We’ve just released our Utility Pulse study showing the continued decline in consumer participation in energy efficiency. In fact, we’re so concerned about this downward trend, we’re hosting an entire webinar on it next Thursday. Yesterday I was interviewed about this topic and the interviewer said, “I haven’t heard or read much published about this downward trend, is this new?”
The answer is, “No.”
For the last three years, we’ve seen a decline in interest and intention to purchase in every single energy-efficient product category we test. Self-reporting of completed EE improvements is down as well (the graph above is one of three from Utility Pulse demonstrating what we’re seeing). In our digging for actual sales figures of energy-efficient products, we see a similar story, though not as drastic. Bottom line: Every data point we have says the energy efficiency business is down.
Yesterday in the interview I was asked, “What do we do about it?” The answer is two-fold, and it’s a big part of what I’ll be talking about in our webinar:
1. You have to help them see they have a problem. Eighty percent of Americans don’t think they use more energy today than they did five years ago, and roughly half think their homes are already energy efficient. Forgive the analogy, but you can’t get an alcoholic to an AA meeting if he doesn’t think he has a problem. We’re simply not going to get Americans to buy energy-efficient products and change their behaviors if they can’t see that there’s a problem.
2. We have to show them a new, empowered reality. You might ask, “How can they not see they have a problem?” Well, there is a reality that in some parts of the country, the winter was mild and low natural gas prices are actually driving rates down … so there may not be an actual bill increase problem right now. But also, most consumers feel totally helpless and hopeless when it comes to their utility bills. Over and over and over, we’ve heard Americans say, “It doesn’t matter what I do, the utility’s just going to keep jacking up their rates and charging me whatever they want. So why bother?” Programs like Opower help create a new reality by changing the game. Instead of comparing a consumer’s usage to their past performance or some misremembered number they have in their minds, they compare them to an outside force and create competition, which can catapult some people out of that helpless, victim place.
Bottom line: We have to stop marketing the drill and start marketing the hole. When we wake people up to a problem, offer them ways they can actually solve it and wrap all of that in benefits they actually care about, we’ll see the industry get back on track.