Feeling cynical about the state of the climate? Well, it’s hardly a guarantee of a liveable climate, but a peek at Google Trends might provide a glimmer of hope.
People are increasingly ready for the all-electric future at home and on the road. From “induction stove” to “home EV charging,” search interest is rising. And while climate change is certainly not up to the individual to solve — that’s mainly on governments and corporations — shifts in public tastes can bring about policy changes. Fast. (See: outdoor dining in major cities; marriage equality.)
Protocol took a look at the past five years of search interest for a number of electrification hacks. Google Trends uses a scale from one to 100 to measure interest over time, with 100 marking the peak popularity for the search term in a given region and a given time period. For the bulk of the home and transport electrification terms that Protocol reviewed, the peak hit in the last year, if not in the last few months.
Let’s take induction stoves as an example. A type of electric cooktop, they transfer heat directly to a pan via electromagnetism, rather than first heating up the stove itself. They are by far the most energy-efficient option to heat things up. Switching from gas to induction not only speeds up cooking, but it lowers the health and safety risks of piping and burning methane gas in your house.
Induction stoves are more expensive than gas ranges. They also only account for 1% of all stoves in the U.S. While searches for both “electric stove” and “gas stove” still far outstrip those for “induction stove,” search interest has built steadily in recent years, peaking in November 2021. (In fact, interest tends to jump every November, perhaps reflecting Thanksgiving turkey — or Tofurkey — cooking concerns or stove problems.)
Interest in heat pumps, the still obscure but mighty alternative to traditional energy-intensive HVAC systems, has built as well, though more subtly. There have been major spikes around the time of major storms and hot and cold snaps. That includes peaks around January 2018’s enormous and widespread blizzard and February 2021’s cold snap that wiped out power in much of Texas. Still, search interest has noticeably increased in the past five years.
The increase in interest in electric transportation options has been much steeper than in induction stoves and heat pumps, though. This speaks in part to the fact that people tend to look into new cars and new bikes more regularly than major household appliances, as well as to the fact that EVs suddenly seem to be everywhere: in Super Bowl commercials, in President Joe Biden’s speeches, even in delivery fleets.
Electric bikes, for instance, saw a major jump in interest around the time that the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020. While it initially leveled off in the pandemic’s first year, interest has continued to build throughout the past year, peaking last autumn.
And interest in the terms “home EV charging” and “EV for sale” have also built in recent years, particularly after January 2021. It has paralleled a surge of new EV models and the Biden administration’s forays into electrifying transit. Interest hit its peak in March of this year, soaring in dramatic fashion as gas prices hit record heights and made conventional vehicles more expensive in comparison.
Clearly the cost of both gas and electricity has been on searchers’ minds as well. Google saw a rush of searches for “electricity price” during last year’s Texas storm, and another in March of this year, in tandem with soaring fuel prices and geopolitical upheaval that left energy prices in disarray worldwide.
Search interest is an imperfect proxy for public taste, of course, but it does give us a rough sense of what people are interested in. With Google Trends showing people are looking at more electric options amid worries about rising energy prices, it’s now on companies and policymakers to deliver.