Laurel Gerdine, Head of Client Marketing at Franklin Energy, found her love for the energy industry right out of college, joining the team at San Diego Gas & Electric. Since then, Gerdine received her MBA, made a career in the advertising world, owned and operated her own marketing strategy firm and worked as the VP of a software firm. After so many ventures, Gerdine has found herself back in the utility industry and couldn’t be more thrilled about it.

“I know when I wake up in the morning the things that I’m working on bring value to communities and to the world,” says Gerdine. “That’s why I made the career change to come back to this industry.”

Headshot of Laurel Gerdine for Energy Spotlight interview

At Franklin Energy, Gerdine leads client and e-commerce marketing. However, during the early days of the pandemic, Gerdine and her team took a step back to reflect on what would truly be helpful to energy utility customers during the unprecedented times. Like many other businesses, COVID greatly impacted Franklin Energy’s services, such as delivering energy efficiency and grid optimization services and education to consumers and businesses.

“One of the themes COVID brought to the forefront for me in particular and our utility clients, is the meaning and value of community,” says Gerdine. “With COVID, we really needed to find other ways to deliver much-needed services to those in our communities for our utility clients.”

After conversations with the executive team, Franklin Energy decided to focus on ways to assist their customers beyond energy marketing. “We started to really brainstorm, ‘What are all of the things that we can do that would be helpful during this time?’” Gerdine says.

They took their services out to the community and began delivering resources like LED lightbulbs and energy efficiency educational materials to families served by food banks to help them save energy and money during the pandemic. The initiative eventually served several urban locations across the country.

“I think what’s really important is the connections to our community. Energy is a utility, it is a very basic commodity. Customers aren’t often very engaged. From a marketing perspective, you might see 70% of your audience not engaged at all. That’s changing, but in the meantime, we want to make sure our programs are impacting the community in as many positive ways as possible,” says Gerdine.

As communities settle back into more familiar routines, Gerdine and her team are focused on tackling common utility challenges head-on, including energy efficiency education and technology advancements.

“I think the biggest challenge that my teams face in terms of execution is the complex technology landscape that our clients have,” says Gerdine. “Making all of the systems work together to deliver the type of marketing that we want, getting the right offer and the right message to the right customer at the right time, is extremely challenging in this industry.”

Outside of work, Gerdine enjoys spending time with her husband, four children and two dogs. She travels around Massachusetts for her son’s baseball team and loves to take advantage of time outside, hiking and visiting national parks. She also has a love for skydiving and hopes to learn how to solo skydive one day.

Questline Digital connected with Gerdine to get her thoughts on impactful customer campaigns and opportunities within the industry.

How did you get started in the energy utility industry?

Working in this industry was my first job out of college (many years ago!). I helped start up an income-qualified program for San Diego Gas & Electric. I fell in love with it and stayed working in the industry for almost a decade before going to business school and switching careers entirely to advertising!

What has changed the most about your job in the utility industry over the course of your career?

A lot has changed for me — mostly because of the time gap and focus change between my first career 20 years ago and my new career in this industry today.

The biggest thing that has changed is our customers’ expectations — we live in the age of Amazon and Google — and these expectations accelerated even more in the last two years with COVID. These have evolved and accelerated to a level where our teams across implementers, consultants, service providers and clients have to include much more diverse skillsets and perspectives to meet them and succeed.

What excites you the most about the energy utility space?

The opportunities and impact that modernization and technology innovation have on the grid, energy supply and demand — and what these means for our customers and communities. This is also what scares me the most.

What campaign or initiative are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the pivot that our teams made to serve our clients’ customers through food banks and other central community organizations during COVID. This allowed our programs and services to make an impact with those in our communities that needed us most and provided our employees a way to deliver value in a time that was the most chaotic and uncertain for all involved. It was a win all around.

What is the hardest part of working in the energy industry today?

The rate of change and the headwinds on it created by technologies and structures not yet aligned with where we need to go.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t working in the utility industry, I would be…

Getting my pilot’s license and learning how to be a skydiving instructor.

How do you anticipate the world of energy evolving in the coming years? What are you looking forward to?

I think we are going to see a lot of solutions for energy usage and management built into how we live (and work and manufacture and shop), solutions that learn from our behaviors and activities and adjust in the background to deliver energy when and how it is needed to our requirements, without our thinking about it or having to take any action.

