Case Study: Seattle City Light’s Powerful Neighborhoods Program

Crossing the Energy Savings Threshold in Hard-to-Reach Markets

Ecova implemented the Powerful Neighborhoods Program for Seattle City Light (SCL) targeting hard-to-reach markets with customers who had not participated at high levels in conservation programs in the past. Funded in part by a grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the program sought to increase residential customer program participation by directly installing energy-saving devices in up to 20,000 homes. The focus was to provide basic energy efficiency education to lower-income, non-English-speaking and senior owner-occupied households. Capitalizing on the power of successful neighborhood involvement, the utility expanded the program to the multifamily market to deepen penetration.


The utility had experienced lower than average participation rates for its popular conservation programs in low-income, non-English-speaking and senior households and multifamily units. Language differences and other issues created barriers to communication, resulting in lower customer engagement.

To overcome the language barrier, Ecova contracted with community based organizations to provide multilingual outreach and field staff, representing 20 languages in all. A comprehensive marketing campaign supported awareness building and overall program support.


Staff identified compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) as the product with maximum cost-effective savings potential and ease of installation. They also provided efficient showerheads to reduce hot water energy consumption. The Ecova approach was driven by door-to-door neighborhood canvassing. Key to this effort was building the customer’s trust in program representatives before and during customer contact and gaining access to their homes for device installation.


Rather than go door-to-door as with the single-family market, program managers engaged multifamily owners and property management companies to arrange for direct installs in tenant units. Field staff also conducted building assessments to uncover savings opportunities in common areas, such as hallway and laundry room lighting improvements.


The marketing plan to drive program participation utilized a mix of media channels, direct marketing campaigns and one-to-one tactics. Specifically, multilingual yard signs and door hangers were popular for single-family homeowners and personal referrals worked well with property managers for multifamily units.

Once the marketing campaign was launched and the appointments were scheduled, field staff replaced incandescent lamps with CFLs and conducted the assessments. The assessments generated immediate recommendations for further action on items such as windows, insulation and appliances. As an added benefit, the program served as an effective entry point for other utility energy-efficiency programs.

The program achieved measurable energy savings, which are shared publicly to help boost customer awareness. The utility received thank you notes from customers expressing their gratitude for the free products and installation and the helpful energy-saving advice from the field staff. Customers mentioned that the ability to communicate with program representatives in their native language was a plus and contributed to their overall trust in the program.


Gaining entry to the customer’s home or multifamily unit proved a golden opportunity to collect data useful for planning future energy programs. Field staff captured information on appliances, insulation, windows, heating and cooling and water heating in more than 20,000 homes and 35,000 multifamily apartments. Having this data supports the utility’s efforts to conduct future community-based energy efficiency programs.


  • March 2010 – December 2012: 20,747 single-family residences
  • Direct-Install Measures: 377,264 CFLs
  • Distributed Measures: 10,400 efficient showerheads
  • Estimated Savings: 11,566,201 kWh and $1.2 million/year in customer bills
  • January 2012 – December 2013: 35,117 units and 1,115 properties
  • Direct-Install Measures: 281,009 CFLs and 7,143 LED lamps
  • Distributed Measures: 22,186 efficient showerheads and 41,886 faucet aerators
  • Estimated Savings: 10,384,137 kWh and $919,972/year in customer bills

Download Case Study