As we focus on the future and designing what’s next at Zpryme’s ETS17 event — whose theme, Design for Energy, explores how we can redesign the energy industry to meet the needs of next-generation communities — we also need to look back. 

The energy industry has experienced critical events and crises throughout its history that redesigned the industry and — if we’re going to shape its future — we have to understand what shaped its past. The new Zpryme series, Powerless: Events that Redesigned Energy, will explore the impacts of historic energy events through research and storytelling.

The Energy Crisis: Lasting Personal Impacts

Our first segment in the Powerless series explores the turbulent 1970s, and the oil-driven Energy Crisis that shaped a generation. Yesterday, we explored the chaotic feelings of the Energy Crisis and how those feelings compare with today. Today, we’ll look at the lasting impacts of the Energy Crisis on first the energy industry, and second on people’s lives and careers.

Influence of the Energy Crisis on Energy Today

The Energy Crisis happened, and then it ended. Simple enough, but is that the end of the story?

No. Survey respondents agreed that it definitely redesigned how America approached energy. Over 90% of respondents said the Energy Crisis has had at least some influence on energy today, and 41% thought the Energy Crisis had a significant influence. As one respondent noted, “It put great emphasis on energy efficiency that has lasted. I think it was a watershed.”


It certainly changed some of the “rules” of energy, and the motivations of folks in regards to energy, including:

  • Energy conservation. Even when it seemed the majority of the populous belittled the Energy Crisis as we talked about yesterday, many Americans began to educate themselves on energy conservation. The government helped push this by implementing the Emergency Energy Bill which asked for a 25% cutback in power use. Another example is a November 1973 TIME Magazine article that educated citizens about conserving as much energy and money as possible. The article covered ways to use gas for transportation more effectively and what cars on the market have the best MPG. It covered what appliances in the house are high in energy usage and how to increase their efficiency. “Cleaning a furnace once-a-year costs about $50 and is well worth it. A layer of soot just 1/50 of an inch thick can reduce an oil burner’s efficiency by 50%. Radiators should be dusted regularly.”
  • Energy efficiency and new energy sources. The Crisis also helped bring the realization that energy should be sought out in different forms, which has slowly paved the way to find cleaner more efficient ways to produce energy domestically. Many of the concerns in the United States also prompted new and advanced ways to improve on fuel using machines. New innovations have led to cars with higher MPG ratings and even electric vehicles.
  • S. Department of Energy. The Energy Crisis demonstrated the need for unified energy planning within the federal government. On August 4, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Organization Act, centralizing energy into a single presidential cabinet-level department.

It seems like the Energy Crisis brought more structure, sophistication and diversity to the energy industry, along with a lot of new players with different motivations that still shape it today. 

Influence of the Energy Crisis on People as Individuals 

We talk about broad, sweeping change affecting millions with the Energy Crisis, but I’m always interested in people as individuals — what shaped a person’s life, what he or she finds important and how they approach the world from different perspectives. I’ve talked with people over the years who told me that the Energy Crisis forged their careers, and we thought it would be interesting to see how true that concept is for energy professionals who lived through it. So we started by asking:

  • How much influence did the Energy Crisis have on your life overall?
  • Did the Energy Crisis make you more environmentally aware?

What we found out is that, overall, the Energy Crisis had at least somewhat of an influence directly on people’s lives. About 53% of respondents said the Energy Crisis provided some influence, and 31% experienced a significant influence. From the environmental standpoint, about 60% of respondents said they became more environmentally aware during the Energy Crisis. “To this day I remain an energy efficiency enthusiast. I don’t turn on a light without thinking twice about it,” said one respondent.


So there is certainly some level of influence, but I wanted to dig a little bit deeper into how the Energy Crisis shaped different people. I was most curious about how age shaped the impact the Energy Crisis had on people’s lives. This is probably due to the fact of how experiences as a child influenced me differently than my parents who experienced the same thing, and some of our ongoing energy education research at Zpryme.