This is exciting and I am looking forward to it, but it also has the potential for imbalance and inequity. For a needed item like energy, this has serious implications and must be addressed proactively and collaboratively.

What advice would you give to those entering the utility space?

Be ready for change and to think outside of the box. Be open to new ideas and bring new perspectives! This isn’t your mother’s utility anymore!

Participation in Questline Digital’s Energy Spotlight series does not indicate an endorsement from utility partners.

Public Service Company of Oklahoma’s Jessica Carthen helps customers understand and take advantage of energy efficiency programs — a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly.

“As a marketer, you don’t always have the opportunity to promote something that is truly a service for good,” Carthen says. “There is something really fulfilling about being able to promote energy efficiency. Not only are we helping the community, but we’re also putting money back in the pockets of our customers.”

Headshot of Jessica Carthen for Energy Spotlight interview

As Consumer Programs Marketing Senior Coordinator, Carthen creates marketing campaigns and educational content to help customers benefit from PSO’s energy efficiency programs and services. Since energy efficiency is not a one-size-fits-all message, she utilizes customer data from various sources, such as smart meter usage data, to create personalized campaigns.

“I definitely see customers wanting more personalization,” Carthen says. “If you’re blasting marketing messages that don’t apply to them, they are going to lose interest very quickly. In my role, I’ll say, ‘Show me what data we have, and let’s see if we can refine our approach so we’re giving customers information that’s most relevant to them.’”

Last year, Carthen led an innovative campaign to help customers not only understand energy efficiency, but also engage with it in a new way. The goal of the Save the Watts campaign was to make the often-complicated topic of energy efficiency easy to understand. The campaign features cute characters that give a physical representation to the term “watts” to capture attention and increase engagement.

“When we developed the Save the Watts campaign, we started with customer research,” Carthen explains. “Customers told us, ‘I understand that my home could be using energy more efficiently, but I don’t really think about it.’ When we got that research back, we worked with an agency to help us make energy efficiency top of mind for our customers.”

The Save the Watts campaign started with video as the primary tactic and expanded to social media, broadcast television and even radio ads. Now, Carthen says people will stop by their booth at various community events and mention how much they love the campaign. In addition to being well-received by customers, the Save the Watts campaign won a 2021 E Source Utility Ad Award, an industry honor that recognizes creative excellence.

“A good portion of our demographic is families, so if you can catch their attention you’ve won half the battle,” Carthen says. “The brand recognition from the Save the Watts campaign has really helped us increase consumer awareness of energy efficiency.”

Even with widespread marketing campaigns, Carthen acknowledges it can still be a challenge to reach some customers. That’s why Carthen is working to ensure energy efficiency is available to all customers in PSO’s service territory, especially those with limited income. She regularly looks at program participation data to see where they should be focusing their marketing efforts to best reach customers in need.

“Maybe we served a community really well in the past, but now we need to focus our efforts in a different community or geographical area,” Carthen says. “Our mission is to ensure we are serving all customers that can be served. We are always looking for ways to improve parity among our programs.”

When Carthen isn’t marketing EE programs and services, you’ll find her enjoying the great outdoors with her 6-year-old son or working on home projects with her husband, who is a project manager for AEP, the parent company of PSO.

Questline Digital connected with Carthen to learn more about what inspired her to work in utility marketing, how best to promote energy efficiency and some of her favorite campaigns.

How did you get started in the energy utility industry?

I was working in an advertising agency and was looking for a position that would let me leverage my brand strategy experience in a more meaningful way. I have family in the utility industry so when the opportunity in the energy efficiency group at Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) came available, I knew I wanted to apply. Luckily, they were looking for someone with agency experience to lead their energy efficiency marketing efforts, and it was a great fit for both of us.

What has changed the most about working in the utility industry over the course of your career?

My career in the utility industry is still fairly new, especially when you consider that many people at my company have worked here for 30-plus years. In the three-and-a-half years I’ve been with PSO, the emphasis on data integration and analysis has really shaped how we do business and respond to the needs of our customers as the industry continues to evolve.

What excites you the most about the energy utility space? 

