Customer Service, Executive Insight, Smart Grid

Five ways to move the needle with “selectively engaged” energy consumers

When given the choice, more people are choosing to use renewable energy, and many consumers are making an effort to be more efficient in saving electricity. Affordable technologies, the growing availability of smart meter data and other factors are making it easier for customers to make a range of unprecedented energy choices. The question is, are these innovations reaching all energy customers?

Even the most environmentally conscientious or tech-savvy person needs some help in identifying the best opportunities and support to make these choices a better fit with their lifestyles and desired energy goals. But for those who aren’t quite as engaged in their home energy use, even more support and education are needed.

Exploring the “selectively engaged” energy consumer

A new research report published by the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) offers invaluable insights about educating and engaging those who fall outside the energy-conscious “green champions” segment.  

According to previous customer segmentation from SECC, about 40 percent of consumers fall into the “selectively engaged” category, meaning they may have taken one or two energy-efficient steps around their home, but do not do so routinely. The “Consumer Values: Moving the Needle on Engagement report, which started with a survey of over 2,000 North American consumers, explores the needs and goals of these “selectively engaged” energy consumers. The study also delves into why customers adopt energy-efficient technologies and behaviors and what barriers keep them from doing so.

Using insights into the challenges these customers face and the priorities they have around energy, the report also gives recommendations that electricity providers and other industry stakeholders can use to better serve this customer population.

By addressing the challenges people face when prompted with the decision to be more energy efficient or not, utilities can remove barriers and turn them into opportunities to engage and encourage people to invest in home upgrades like “smart” appliances and thermostats.

Here are five ways to move the needle on engaging the “selectively engaged” consumer:

Put a price on it: Lower utility bills are the key motivator for these customers. However, while these consumers are generally interested in energy-related upgrades and technologies, they struggle to navigate all the information and program offerings and get clear information on upfront costs estimates and potential dollar savings. Offering easy to understand and personalized data about costs and benefits can help customers make a move on energy efficiency.

Contextualize benefits: While cost matters, customers need an additional motivator to pull the trigger on energy related home features, like HVAC or insulation upgrades. Fortunately, energy efficiency investments are linked to a host of customer and public benefits that the customer might not always be aware of. Educating people about the environmental benefits of energy efficiency or clean energy investments, in addition to the potential savings, can help them make decisions about energy-related actions more easily.

Make sense of the big picture: It’s important to build deep and personalized customer relationships as the energy industry changes. Rather than one-off upgrades, customers are curious about how they can best stack upgrades to make progress towards long-term energy goals at the lowest cost. With the right tools and support, people can translate energy technologies and energy use data into an actionable roadmap in line with their values and goals.

Meet the customer in the moment: Selectively engaged consumers who have made more significant energy-related upgrades most commonly made their latest major improvement in response to an immediate need or repair. In fact, they were nearly two times more likely than those making minor improvements to mention this motivating factor. In addition, the study also discovered that selectively engaged consumers are most likely to rely on brick-and-mortar retailers for information, unlike the more digitally-minded “always engaged” customer. By partnering with home-improvement retailers or using search engine marketing to alert customers of available rebates and other offers, electricity providers can help make an energy-efficient decision process much smoother.

Make it easy and barrier free: In the report’s investigation of common barriers to engagement, “selectively engaged” consumers noted that they are particularly frustrated by the difficulty of taking advantage of energy-related programs. In addition, they don’t always have energy top of mind. The easier that energy-saving assessments, programs or rebates are to take advantage of, the more likely consumers are to leverage them. This could mean providing free energy-efficiency kits or one-click sign-up to participate in a program.

Developing a smart energy ecosystem for all consumers

As the electric grid shifts to a more modern and dynamic system, we need to ensure that everyone can participate and take advantage of emerging clean and innovative energy technologies and services. Understanding their needs and goals is fundamental to removing barriers and make energy use decisions easier.

A modern grid can make the electric system more efficient, increase the use of renewables, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide cleaner air for all. Educating and effectively winning over “selectively engaged” customers is crucial in making progress toward a modernized electric grid that benefits customers, utilities and the environment alike.

About the authors: Mina Berkow is Policy Manager, Clean Energy, Environmental Defense Fund. She designs and manages efforts to enact effective processes and policies on grid modernization including energy data access, metrics and voltage optimization, to enable a more flexible, efficient, and cleaner electricity system. 

Patty Durand is President & CEO, Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative, a nonprofit whose mission is to serve as a trusted source of information for stakeholders seeking a broad understanding of consumers’ views and attitudes about energy technology and grid modernization. SECC also educates consumers and provides materials to support stakeholders in their outreach and educational efforts engaging consumers about smart energy topics.