You know the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”? We think that this saying applies to energy efficiency. We have long tracked a large socioeconomic divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” when it comes to energy-efficient product purchasing. While very low income folks can often receive support through special grants, lower-middle income families often fall through the cracks. We usually identify the target audience for energy-efficient home improvements (by identifying the group who has made more purchases) as homeowners with household incomes of $50,000 or more.
But our data shows that the target audience most likely to live in inefficient homes and have the greatest need for improvements falls in the $25,000–$49,999 household income range. Ironically, our recent Utility Pulse results also indicate that even when these lower income households make energy-efficient purchases and improvements, they are significantly less likely than higher income households to take advantage of available rebate and incentive programs. It’s crazy-making that the folks who need the help the most are the least likely to get it.
Other findings point to the need to go beyond the initial “catch” to develop a “fishing academy” – to provide follow-up education on how to change the way we consume energy in our homes. Fifty percent of Americans still don’t unplug their chargers and un-used appliances. And 40% still don’t use energy-saving thermostat settings. What’s even more troubling is that 50% of Americans were honest enough to admit that if they bought a more efficient washer, AC, etc., they would likely use it more than their old inefficient model – which would result in no real decrease in consumption.
The energy efficiency industry needs to think about how to better train our fishing fleet, and we need to be more creative about where we fish. Utility Pulse offers ideas on how to do this – with some out-of-the-box tactics to better connect with lower-middle income households to raise awareness for energy efficiency programs and increase consumption reduction behaviors.