The impact our work has on our communities. We literally power people’s lives, which is something I don’t take lightly. The ability to market something like energy efficiency is exciting because it truly helps customers. As a marketer, it’s really fulfilling to promote something that serves a greater purpose. 

What campaign or initiative are you most proud of? 

We’ve launched some really creative and effective marketing campaigns, including the Save the Watts campaign that was awarded first place at the E Source Utility Ad Awards. However, our smaller day-to-day initiatives are some of my favorites.

When I started, I went on a ride-along with one of our small business lighting consultants and literally watched them go door-to-door and offer free lighting audits to local businesses. Not long after that, we implemented a marketing campaign that delivers customer leads directly to the lighting consultants. Now they have more time to spend doing actual lighting upgrade projects. The lighting consultants appreciate the campaign, and it helps our company meet its energy-saving goals.

What’s a marketing campaign you wish you’d thought of (inside or outside the energy industry)?

There are so many campaigns I wish I had thought of, but the most recent one is Progressive’s “Becoming Your Parents” campaign. It’s fun, relatable and a great fit for their target audience. I always appreciate when a brand doesn’t take themselves too seriously because, at the end of the day, marketing is about building connections with people.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t working in the utility industry, I would be…

I would be doing marketing in some shape or form because it’s what I love to do. Regardless of where I was working, I know I would be having fun and hopefully making an impact.

How do you anticipate the world of energy evolving in the coming years?

In my role, I anticipate that our energy efficiency programs and offerings will continue to evolve as there are advances in technology. And with that, customer education will continue to be an important part of my job. As energy efficiency programs adapt, content creation will become even more important — more videos, blogs, etc. to help customers understand new technologies and the impact they have on their homes and businesses.

What advice would you give to those entering the utility space?

First, take the time to understand the industry and how you can make an impact in your role. And second, don’t be afraid to speak up and cause healthy disruption. Sometimes, we have to question things for us all to get better.

Participation in Questline Digital’s Energy Spotlight series does not indicate an endorsement from utility partners.

After 27 years at Silicon Valley Power, Mary Medeiros McEnroe has experienced some major changes in California’s utility landscape. Throughout her career, she has made it her mission to help customers every step of the way.

Medeiros McEnroe worked with business customers to prevent rolling blackouts during the Western U.S. energy crisis of 2000 and 2001. Later that decade, she helped launch the utility’s first social media accounts. More recently, she provided proactive communications to prepare customers for the possibility of Public Safety Power Shutoffs, a safety procedure that turns off power in the case of wildfires and other natural disasters. Now, as Public Benefits Program Manager, Medeiros McEnroe makes a positive impact on residents and local businesses in Santa Clara through energy efficiency programs.

A big part of her job is building relationships with business customers, trade allies and other community partners. To learn more about the needs of customers, specifically larger C&I companies, Silicon Valley Power holds energy task force meetings at least once per year. According to Medeiros McEnroe, these conversations are essential to better serve businesses.

Headshot of Mary Medeiros McEnroe

“Customers aren’t shy about providing feedback,” Medeiros McEnroe says. “We survey them after participation in our programs to gather information on what’s working and what isn’t. We also talk to contractors and trade allies and see what they’re hearing from customers, especially in areas where we aren’t getting a lot of participation.”

Medeiros McEnroe also focuses on building relationships with third party companies that work with local businesses to achieve energy efficiency goals. For example, Efficiency Services Group proposed an external lighting program that would provide fixtures to area businesses free of charge — the businesses were only responsible for the installation cost. Initially, there were a few business customers who didn’t have the resources to move forward with the installation. Much to the surprise of Medeiros McEnroe, Efficiency Services Group worked on several projects at no cost to the customer to ensure these businesses could take advantage of the program.

“They were really invested in our community and wanted to have a positive impact,” Medeiros McEnroe explains. “The fact that we had this relationship and they felt a tie to our community is what made this happen. That’s why it’s so important to develop relationships with those who are serving your customers.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, Medeiros McEnroe helped create an energy efficiency program to ease the financial burden for struggling small businesses in the utility’s service territory. She designed and launched the utility’s Energy Efficiency Grant Program for Small Businesses to help fund energy efficiency upgrades. Silicon Valley Power committed $1 million to the program, which launched in the summer of 2020.

