Two ways AI will move the energy efficiency market forward

by May 23, 2018

I’ve just returned from a conference in London, one that has nothing to do with energy or sustainability. It’s focused on helping folks like me run our marketing agencies even better. There were several sessions that referenced how artificial intelligence (AI) is a game changer for our industry … and I instantly saw the connection to energy efficiency.

Having recently presented at the HPC Conference about how smart home technology will move the high-performance homes market forward, I see two AI possibilities coming that contractors and utilities alike can leverage.

1. Americans want energy efficiency, but they want it to be easy. AI will make it so.

We’ve long seen in our Pulse data that about 70% of people think energy efficiency (EE) is important. Most recently, that number was 77%, but I’m including our trending data here so you can see that this hasn’t changed much over the last 13 years.

Being energy efficient – “waste not, want not” – is part of our American values set. As you know, though, we don’t always live according to our values. Hence why our data shows that every EE measure we track is in a decline or a flatline in terms of Americans’ likelihood to do it. So, we think EE is important, but we don’t do anything about it.

There are many reasons for that … but two of the key reasons could be solved via AI:

  • 47% of us think our homes are already energy efficient, and the younger the home, the more likely we are to think it’s efficient. So about half of us literally don’t think we need energy efficiency. But what if Alexa could tell us we’re wrong? What if Alexa – or some other AI-enabled voice assistant – could either see the gaps in our walls or see our KWh consumption compared to that of the houses on our block, and she could tell us about it? Sounds creepy, I know, but I think it’s entirely possible that sort of functionality and capability is upon us. And if Alexa could tell me, upon asking her what the weather’s going to be today as I do most mornings, “Did you know you’re wasting a lot of energy and money? Say ‘details’ if you want to know more,” I’d totally say, “Details.” It’s too juicy not to. Now I’m engaged, I’m going to be horrified at my waste and I’ll be open to whatever solutions Alexa tees up … which could be a contractor list, the utility or some technology solution.
  • 84% of us admit we know nothing about how to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. I think the example I just laid out is a super-easy way to get folks knowledgeable – and engaged.

Back to the convenience factor: I’m going through a home performance process right now. After many visits, a week’s worth of work with people swarming my house to do duct sealing, air sealing and insulation, we’ve managed to reduce my energy waste by 20%. It was very expensive as well (I’m too embarrassed to say how much) … and we only got to 20% improvement. Now we’re looking at more money, more time, more work, etc., to keep improving the house.

What if an AI-enabled device/software could have seen inside my walls, ducts, attic space, basement, etc., modeled the entire thing and made a priority list with improvement expectations for me? What if that could happen with only one visit – or no visits – by a contractor? From my perspective, that would be way easier and worth giving up some data or privacy for. And I’d know on the front end what I could expect through the process – the full investment I’d need to make and the benefits I’d be buying with that investment – so I wouldn’t wind up being disappointed on the back end. And this gets me to my next point …

2. AI will be able to make better recommendations than a human.

At the conference I just attended, several examples were shared where AI-enabled tools can make better decisions than humans at things like determining which movie scripts will actually make money, which banner ads – including the visual and copy – will get the most engagement, and what online media buy will drive the best ROI. For many in the room, they saw their careers going down the toilet – if you don’t need an experienced marketer to figure out the right words, visuals and ad buy, what do you need us for? Well, Shelton Group has always been in the insights and ideas business, so I actually got pretty excited about this. I see these tools as a way to make the execution of our insights and ideas more effective.

It’s the same for the home performance industry. I suspect it won’t be long before there will be tools that will be better than humans at predicting what needs to be done to a home to really improve its efficiency. If you’re in the utility or home performance contracting space, this may make you gulp and wonder what you’re needed for. But, in fact, the question to ask yourself is, “How can I leverage these tools to be an even better advisor, ensure better work is done and my client’s expectations are set and met?”

In my personal example, I’ve been told repeatedly, “Well, it’s a process … we have to do this first batch of really expensive work to see where we are and then we’ll know what batch of expensive work we need to do next.” Well, I don’t want it to be a process. I want to know on the front end the holistic problem, the holistic prescription, what it’s going to cost, all in, and what I can expect as a result – how will my comfort problem be solved? How will my energy waste/environmental impact problem be solved?

I think AI could do a better job at all of that than a human (and my apologies to the folks who are working on my house – I know you’re doing your best). The fact is, we’ve arrived at an age where technology can, indeed, use data in precise ways to make better predictions than humans. Why? Because humans are emotional and we have biases. Machines, obviously, are not emotional.

So we could, in fact, solve the very real emotional problem of energy efficiency – people have lots of false beliefs and biases – with a convenience-laden, data-driven, expectation-managing AI-enabled solution. When that happens – if contractors and utilities can roll with it – we’ll really be able to help folks make their homes better.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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