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Anne Arquit Niederberger5/27/22 12:00 AM4 min read

Engaging Consumers in Decarbonization

Kate Merson is an industry veteran with deep expertise on market transformation, who recently joined Enervee as Vice President of Utilities and has hit the ground running. I caught up with her following the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative’s 2022 Annual Consumer Symposium to get her take on the event and the latest thinking on engaging consumers in the clean energy transition.

Have you attended SECC’s flagship event in the past? What was your overall impression?

This was my first time at the SECC annual conference. What I loved about it was how intimate the gathering was. Amidst the much larger Distributech and PowerGen conference happening down the hall, I felt SECC was approachable and enabled me to network more effectively with the right people. 

Did you learn anything new?

I think it's critical that we empathize with consumers more when thinking about decarbonization strategies, so I was thrilled that the conference was very consumer-centric. A lot of the sessions riffed off of the SECC’s 2022 State of the Consumer report. Some of the key themes that interested me were: 

  • Now more than ever, consumers are ready to contribute towards decarbonization efforts. However, motivation differs by segment. The top two most energy-engaged segments in the SECC report – “Green Innovators” and “Tech-Savvy Proteges” – are primarily driven by environmental concerns and being on the cusp of new technology adoption. Conversely, the “Movable Middle,” a group that is typically less focused on energy efficiency, values consumer choice and control. While not very interested in energy efficiency, the least energy-engaged group, the “Energy Indifferent” , shows interest in electrification, if the savings are clear. 
  • The study supports the idea that we have all become very comfortable with ad personalization – and even expect it. Yet, it remains untapped by utility energy efficiency programs. This is one of the key features driving the success with Enervee’s online marketplace; we use sophisticated e-commerce marketing to identify in-market shoppers and tailor relevant and timely communications to them. This increases customer satisfaction and boosts efficient transactions on our marketplace. 
  • Smart home technology adoption, namely through smart speakers and smart thermostats, is on the rise, in spite of a slow-down in overall consumer spending. By 2024, most North American homes will have these devices. As someone who thinks about how to make energy efficiency adoption easy for consumers, this opens up many other opportunities for energy efficiency and load management, including smart appliances, smart plugs, and smart lighting. The study shows that if a consumer owns one smart home device they are more likely to purchase others, enroll in demand response and own an electric vehicle. 
  • The report places a big focus on renters, who represent one-third of American consumers. Minority residents make up a big part of the renter market, and there has been an increase in affluent renters due to challenges with home ownership. The study found that renters care about energy efficiency, but lack the commitment to make the upgrades, since they do not own the property. Saving money is most important to this group. 

You moderated a session yourself – tell us a bit about it

Our session was great! I moderated a session focused on engaging consumers in decarbonization with panelists Frank Rapley, Senior Manager of TVA’s Energy Right Residential Portfolio, and Naila Ahmed, Account Executive at Oracle. The three of us presented very distinct, yet complementary approaches to scaling residential participation, especially hard to reach consumers. 

Frank and his team at TVA are doing some amazing things with deep community engagement, partnership building, and grant-matching to increase whole-home weatherization for low and moderate income consumers through its Home Uplight Program. Many different groups are focused on serving low to moderate income consumers and this means a lot of disparate efforts to reach the same people. Years ago, TVA decided to invest in partnering with communities, organizations and their local power companies to streamline outreach and have a bigger impact. 

Having worked in the low-income energy efficiency space, there is definitely a need to join forces, make dollars go farther and reduce customer confusion with this audience. 

Naila spoke about her work with PG&E on the next generation of home energy report programs. Home energy reports were transformative in our industry over a decade ago, because they offered a scalable way to induce conservation through normative messages. Oracle has continued to evolve the reports to make them more personalized for consumers with a focus on tailoring them for different consumer segments and hard to reach customers. The program now has 3.5 million customers enrolled, quite possibly the biggest home energy report engagement out there!

I was proud to have my public-speaking debut with Enervee, having joined the company 10 weeks ago. I’ve been working in the energy-efficiency space for over fifteen years, looking for new ways to scale residential program participation, and I think the audience could feel my excitement about Enervee’s marketplace program. This is a one-stop-shop that tackles all consumer barriers to participation - information about energy efficiency products, convenience to purchase and redeem rebates, and now, Eco-Financing, which converts a large, often unplanned expense into affordable monthly payments. 

We are thrilled to have you on the Enervee team! Do you have any event takeaways to share with the rest of us…something you intend to follow up on?

I’m always so energized after leaving conferences, like SECC’s. Our industry has come so far in the past decade and it has never been more exciting to be a part of it. My main takeaway is that we have a clear duty to figure out how to include the hardest-to-reach consumers in our decarbonization strategies. There will be no one-size-fits-all approach, but I feel optimistic to hear about the many different strategies and solutions out there. 

Thanks for your time, Kate!