Prepay It Forward

Prepay It Forward

When it comes to energy efficiency, it’s apparent that one size does not fit all. Our Energy Pulse study finds that different groups respond best to different messages about saving energy. A message crafted for a True Believer won’t resonate with a Cautious Conservative, for instance, even though both consumers may be interested in saving energy. They tend to participate in different types of energy efficiency activities, as well.

But there has been a particularly tough segment to crack when it comes to energy efficiency: Working Class Realists. This group is least active when it comes to energy efficiency activities, in part due to their demographic profile: younger, often single, not as educated as other groups, and often struggling with less income. Exacerbating the problem is that they are often renters unwilling or unable to invest in energy-efficient upgrades, yet many live in older buildings that have higher relative energy costs. So the question is, “How do we get them more engaged in their energy consumption?”

The answer may be prepaid energy service. When we think of prepaid services, often the first thing that comes to mind is cellular phones. Prepaid energy service works in a similar fashion: You pay up front for the energy you will use during the coming month.

Prepaid cellular phone plans were initially directed toward those with lower income who had a credit history that prevented them from qualifying for a two-year contract – a profile similar to Working Class Realists. While the appeal for prepaid cellular phone service has grown beyond that segment, it still offers a sense of financial control to those with erratic incomes.

Prepaid electric isn’t new to utilities. While offered most frequently by cooperatives, some larger, investor-owned utilities such as Westar are seeking to implement this payment option.

A recent study may have some bearing on the increased interest in such programs. Prepared by Distributed Energy Financial Group for the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, it suggests that participation in prepaid energy services may reduce energy usage. By analyzing data through regression analysis, the authors found that energy consumption at two electric cooperatives dropped (-5.5% for Peninsula Light’s pilot program and -14% for Glacier Electric). A telephone survey with a sample of participants indicated an increased number of self-reported efficiency activities.

These programs offer huge potential to help meet the needs of a struggling segment of the population. But it’s important to market and support them properly. You must laser target and utilize the right messaging, emphasizing the potential for more financial control and better bill management. Communicating tips or suggestions for energy-saving behaviors is vital as well.

This kind of program needs to be developed holistically. It’s not just a billing option – it should be thought of as an engagement program. You must educate participants and give them the tools they need to help them succeed on the plan. For example, the right incentives could both encourage participation and help ensure success. You could offer free CFLs for enrollment, or provide participants with a programmable thermostat to help them better control their usage.

With the right messaging, tips and incentives, prepay could be a way to get the toughest segment of customers on board with energy efficiency.


Posted on

June 11, 2014

About the Author

Jim Lyza

Jim Lyza

Jim is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Laila Waggoner

VP Client Engagement

Laila leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results – and clients’ satisfaction. She brings 25+ years of marketing leadership experience to her client relationships, with particular expertise in the homebuilding and remodeling industries as well as member-driven organizations, such as the Vinyl Siding Institute and Plastics Pipe Institute. Before joining Shelton Group, she led strategic marketing teams for Owens Corning’s insulation business.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Glen L. Vesser III

VP Finance and Administration

Glen manages Shelton Group’s finances and administration, ensuring our internal systems run smoothly so we can provide exceptional client service in a seamless and timely manner. Glen’s financial and administrative expertise has been shaped by decades of experience in a variety of industries, including public accounting, media distribution and health care.

Mike Beamer

VP Business Development

Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.