“I get a lot of job satisfaction with being able to help customers, even if it’s just one customer,” Medeiros McEnroe says. “I had phone conversations with some of the program participants and they shared with me what they had been going through during the pandemic. It meant a lot to hear how thankful they were for the program and how much it helped their business.”

When she’s not making a positive impact on local businesses, you’ll find Medeiros McEnroe on an airplane, both as a passenger and pilot. In 2017, she received her private pilot’s certificate. Combining her two passions of flying and giving back, Medeiros McEnroe volunteers with Pilots N Paws, a nonprofit that assists with animal transportation. She transports dogs in need to foster and forever homes across California.

Questline Digital spoke with Medeiros McEnroe to get her views on changes in the utility industry, creating successful energy efficiency programs and building relationships with business customers.

How did you get started in the energy utility industry? 

This was an accidental career for me. I worked in the utility billing department in customer service while in college and decided to stay on as I went through an MBA program to obtain my master’s degree. My master’s thesis project was to write a strategic plan for an organization, and I selected our municipal electric utility because I had access to people at lunch and could run ideas by them. This was at the time that California was getting ready to launch deregulation and the industry was changing quickly.

Following my master’s program, I moved into an account management role at the utility. In 2007, I made the move to managing our energy programs and working on the outreach for these programs, as well as managing the utility’s social media accounts.

What has changed the most about your job working in the utility industry over the course of your career? 

I’ve held four different roles within the utility, but all have been focused on helping customers in one way or another. I’ve been through the energy crisis in California that resulted in rolling blackouts and economic downturn, as well as the dot-com bust that resulted in a lot of vacancies. At that point, my role turned toward economic development and bringing new businesses into the city.

When I moved into managing programs, we ran energy efficiency, renewable energy, low income and R&D programs. With changes in legislation, that has expanded into building and transportation electrification programs as well. Legislative changes have also resulted in a lot more state-mandated reporting and other requirements.

In California, we are also now facing wildfire issues and system constraints during peak days, which has brought about Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) and brought back rotating outages. While our customers haven’t been impacted by the PSPS events, it has brought about a lot of communication via social media to explain what is happening as the state or region is impacted by events that may not impact our customers. Social media has really grown for us as a great way to have two-way dialogue with our customers, especially during a power outage. 

What excites you the most about the energy utility space? 

This is an exciting time to be working in the electric industry. Throughout my 27 years, the industry has been constantly changing. When I was in high school and my early college years, I never would have considered the energy industry as the place I would end up, but I’m glad it worked out this way. We constantly get to work on new things, especially at a small municipal utility where we each can wear many hats. That variety keeps things interesting. I also love being able to help customers. Designing and implementing programs that truly make a difference to our customers is really fulfilling. 

What campaign or initiative are you most proud of?

When the pandemic hit, it really impacted our small business community and I wanted to find a way that we could help. I came up with the idea to offer an energy efficiency grant up to $10,000 for small businesses impacted by the mandate to close or significantly reduce their operations. We were able to pull this together and launch it in just a few months and then began extensive outreach. We did a direct mail postcard, direct mail flyer, social media campaign and ads on our local cable channel, along with door-to-door outreach. We also trained our trade ally contractors on the program and provided them with marketing materials.

My goal for the program was to reduce the ongoing costs of small businesses through energy efficiency as well as help to support the contractors in continuing to work and avoiding layoffs. We need those contractors to be there for our programs in the future, so it was important to support not only the local businesses, but also those who serve them through our programs. We recently won an award for this program through the California Municipal Utilities Association.

What is the hardest part of working in the energy industry today? 

The hardest part of working in the energy industry today is keeping up with all the changes that are happening. There is so much to monitor now — changes to legislation and regulation, reporting requirements, emerging technologies, new program ideas, ways to use data analytics, etc. There are so many opportunities out there and with a small staff, we can’t do everything we would like to do. We have to prioritize what would have the biggest benefits to our customers and the utility and what will help the city meet its Climate Action Plan goals. 

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t working in the utility industry, I would be… 

If money were no object and I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills, I would love to do something that involves travel. I love seeing the world and experiencing new places and cultures. Perhaps I would be a travel blogger or lead small tour groups through foreign countries to see the highlights and explore some of the off-the-beaten-path places.

