The expansion of electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies, the continued economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the sharp rise in consumer prices (including energy costs), the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and more have contributed to an evolving, sometimes turbulent landscape for energy consumers in 2022.
The Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) recently convened its membership at Ameren’s headquarters in St. Louis for the 2022 Members Meeting & Fall Workshop, which featured two days of discussion on how industry stakeholders can help consumers achieve their energy goals in this challenging landscape.
Let’s look at a few key takeaways that emerged from the presentations:
1. Consumer education is essential to the success of new rate offerings.
In the morning panel, we used early findings from the “Electric Bills and Rate Plans: Consumer Awareness and Understanding” report as a starting place for a discussion on consumers’ needs around new rate offerings, and panelists agreed that consumers need more support and education to understand and engage with new rate offerings.
Chris Gallo at Con Edison first shared an in-depth look at the utility’s Innovative Pricing Pilot, which tested seven demand rates for residential and small business customers, including two subscription rates (one with overage charges during the summer). Among many key findings from the pilot, Con Edison learned that consumers want clear, straightforward information and visuals explaining rate plans and hours and they want a comparison of the impact that any rate changes will have on their bills.
We also heard from Scott Engstrom at GridX, a technology company that helps utility customers understand their rate options, and he echoed that rate education and easy-to-use comparison tools are critical to the success of new rates, particularly time-of-use. GridX works with municipal and investor-owned utilities across the county and currently has over 25 million meters under contract. Their technology presents consumers with easy-to-understand, data-driven scenarios for their electric rate options that helps them select the best fit for their unique needs.
2. Innovative financing models can help all consumers access smart energy technologies.
Many consumers want to adopt technologies that will reduce their home energy consumption and help them decarbonize; however, the upfront costs for new appliances or distributed energy resources continue to be a significant barrier for many. Throughout the day, two presenters specifically shared innovative financing models that are helping consumers purchase clean or energy-efficient technologies for their homes.
During a panel on energy equity, Larry Simpson at Enervee shared the company’s Eco Financing program, which enables customers to buy energy-efficient appliances of up to $5,000 with no money down, rebates instantly applied through the platform and favorable loan terms (including no penalty for early repayment). Through the program, consumers can upgrade their household appliances when the need strikes and pay back the loan through small monthly installments – while simultaneously seeing energy savings on their monthly bills.
Later in the day, we also heard Scott Blunk at SMUD discuss a program that’s helping consumers in Sacramento participate in the municipal utility’s ambitious 2030 Zero Carbon Plan. The new financing model provides zero-percent financing for electrification to customers in varying lengths depending on their needs. Low-need customers can access zero-percent interest for one year to electricity their HVAC systems. Medium-need customers have five years of no interest, while high-need customers receive 10 years of zero-interest.
3. Equity initiatives need to engage leaders who know their communities.
Finally, several speakers throughout the day spoke about the importance of community partnerships and of having trusted members of communities share energy information with messaging that’s appropriate for that specific community.
Yami Newell at Elevate shared the important work that the Chicago-based nonprofit organization is doing to ensure that the benefits of clean and energy-efficient energy use reach those who need them most. Elevate works in many areas, including energy efficiency, electrification, solar, water and healthy homes, to name just a few, and adheres to several culture pillars. These include on honoring how people live and work and taking urgent action on climate change and racial and income inequality.
During the same panel, Trevor Swanson also shared about Arizona Public Service’s Tribal Energy Efficiency Program that focuses on both residential and non-residential customers in the Hopi and Navajo nations. A critical component of the program’s success has been the partnership with the nonprofit Red Feather Development Group for local community outreach. The program also utilizes tribally owned trade allies to complete the energy-efficient upgrades.
Thank you to all of the insightful speakers – and our generous hosts Ameren Missouri and Ameren Illinois – for helping make the 2022 Members Meeting & Fall Workshop such a success. We will continue exploring these important issues and how industry stakeholders can empower all consumers through the energy transition at the 2023 Consumer Symposium, co-located with DISTRIBUTECH International in San Diego. We look forward to seeing you there.