About the Client
The client is one of the nation’s largest natural gas distribution utilities, delivering reliable energy to more than 20 million consumers in hundreds of communities.
The company was looking to expand the reach of their energy efficiency (EE) programs in several sectors, including agriculture. To better engage with these customers, our client needed a stronger understanding of the opportunities and challenges unique to this sector. The utility wanted to deepen their understanding of the agriculture market in preparation for selecting third party implementers that would handle personalized outreach to identified agriculture customers. The utility planned to issue an RFP to identify and select implementers. Prior to developing the RFP, they wanted to better understand which agriculture subsectors held the most potential savings, and which issues were of highest concern to their agriculture customers.
EMI Consulting was engaged for a project that would handle essential upfront work to inform both the RFP process and the work of the chosen implementers once they started. The objectives outlined by the client included:
- Characterizing their agriculture customers across segments
- Identifying industry standard practices and adoption barriers
- Describing industry trends that influence EE capital and operational investments
- Identifying key EE opportunities within each segment
A team of EMI Consulting analysts developed a research approach that included background research, data characterization, customer and supply chain interviews, analysis, and reporting.
The project kicked off with a comprehensive document review that clarified research objectives and tasks. We then analyzed multiple years of customer data to characterize our client’s agriculture customers across the geographic regions in their territory. We also pulled in third party data and research to provide a better look at customers in hard-to-reach areas and disadvantaged communities.
We then coordinated with our client during the interview process, refining our interview questions and identifying a sample from customers and members of the supply chain network whom customers considered to be trusted advisors on equipment and operational changes. We conducted a series of in-depth interviews to identify and understand current standard practices, key industry trends, influential market actors, energy efficiency opportunities, and potential ways to overcome adoption barriers.
At this stage, we unearthed a number of important findings, including one related to air quality improvements as an entry point for energy efficiency improvements. Air quality district policies were among the most-frequently mentioned topics in our interviews. Agriculture customers often described the difficulties and costs associated with complying with these regulations as a major challenge to their operations and financial wellbeing. These difficulties led some agriculture customers to consider energy efficiency improvements as a means for reducing their impact on air quality.
To provide meaning and perspective to our client that were relevant to the goals of the project, we identified and categorized important themes across interviews, such as energy use patterns between agriculture participants and non-participants. We also developed visualizations of supply chain relationships and market actors who help influence agriculture customers’ decisions.
At the conclusion of our work, in addition to delivering our finalized findings, we created a Tableau tool that allowed our client and their future implementers to readily manipulate and filter agriculture customer data. This critical piece will help our client and their implementers pinpoint and map where their most hard-to-reach agriculture customers are located, including those in disadvantaged communities—a key customer segment for our client.
With the time constraints of our client in mind, the report we provided—though robust—was also designed to be lightweight so our client teams and implementers could read and digest easily. Combined with our interactive data exploration tool, we provided our client fast and simple access to the comprehensive data needed for informed outreach to agriculture customers, with the ultimate goal of increasing participation among these key customers.