I also love to fly and have my private pilot certificate. I love sharing the experience with people and taking them up for their first flight in a small plane. It would be fun to operate “flightseeing” tours of beautiful places, like the San Francisco Bay or up in the Pacific Northwest. I’m considering a seaplane rating in the future, so maybe you’ll find me operating a charter for backcountry flights to remote areas where we can land on lakes. 

How do you anticipate the world of energy evolving in the coming years?

I think the pace of change is going to continue to get faster and the lines between traditional utilities and third parties will continue to blur. From a program standpoint, we will continue to have a focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, but we will increase our efforts around building and transportation electrification, energy storage and microgrids.

We need to continue to find ways to work with customers to meet their needs as they adopt new technologies and strive to achieve their own sustainability goals. We also will be working toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing constraints on transmission, distribution and generation resources. I’m looking forward to all the opportunities these challenges bring to allow us to try new things and develop new programs. Change is what has kept my career in the utility industry interesting for so many years! 

What advice would you give to those entering the utility space? 

I would advise people entering the industry to remember that although utilities are mostly regulated, we still need to think of customers as if they have a choice. This means designing our programs and services with their needs in mind. We need to find ways to work with them to provide the programs and services that they need while balancing the impacts on our utility grid and other customers.

I’d advise people entering the industry to be open to thinking outside the box and partnering with customers and third parties on pilot projects and programs. I would also advise everyone in the industry to try new things and be willing to fail. We learn something with each failure and can then take what we learned to create something even better.

Participation in Questline Digital’s Energy Spotlight series does not indicate an endorsement from utility partners.

Greg Anderson is one of three Marketing Managers at Atmos Energy. He works for the MidTex Division, covering most of North Texas — roughly half of all of Atmos’ customers. He leads a team of five Account Managers who work with developers within the utility’s sector to add new meters and customers.

Anderson began his career in the energy utility industry as an electrical engineer for Texas Utilities Electric Company. A surprising timeline of events shifted Anderson from engineering to marketing, beginning with TU Electric’s purchase of Lone Star Gas in 1996. TU Electric then added “Gas” to its name and became a dual-fuel company.

Following electric deregulation in 2000, a position opened in TU’s gas sector for marketing management. Anderson had an interest in cross-training to better understand both fuel types, so applied and has been in marketing ever since. “It wasn’t by design really, but I couldn’t be happier with how the path worked out,” he says. “It’s been an interesting journey.”

Headshot of Greg Anderson energy utility Atmos Energy

During our Q&A, Anderson said the initiative he is most proud of is his work with Habitat for Humanity’s Zero Net Energy Homes program. Atmos partnered with Habitat for Humanity on several build projects to help create energy efficient homes, with an end result of zero net energy.

“In addition to creating an energy efficient home, this is also an opportunity to show the public that natural gas can be a vibrant part of a zero net energy home and be good for the environment,” Anderson explains.

Atmos partnered with Habitat for Humanity in Colorado for the first home build, which was completed mid-year. Another home is under construction in Austin, Texas, and Anderson’s team will begin work on one in Dallas in the new year.

“This is a great way to partner and help families in need. We’re very supportive of our communities and we’ve always had a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to volunteer with man-power,” Anderson says. “However, with COVID we couldn’t do that so we thought, why not partner in another way and showcase a new type of home.”

He adds, “In many ways, natural gas gets a bad reputation because it’s a fossil fuel so people assume it has to be dirty. But actually, we can use natural gas heating, water heating and cooking in a home and it will still be zero net energy and meet all the indoor air requirement mandates. It’s a way to say, ‘Hey, don’t forget about us. We’re not the problem, we can be part of the solution.’”

Anderson lives just north of Dallas with his wife and son. He’s an avid sports fan and outdoorsman, loving to fish and hunt. He also plays baseball and has been in a league since he was 20 years old. Although he’s had some shoulder surgeries, nothing keeps him out of the game and he looks forward to every season.

Questline Digital spoke with Anderson to get his views on changes in the utility industry, thought-provoking marketing campaigns and the evolution of energy.

How did you get started in the energy utility industry?

I was an electrical engineering graduate from Texas A&M and received an offer with TU Electric Company, where I cut my teeth in the industry.

What has changed the most about your job over the course of your career?

Many things, such as changing from an “electric guy” to a “gas guy,” the changing energy landscape with regard to primary fuel source options, and the significant augmentations in competition within the Texas market.

