Energy Myths: What do Canadians think they know about Electricity

Over the course of this month, the Abacus Insider has been focused on topics related to energy.  Last week, David wrote about Canadian’s positive and negative perceptions of various forms of energy generation based on an Abacus Data national poll conducted in September.  Although, as David pointed out, Canadians had a relatively clear perceptual hierarchy of various means of energy generation in terms of environmental impact, there was less clarity in terms of cost and impact on health and safety.

In the survey, respondents were asked to rank a range of different power generation methods from most to least expensive and environmentally friendly – the results are shown in the table below in the form of mean scores for each energy type.  Scores closer to one were ranked higher, while scores closer to seven were ranked lower.


The interesting finding here, particularly on the issue of cost, was the lack of differentiation between mean scores.  When asked about how expensive each method of generating electricity was, there was almost no consensus amongst Canadians.  Many of the decisions we make in our lives are influenced by actual or perceived costs; from the simple choice of which brand of cereal to buy, right through to opinions on major public policy issues like health care and education, our perception of costs help to inform our points of view.

Although the average Canadian may not be expected to know the relative cost differences between means of power generation, or even the environmental impact (note that Canadians ranked nuclear and coal as having nearly identical environmental impacts), these findings led me to consider what else Canadians may not know about when it comes to electricity.

Think about some of the headlines related to energy you may have seen recently.  Things like: ‘nuclear power is dangerous’, ‘clean coal really is clean’, ‘wind farms are expensive and disruptive’, or ‘ethanol fuel is the way of the future’.  Are any of these statements true?  In an era where virtually everything we do or use as a society depends on electricity to some degree, many of us are woefully unaware of the details.

Discovery Channel subsidiary and Popular Mechanics Online have both done great jobs of putting together lists of some of the most popular myths related to trending topics in energy and electricity (links open in a new tab or window):

Popular Mechanics: Debunking the top 10 Energy Myths 5 Myths about Renewable Energy

Both are brief, entertaining reads.  With Canada an important player in the global natural resources and energy markets, our energy production is almost inextricably linked with political policy and debate.  Sustainable energy is not only an enticing goal but also, in many respects, a key to our economic and social futures.  In that light, there’s value in being just as careful about hype as about criticism.


The survey was conducted online with 1,600 respondents in English and French using an internet survey programmed and collected by Abacus Data. A random sample of panelists was invited to participate in the survey from a representative panel of Canadians.  The survey was completed from Aug 30 to Sept 4, 2013.

Since the online survey was not a random, probability based sample, a margin of error could not be calculated.   The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association prohibits statements about margins of sampling error or population estimates with regard to most online panels.

The margin of error for a probability-based random sample of 1,600 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.
The data was weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, education level, and region.
These questions were posed as part of the Abacus Data monthly Omnibus survey.  

Alex Monk leads Abacus Data’s Business Strategy and Implementation practice and manages the development and testing of all online surveys and panels. He is also responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of Abacus Data and overseeing the company’s accounting department. Alex earned his BA (honours) in Political Science and Economics from Carleton University, and is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

Contact Alex Monk, CMA:

T: 613-232-2806 x.249