What I’m Thankful For: Electrification, Equity, & Customer Stories

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Last week I attended the annual Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change (BECC) conference in Sacramento, California. BECC is an annual conference organized by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) that focuses on changing people’s behavior in relation to how they use energy to reduce the effects of climate change. At EMI Consulting, we help our utility clients to achieve their energy efficiency and renewable energy goals, which happen to result in reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in most jurisdictions. And recently, utilities are starting to directly link energy efficiency and renewable energy goals with GHG reduction goals. As Thanksgiving approaches, I am reflecting on a few trends in the energy industry, highlighted at the conference, that I am thankful for: electrification, equity, and the recurring theme of customer stories.

The topic of electrification came up across numerous panels and poster presentations where attendees described electrification initiatives that are being implemented. There was even a demonstration of an electric induction cooktop—a key alternative to natural gas cooktops—meant to overcome reluctance and skepticism of fuel switching by highlighting the benefits of induction cooking. If we could just get some celebrity chefs to use one, perhaps they would take off!

I was happy to join others in speaking about the barriers and opportunities for electrification. For example, there are opportunities for raising awareness of heat pump water heaters and thinking about how to make heat pumps price-competitive in places where electricity prices are high. I am thankful for this focus on electrification, as it seems to be a turning point in the industry where we’re talking a lot more holistically about goals and initiatives, with attention on reducing GHG emissions and converting natural gas equipment to electric equipment, while converting the source of electricity to renewables. It feels like all of the puzzle pieces are starting to come together.

There was also a lot of discussion at BECC about equity in energy efficiency and renewables. The concern here is that, as we green up the grid and make energy efficiency improvements to our homes and businesses, how do we ensure that low-income households and disadvantaged communities are not left behind? When we think about the implications of climate change, such as more frequent (and more devastating) forest fires and rising sea levels, those with means are more likely to be able to secure or maintain access to clean air, clean water, reliable energy, and comfortable housing. While low-income weatherization programs have been around for a while, I am encouraged that the industry is expanding its thinking to be more inclusive in this uncertain future. For example, the Department Of Energy is now offering grants to organizations that deploy solar in low-income neighborhoods. I am thankful that there are avenues for low-income households to get help in increasing the comfort of their homes and paying their energy bills, and I am thankful that we will also start to see increased solar adoption in diverse communities.

Finally, the BECC conference tends to have a recurring theme that comes up year after year, which is the importance of listening to customer stories. Several presentations, including those centered on electrification and equity, emphasized that we can’t sell energy efficiency, renewables, or electrification by speaking our own language. For example, not everyone will want to switch to electric appliances in order to reduce GHGs. Many people will want to do it for health reasons (natural gas can result in indoor air pollution), but they also need to be persuaded that a new cooking technology will help get dinner on the table just as quickly and that it will taste just as delicious.

If you want to figure out what motivates people, talk to them and listen to their stories and their problems. If you’re going into a community that doesn’t trust outsiders, find an ally and use that relationship to help understand your target audience. Just like families gathering around a Thanksgiving meal: listen with empathy and you will find common ground.

I hope everyone can find something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. I wish everyone a wonderful and peaceful holiday!

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