What excites you the most about the energy utility space?

The rapid evolutionary changes in the industry, which are now playing a positive part of the national conversation around the ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) topic.

What initiative are you most proud of?

Working with Habitat for Humanity to create Zero Net Energy homes for their recipients, where the homes include clean, efficient and affordable natural gas appliances.

What marketing campaign outside the industry do you wish you’d thought of?

Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign seemed revolutionary to me as it appealed to everyone’s inner fight/no-quit spirit. As I recall it solidified Nike’s stranglehold on the athletic footwear market.

What is the hardest part of working in the energy industry today?

Well, unfortunately of late, our industry seems to be a microcosm of the polarized “misinformation” of our society as a whole. The energy industry would be best served by unbiased, fuel-agnostic, collaborative approaches to energy efficiency, emissions and environmental preservation for the betterment of everyone.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t working in marketing, I would be…

Working outdoors, enjoying the accompanying exercise and the weather, rain or shine!

What is your favorite eNewsletter outside of the utility industry?

I absolutely love Quora Digest. It features interesting questions from everyday people about specific fields of study (such as space, aviation, car repair, sports) that are answered by other everyday people with proficiency in those areas. To me it’s a wonderful, non-politically biased sharing of knowledge through a social platform/newsletter.

How do you anticipate the world of energy evolving in the coming years?

Continued technological advancements will facilitate our quest for sustainable, net zero, affordable energy for generations to come without the negative environmental implications of today.

What advice would you give those entering the utility space?

This isn’t your grandparents’, or even your parents’, utility industry. Compared to those versions, this space is moving at light speed!

Participation in Questline Digital’s Energy Spotlight series does not indicate an endorsement from utility partners.

For energy utilities, encouraging customers to adopt energy efficient lifestyles is an ongoing challenge. Both residential and business customers benefit from reducing energy, but it can be easier said than done to change long-standing behaviors. However, with the right strategies in place, utilities can make strides in their energy efficiency adoption goals.  

In our latest webinar, “Energy Efficiency Adoption Solutions,” Colleen Bullett (Questline Digital), Laurel Gerdine (Franklin Energy) and Mary Medeiros McEnroe (Silicon Valley Power) discuss the importance of EE adoption and how to promote energy-saving solutions to your customers.

Bullett kicked off the webinar with a round of statistics, including: In 2019, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,649 kWh, an average of about 877 kWh per month.

In addition, Questline Digital’s 2021 Energy Utility Benchmarks Report finds that customer interest in energy efficiency increased significantly throughout the pandemic. In fact, customers engaged with promotional emails from their utilities at an 18% higher open rate and 27% higher click-through rate.

According to Bullett, there are many reasons to convert utility customers to energy efficient lifestyles, notably environmental and economic benefits. EE adoption plays a powerful role in lowering greenhouse gas emissions, reducing utility bills, creating jobs and addressing energy equity. With an aggressive commitment to energy efficiency, utilities could help reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 57% by 2050.

“It’s more cost-effective and efficient for energy utilities to encourage customers to change energy patterns instead of spending money on new technologies, updating generators and other costly measures,” Bullett says.

Research finds that 56% of consumers find it “very important” to have an energy efficient home. However, only 9% of those consumers think their home is energy efficient. Moreover, 47% customer say “the money I can save” is a top indicator of whether they will purchase energy efficiency products or not. Environmental concerns drive 44% of customers to invest in energy efficiency.

These are the top reasons why customers are averse to adoption:

  • “The costs are too high”
  • “Unsure about real-world benefits and performance”
  • “Too many barriers to adoption”
  • “Waiting until others adopt first”

To overcome these barriers, Bullett recommends sharing success stories in the form of case studies and content marketing. These solutions address the knowledge gap and help customers to better understand home energy audits, time-of-use (TOU) rate plans and other programs. Energy utilities should use content marketing to encourage customers to change behaviors, such as charging their electric vehicles at night or installing ENERGY STAR appliances. Content marketing is key to showing customers how they can easily implement these changes into their everyday lives.  

With a large base of commercial and industrial (C&I) customers, Medeiros McEnroe shared how Silicon Valley Power promotes energy efficiency programs to this hard-to-reach audience. The municipal electric utility, located in Santa Clara, California, has over 40 large data centers and numerous tech companies in its 18.4-square-mile service area.

