Durability of Participation, Not Just Persistence
Innovation Exchange Engagement Coordinator, Megan Hoye, shares takeaways from the 2014 Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change (BECC) Conference -- three days with psychologists, sociologists, behavior economists, and program managers implementing and evaluating behavior-based programs and marketing.
Knowing Your Audience
The BECC Conference is an extensive collection of professionals from research labs, utilities, universities, and third-party organizations that gather annually to share behavior change findings. The community of professionals discusses not only energy savings, but new delivery methods, communication strategies, and financing opportunities. This year BECC had many firsts, including broader discussions on persistence of savings, a panel dedicated to behavior in the industrial sector, a plenary presentation from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and a keynote address from Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. Energy and behavior experts were called to action by business and government representatives expressing how much their innovation is needed.
One of the most pervasive themes at this year’s conference was market segmentation, a strategy that organizes customers into subcategories so that energy efficiency programs can deliver targeted customer options. Segmentation is not new, but there are good candidates for behavior-based programs in the residential, multifamily, and industrial sectors.
The Distributed Energy Finance Group presented on their Houston area prepayment program, highlighting the importance of segmentation in their delivery model. The program is seeing savings of 10-15% from participating customers and particularly strong uptake from students, unbanked customers, and low to moderate-income customers. They have also witnessed the percentage of customers with bad debt dropping from 1% - 2% to a fraction of 1%. With this payment choice being attractive to distinct types of retail customers, segmentation has improved program uptake and slowed the decay of savings attributable to behavior change.
Financial programs were also a conference highlight. Third-party demand response programs, like California start-up Ohmconnect, are testing innovative ways of incentivizing customers.. What motivates more than receiving money directly? How about giving money to something you care about, like schools? The Ohmconnect model motivates customers to invest in demand response by passing on that bill credit to their local school district so future money can be used for capital improvements and other load reduction training. While this program is in its infancy, customers are engaged, with over 2,500 participating households in a matter of months.
More Focus on Health Benefits
Previous research has highlighted the importance of targeted messaging and information sharing, but big data is making targeted strategies easier to implement in the field. The power of communicating non-energy benefits in tandem with energy savings is one example. These benefits range from increased comfort and health from improvements like zoned heating and cooling in an office to reduced financial risk from increased manufacturing efficiency. On the industry and business side, these ancillary benefits were emphasized by companies such as 3M and Darigold as game changers. These benefits may not be universally valued, but healthy indoor air quality promotes the retention of staff and institutional knowledge, which speaks volumes in the business world.
In the residential sector a particular University of California study showed interesting results when observing 118 households for behavior-related energy savings and engagement with program information. Facts about indoor and ambient air and their link to asthma, general illness, and fatigue were shared with the families at the time of billing. Families with children showed early savings that were over two times families without children (19.2% compared to 8%). Contrary to common perception, customers in this program also engaged more with the health messaging than the financial information, in the households with and without children. There continue to be more and more examples of how market segmentation techniques can get key information to the right audiences to achieve the deepest and most efficient program savings.
Engagement and Persistence
Cool Choices in Madison, WI has been implementing behavior change programs in the workplace since 2007. The currency for a program like this is not financial, but social. Participating companies see this as a way of walking the talk and developing increasingly valuable integrity with their clients. However, the takeaway here is not that there are companies that are interested in these types of programs, but that the penetration of participation is high, sometimes engaging as much as 78% of workplace employees.
Overall, behavior programs are getting more sophisticated. While persistent savings continues to be a challenge for behavior-based programs, we are getting better at retaining participant attention over longer periods of time. The decay and cycling of savings from behavior-based initiatives is inevitable, but some programs, like the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance’s (NEEA) Commercial Real Estate Initiative, are showing savings that hover at 3% - 4% energy savings (compared to baseline) after four years of participation. This ongoing program also found that 71% of actions adopted by participants were still being taken in year three and four.
The behavior community has long been focused on discovering methods that will lead to persistent energy savings. While the search for the right tools continues, it seems that we are conquering the obstacle of time. Achieving programs with high levels of engagement over long periods of time is a huge accomplishment and may be just as useful to the energy community. By steadily engaging current adults we are building a whole new layer of knowledge and awareness for younger generations.
Image credit: Distributed Energy Finance Group presentation, BECC 2014