumers are looking to solar as the independent power generating source of choice. A new generation of fuel cells are also getting some attention, he said.
"People who are interested are people who go to Home Depot on Saturday. If you make it easy for them, they are getting awfully close to actually doing it," said Claeys.
"Up to four to nine incidents (of power outages) a year gets annoying. People have deep enough pockets and the idea of being self sufficient appeals to them," he added.