Residential customers make up about 85% of the utility’s customer base, but only represent 6% of energy usage. That’s why Silicon Valley Power focuses its energy efficiency efforts on C&I customers. Medeiros McEnroe reinforced the importance of understanding your business customers in order to promote the right energy efficiency technologies.

Energy utilities need to ask the right questions:

  • Are they a local, regional or national company?
  • What do they do?
  • What are their business drivers?
  • What are their pain points?
  • When are their funding cycles?
  • Do they have metrics for decision-making?
  • Who are the energy champions at the organization?

When energy utilities reach out to C&I customers, they need to understand the return on investment for an energy efficiency program or technology. In other words, will this solution help increase productivity and improve the company’s bottom line? Medeiros McEnroe encouraged utilities to think beyond how much a business will save on their electric bill. For example, what are their climate goals? What is the ROI equivalent to increased product sales?

To encourage energy efficiency adoption with C&I customers, Medeiros McEnroe recommends using targeted program promotions with multiple touchpoints, including emails, postcards and two-page fliers. Silicon Valley Power also takes advantage of site visits and training with trade allies. When the utility promoted an energy efficiency incentive program with hotels and motels during the pandemic, site visits and trade ally training were key to achieving high program participation.   

In addition to promoting the energy benefits of a particular solution, it behooves energy utilities to talk about the non-energy benefits as well. Medeiros McEnroe shared an example of an energy efficient deep fryer demonstration at the Food Service Technology Center. The energy efficient deep fryer came to temperature faster, resulting in oil lasting longer than traditional fryers. This was quantified by the amount of French fry orders made per year, the amount of oil saved each year, etc. The non-energy savings were significantly more than the energy savings. Medeiros McEnroe strongly encourages quantifying the non-energy benefits of a solution to customers as a way of speaking to what is most important to them.  

It can be just as challenging to encourage EE adoption among residential customers. Franklin Energy, which serves 500,000 residential customers annually, has experienced success with energy efficiency education and promotions. According to Gerdine, the utility’s commitment to energy efficiency adoption has resulted in a reduction of 1.6 million metric tons of carbon emissions in 2020.

To impact program adoption for residential customers, Gerdine emphasizes promoting convenience and simplicity. “We live in an Amazon world and consumer buying motivations have dramatically changed,” she says. An Accenture study found that 57% of consumers would switch retailers if they did not offer new, fast and flexible delivery options. For energy utilities, this means taking a hard look at their processes and determining what needs to change to meet the expectations of today’s customers.

“If you are not providing an easy way for customers to enroll or participate in an energy efficiency program, adoption will not be successful,” Gerdine notes. “Customers expect a streamlined sign-up process – if it’s too complicated, they will simply avoid it.”

For example, Franklin Energy had been using paper applications for years for its home weatherization program targeting low-income customers. The utility recently implemented an online application capability, mostly for use by program allies (the main channel for participation). The results were immediate with 30% to 50% of weekly applications submitted online.  

Another example is the promotion of a large home energy assessment program. During the pandemic, the utility collected Covid-related information in the sign-up process. While the goal was to protect the health of customers and team members, the program execution created a barrier to sign up that significantly impacted adoption. In fact, the added complexity resulted in a 40% increase in the scheduling page bounce rate. To solve the problem, the Franklin Energy team removed the questions and asked them as part of a follow-up process. With this quick fix, the bounce rate returned to normal levels.

“The main lesson here is to make sure you consider the impact of your actions on the sign up process,” Gerdine says. “Remember the old ‘keep it simple’ rule to drive adoption and participation in programs.”

Partnerships are another huge resource to influence energy efficiency adoption. In the midst of Covid-19, community became a huge channel to provide energy efficiency solutions to low and medium-income customers. In addition, the emergence of new program designs and increasing complex technologies has shined a light on the value of engaging communities. Gerdine recommends that energy utilities work with key stakeholders to drive adoption among residential customers.

“It really takes a village to drive energy efficiency adoption and this will continue and become more important moving forward,” Gerdine says. “We began to use new community channels to reach customers where they are.”

Questline Digital can help your utility increase energy efficiency adoption among residential and business customers.