For example, I distinctly remember being terrified that the hole in the ozone would eventually burn up my family, or trimming the plastic rings that held together a six-pack of Jolt soda to save the fish. (I’m making up the Jolt soda piece as I was completely banned from that.) Environmentalism really sunk in with me as a child, and my 30-something parents at the time — seemingly more set in their ways — never really picked it up with the same level of enthusiasm as my brothers and me. To this day, I carefully trim and dispose of six-pack rings, and aerosol cans always me feel slightly guilty even when they are CFC-free.

Also, at Zpryme we also talk a lot about the importance of education for children to get them involved in energy. The thought goes that the earlier you reach children about energy, the more likely they’ll be involved in it. Many experts recommend that even high school isn’t early enough; you need to reach them before middle school to have a true impact.

Based on thoughts like these, my hypothesis was that the younger you were, the more likely it would be that the Energy Crisis shaped your life, but the results surprise me.

Let’s breakdown the questions by age group. We explored four key age groups (as much as I wanted to explore people who were 40s or older during the Energy Crisis, we didn’t get enough responses in those groups):

  • A child: 69 respondents
  • A teenager: 116 respondents
  • College-aged: 86 respondents
  • Young professional (late 20s/30s): 77 respondents

If we consider the questions about influence and environmentalism relative to the age groups above, here are the results:



The Energy Crisis shaped older folks at the time more than younger ones. I’ve wrestled with why this is the case, and I don’t have any great conclusions. My thoughts include things like:

  • Maybe adults better realized how the world was changing, and it was a real wakeup call from their energy-hog days of the 1950s and 1960s?
  • Maybe college students were more receptive to environmentalism because of the counterculture and general “hippie-ness” going on at the time?
  • My husband and I were chatting about how environmentalism was all over school when we were growing up in the 1980s and 90s, so perhaps there just wasn’t as much of it covered in schools in the 1970s?

I’d welcome anyone’s thoughts as to why this might be the case in terms of the Energy Crisis’s influence on older individuals during the time.

The Energy Crisis and its Influence on Careers

So we discussed the influence on people’s lives overall, but what about careers? Overall, half of the respondents said that the Energy Crisis had no role in their energy careers.


However, some people were significantly influenced to the point that the Energy Crisis drove them to change their careers as shown by these respondents:

  • “It fascinated (and angered) me to the point of becoming an energy engineer and focusing my career on demand-side conservation.”
  • “After working at a gas station, I started working at a large electric and gas utility in the areas of generation, transmission, distribution, metering, energy efficiency, demand response, renewables, and automation.”
  • “This is why I’ve spent 40-years in the energy biz!”
  • “It has been my life’s work!”
  • “I switched from electrical engineering to environmental to energy engineering.”
  • “It provided me my entry point into a 45-year career in federal energy work.”
  • “It influenced me to pursue a career in energy efficiency, which I did, and am still doing.”

And my personal favorite:

  • “I went into energy as a career, rather than becoming a computer programmer at Microsoft when it first started. A poor choice in hindsight, but I think energy has been more fun.”

When we look at it from an age standpoint, however, the Energy Crisis played a more significant role for people who were further along in their careers.


Again, what inspires us at certain point in our lives? You always hear people having some pivotal moment or realization as a kid, but it can really happen whenever. And maybe it is just that younger generations found other energy events to be more impactful on their lives than the Energy Crisis. Such as one respondent, who reminded us, “Don’t forget Enron.”

Thanks for joining us in our first journey into the realm of energy history, and how significant events redesigned the energy industry, and continue to do so today. Keep an eye out for future installments as we explore the role of other pivotal moments in shaping the energy industry and the lives of professionals involved in the space. If you have a great story to share or an idea of an event to explore, we’d love to hear it.

Thanks to ace-researcher, Danny Starr, for his study of the perspectives during the Energy Crisis.

 H. Christine Richards is the research director for Zpryme. You may reach her at