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Utilities Need To Reevaluate Energy Efficiency Communications

Key Findings Include Energy Efficiency Action Lags Intent, Hispanics More Open to Embracing Energy Efficiency Measures

New national market research conducted with 1,345 homeowners about their attitudes toward energy efficiency points to significant opportunity for electric and gas utilities and energy efficiency programs to improve the way they engage customers about energy efficiency.

“Across the country, the seeds have been planted about the importance of energy efficiency,” says Rob Niccolai of KSV, the marketing firm that commissioned the research. “But, in general, utilities are doing a poor job translating that sentiment into consumer action.

“Utilities might take a lesson from Home Depot and Lowes. These national retailers figured out how to tap Americans’ passion for their homes and their willingness to undertake DIY projects.

“Utilities should do the same for energy efficiency,” advises Niccolai. “Energy efficiency needs to be repositioned to matter like home improvement matters. A solid start might be to use the phrase ‘home efficiency’ rather than ‘energy efficiency’.” Niccolai is a principal and client group director at KSV, which has honed its energy efficiency marketing expertise with utilities and energy efficiency programs like National Grid, Mass Save and Efficiency Vermont.

According to the research findings, nearly 60% of homeowners report that they enjoy taking on home improvement and DIY projects, yet fewer than half (46%) made an energy efficiency improvement in the past year. Moreover, less than 10% rate their homes as very efficient, yet 63% want a more efficient home.

KSV polled 1,345 homeowners across five regions of the country and across diverse demographic segments (age, income, gender, marital status, ethnicity, presence of children, household size, educational level) during two weeks in January and one week in February 2015. KSV developed the survey questions and Qualtrics, an online survey firm, fielded the survey. KSV analyzed all the data.

Language nuances are just one of many findings of the statistically significant national research. Others include:

Energy Efficiency Action Lags Intent

Almost 86% of responding homeowners believe the world will be better off because of energy efficiency, 82% believe energy efficiency can help America’s energy independence, and 72% believe energy efficiency can reduce emissions and delay climate change.

Yet less than half of those surveyed (46%) invested in an energy efficiency measure last year, and only 18.7% participated in a utility-sponsored energy efficiency program.

InfoGraphic_WordsNotDeeds_3.31Understanding Equals Action

KSV’s research suggests that with better understanding of energy efficiency comes more engagement and participation.

Although 61% of those polled cannot confidently explain a kilowatt-hour; of those who can, almost four-fifths (79%) feel somewhat or very knowledgeable about the different measures they could take to increase the energy efficiency in their homes.

Ethnic Variations

The research uncovered significant differences in energy efficiency attitudes among ethnic groups. “If you want to meet your utility’s energy efficiency goals, ‘Habla Español’,” says KSV’s Niccolai.

Forty-two percent of Hispanics and 40% of African Americans say they are very interested in making their homes more energy efficient. Conversely, only 25% of Caucasians make the same claim.

Children in the Home Matter

Interest in energy efficiency also varied by the presence of children in the home. Homeowners with children are more inclined toward energy efficiency measures than homeowners without children, 69.3% compared to 59.6%. Moreover, people without children deem their homes inefficient, participate in energy efficiency programs less (60% have not participated), and claim the least familiarity with energy efficiency programs.

Visualization Matters

Fully 85% of homeowners want a rich, in-depth display of energy consumption and 52% of homeowners say they would change their energy consumption behavior with better visualization.

Also, homeowners place greater value when they play an active role in saving energy (by turning off lights, washing clothes with cold water, etc.), rather than when they play only a passive role, letting energy efficient appliances and smart technology do the work. That suggests that utilities promote both simple conservation measures and more elaborate energy efficiency measures together.

Solar Soars, SmarTech Hesitation

Finally, the nationwide research explored homeowner attitudes toward renewables and smart technology.

The research strongly suggests that utilities talk up their renewable energy investments. Nearly three-fourths (73%) of homeowners say their satisfaction with their utility would increase if the utility were to offer energy sourced solely from renewables.

And interest is solar is soaring. Respondents report five times the interest in solar compared to 12 months ago. Curiously, 21% of respondents reported that solar would reduce their energy use. Apparently they conflate energy efficiency benefits with energy generation technology.