Utilities Can Reach Underserved Commercial Customers with New Engagement Tools

Bob Ornstein
Commercial Building Energy Analytics Module

In my last blog post, I discussed some of the challenges to commercial efficiency programs due to changing markets. Now it’s time to talk solutions – that starts with how customers are being engaged to want to participate in the first place.

Many utility commercial and industrial (C&I) energy efficiency programs develop contractor networks to drive market activity. Contractors can be cost-effective program aggregation points—one effective contractor can reach many customers. However, programs have encountered gaps when they relytoo heavily on contractors. For instance, contractors have little incentive to reach out to smaller customers that have great savings potential, or they focus on one technology and don’t consider a “whole building” approach to improving efficiency.

To address these gaps, utility programs are looking to companies like Ecova to provide them with analytics-based customer engagement tools. You may have even received something like it yourself at home or at work—an energy report comparing your energy usage to that of homes or businesses of the same size in your area. Tools like this are designed to shift some responsibility and ownership for driving energy efficiency into the hands of utility customers. Through these reports, utilities communicate with customers in terms that resonate with their specific business and efficiency opportunity, while customers gain new insights about their building performance so they can more effectively advocate for energy efficiency.

These engagement tools generally have the following features:

  1. No-touch, no cost virtual audit. Using algorithms and energy models, the tools produce custom recommendations on how a site can improve its energy performance, including energy efficiency retrofits for lighting, HVAC, plug load, and other end uses. Customers may have little if any need to provide additional inputs to these models, as the results are based on consumption data the utility already has on file, supplemented with other publicly available information. Often the results show the impact that a specific utility program incentive can have on the ROI of a suggested measure.
  2. Easy-to-understand presentation. Results are presented either in a printed or online format, meant for a general audience. Charts, graphs, and tables immediately clarify for customers where the best opportunities are for their business. To motivate action, the reports often include benchmark graphs that show a site’s energy performance versus its peers.
  3. Immediately and widely available. A customer generally can see the results of their virtual audit through an Internet portal with the click of a button. Utilities can make the portal available to the entire commercial customer base, or a specific segment. This is especially useful for customers who normally would not be approached by a contractor network.
  4. Ongoing messaging. Once a customer has engaged with the analytics, utilities may continue to market to them about efficiency opportunities or utility programs that are specific to their site and business type.

By incorporating these engagement tools into efficiency programs, utilities can provide customers with insight and motivation to become energy efficiency advocates for their business. Customers can more effectively engage with contractors about efficiency and even help contractors who focus on single technologies to see the wider opportunities available. Also, these types of tools are well suited for smaller customers who are not normally served by conventional trade ally programs. Interested in seeing the types of insights this tool provides? Fill out the short form below to request a sample Building Analytics Report. And visit Ecova’s Utility C&I programs page to learn more.

I hope you will continue to follow this series, as next time I will touch on customer segmentation.

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