The past several years have been full of changes and challenges for American consumers. Within the energy sector, we’ve seen decarbonization commitments from electricity providers, the proliferation of smart home devices and the beginning of a new era of electrification (both inside the home and on the roads), to name just a few major trends. And in society at large, social justice movements have put an increased spotlight on diversity and inclusion.
Over the past year, the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) has conducted several consumer research studies to assess the energy-related needs and wants of Americans amid this environment of change and evaluate where electricity providers and other industry stakeholders can better meet these needs with innovative programs and services. These included reports on electric vehicles (EVs), smart home technologies and consumer energy data, racial disparities among low-income consumers, consumers who rent their homes and more.
We recently conducted a meta-analysis of these studies, the “2022 State of the Consumer” report, that summarizes the findings of our 2021 consumer research and highlights the major themes that emerged from these studies. SECC’s own research was bolstered by 2021 research from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and a report conducted by The Brattle Group for Oracle to provide detailed looks at energy equity and decarbonization, respectively.
From the new report, here are three strategies that electricity providers and other industry stakeholders can use to better engage consumers in 2022:
1. Create opportunities for consumers to participate in decarbonization goals.
According to SECC’s research from the past year, consumers across many consumer segments and income levels are interested in helping meet the decarbonization goals being set by their governments and electricity providers. This can be seen in part by the continued adoption of EVs, renewables and smart home technologies, especially smart thermostats, smart lighting and other devices that have significant impacts on energy consumption.
The report from Oracle and The Brattle Group explored the role that consumers can play as providers strive to decarbonize and found that consumer actions have considerable potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the near term, energy efficiency and rooftop solar offer the greatest potential, while after 2030, EV adoption and the electrification of residential space and water heating will make important contributions to decarbonization.
In our research on smart home technologies, we also found that the vast majority of consumers (85 percent) expect their electricity providers to take steps to help the environment – surprisingly more than the 78 percent that want their providers to take an active role in helping them reduce their energy bill. It’s clear that today’s consumers value climate change initiatives from their providers, and as electricity providers work with policymakers to set their strategies for decarbonization, they must understand how consumer motivations vary and develop programs that empower them to act while removing barriers to participation.
2. Develop partnerships with trusted community organizations.
While electricity providers are stepping up their efforts to support consumers through the many changes occurring in the energy sector, they don't have to go it alone. In several of SECC’s studies, we have seen that the road to consumer engagement is paved with partnerships, and these partnerships often yield the best results for consumers.
In SECC’s research on racial disparities among lower-income consumers, for example, we found that Black and People of Color households are more accustomed to receiving information from community organizations, government agencies and nonprofits. By partnering with other organizations in these communities and leveraging their networks to improve outreach and education, electricity providers can remove barriers, offer more tailored programs and help lower-income consumers translate their enthusiasm for smart energy into action.
While in our research into the needs and wants of renters, we found that electricity providers can collaborate with community organizations on assistance programs to alleviate the burden of cost faced by many renters, particular renters with lower incomes. Electricity providers can also explore opportunities to collaborate with landlords on energy efficiency upgrades, especially when properties change hands or other improvements are being made.
As electricity providers and other stakeholders seek to engage more consumers in programs and services, community partnerships should not be overlooked. These organizations have often built up considerable consumer trust and have developed outreach networks to reach consumers with credible, helpful information.
3. Deliver on consumers’ expectations for personalized offerings.
Consumers’ expectations today are driven by companies that mine data to deliver highly personalized experiences. They are accustomed to personalized recommendations from companies they interact with online; however, for the most part, personalization remains a rarity among electricity providers. While providers often have the data to offer a more personalized experience and help their customers save energy and money, it has not always been put to work sufficiently to serve the consumer.
SECC’s studies have shown that trust in their electricity providers is high. In the “Smart Home and Energy Data: What Do Consumers Want?” report, 79 percent of survey respondents said they trust their electricity provider to keep their personal information secure. They also have very high expectations, chief among them the expectation that their provider will “take all the steps needed to keep my information secure” (93 percent), followed by taking steps to help the environment (86 percent) and helping to reduce the energy bill (78 percent).
Electricity providers can harness existing energy data and the high level of trust among customers to improve programs and services. If not, consumers could grow impatient with the limited service they receive from providers who don't seem to know them well enough to engage them in meaningful opportunities. It’s time to put customer data to work to deliver the personalized experience they have come to expect from other companies.
With so much change in the energy industry and ongoing challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s never been a more important time for electricity providers to listen to their customers’ feedback. By delivering on what consumers need and want, providers can become trusted energy partners and leaders in their communities during this time of change.