As solar and other renewables become more affordable, many of the electric power consumers of yesterday are now active energy consumers and producers, or energy prosumers.

These utility customers invest in and install rooftop solar panels to generate the electricity they need and feed the excess electricity they produce back to the grid in exchange for credits or reductions to their energy bills.

Many households are also looking to battery electric vehicles and home battery storage systems that can be combined with solar panels to power their homes during outages. Some utilities, like PG&E in California, offer financial incentives to customers that install battery storage systems.

As electric consumption by U.S. households continues to climb, these energy prosumers will be a growing segment of a utility’s customer base. With approximately 4% of U.S. homes generating electricity from small-scale solar arrays, they already account for nearly one-third of all solar energy produced in the U.S. The International Energy Agency estimates that approximately 100 million households will rely on rooftop solar by 2030.

What is an Energy Prosumer?

An energy prosumer is a utility customer who generates their own power. For residential customers, this typically includes rooftop solar panels and home battery storage. Business customers may use larger-scale distributed energy resources (DERs), such as wind generation, solar arrays and battery storage.

Prosumers may sell their excess power back to the grid, becoming energy producers as well as consumers.

Building Relationships with Energy Prosumers

Energy prosumers are quickly changing the way utilities do business. Now that more and more customers are engaging with power production, these active customers will play a significant role as more renewable energy flows to the grid.

Utilities will be well served by educating and empowering these essential players, working with them as allies in meeting several mutually beneficial objectives:

  • Meet renewable energy mandates. With many states now requiring utilities to generate a specific percentage of their power from renewable sources, utilities are encouraging their energy-supplying customers to help them meet their net zero goals. In those states, many utilities offer customers a solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) with rooftop solar systems for each megawatt-hour of electricity they generate. Homeowners can use these SRECs to generate income.
  • Support solar investments. To encourage the adoption of solar, some utilities offer upfront rebates for installing solar panel systems that can, on average, reduce the cost of the system by as much as 20%.
  • Build trust. Utilities are building portals that provide their most active customers with straightforward and comprehensive access to information about installing solar systems or designing microgrids, assistance connecting their systems to the grid, access to the real-time grid and market data, and more. This encourages them to rely on the utility as a trusted energy partner.
  • Offer incentives. Forward-thinking utilities like Consumers Energy offer bill credits to energy prosumers for the extra energy they produce and discounts on the electricity they purchase. Utilities can also support their prosumer partners by providing discounts on maintenance and installation of solar equipment or technical support and educational services.

Building the utility-prosumer relationship benefits everyone. Customers are happier with lower bills and a reliable power supply during outages, while utilities can make progress toward their sustainability and customer satisfaction goals.

Marketing Tools to Encourage More Energy Prosumers

With the promise of a mutually beneficial relationship, why don’t all consumers become prosumers? It comes down to awareness, education, access and cost.

Awareness and Education

Many customers still don’t know they can return energy to the grid and get paid. Or that they can store power in batteries for future use. And if they do, many need help knowing where to get started.

For example, Super Bowl ads that showcased a Ford F-150 Lightning powering a home during an outage caught the attention of many customers previously uninterested in EVs. They were introduced to the idea of bidirectional charging but were left asking questions about its feasibility.

These newly interested customers need information on equipment, installation and safety. While the idea of sending energy back and forth might sound relatively simple, it’s a complex power conversion process that requires special chargers and careful installation.

Utilities can stand out in today’s crowded landscape with content — like email promotions, landing pages, checklists, blog posts and videos — that educate customers about the benefits of becoming a producer of renewable energy and guides them on how to get started.

Access and Cost

Even if an energy customer knows they want to become a prosumer, there are still hurdles to getting started. Finding reputable installers can be intimidating and the cost can feel out of reach.

For example, the Ford Charge Station Pro carries a price tag of $1,310, not to mention the F-150 Lightning vehicle, which ranges between $55,000 and $97,000.

Solar power storage systems aren’t cheap, either. Batteries can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $22,000.

Previously mentioned portals, incentives and rebates can make all the difference. Utilities that provide easy-to-access resources, like PSEG Long Island’s contractor list or PG&E’s incentive site, allow customers to act independently. Many customers want their utility to be a knowledgeable resource but still want to make home improvements on their own.

Opportunities to Grow with Energy Prosumers

The increasingly important role that energy prosumers play creates new opportunities for utilities to add value to their services and ramp up their efforts to ensure a resilient power grid. By using digital marketing tools and educational content to communicate with customers, the beneficial segment of prosumers can continue to grow.

Learn how a customer engagement strategy from Questline Digital can help build strong relationships with energy prosumers.

Your customers want to save energy; they just might not know how. By educating customers about energy waste and showing them how they can save, your energy utility can help customers take advantage of energy-saving programs and products. More than ever, there is a growing need for energy efficiency education.

Many customers don’t realize the strong impact that making energy-efficient choices has on both a person’s daily life and their community. According to, “Energy efficiency is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to combat climate change, reduce energy costs for consumers, and improve the competitiveness of U.S. businesses.” Energy efficiency is also a very important component in achieving net-zero emissions.

By increasing energy efficiency education, customers will have a better understanding of how their energy-efficient choices can:

  • Save money
  • Increase the resilience and reliability of the electric grid
  • Provide environmental, community and health benefits

Energy Efficiency Education for Customers

The first step to converting customers is educating them. Think about who your utility is trying to reach and what their interests and needs are. For example, residential and business customers are very different. What resonates with one doesn’t necessarily resonate with the other.

Business customers, for example, care about reducing energy usage and operating costs while keeping productivity high. Residential customers, on the other hand, may care more about simple, effective ways to reduce their home energy bills without sacrificing comfort. Consider segmenting your communications so you can reach different customers with different energy efficiency campaign messages.

Energy Efficiency Education Examples

Energy efficiency doesn’t have to be difficult for customers. Duke Energy offers free home energy assessments where an energy professional will visit a home and perform a walk-through. They will then give the customer a detailed report showcasing how their home could be more energy efficient and ways they can lower their energy bill.

Example of assessment used to promote energy efficiency education

PSEG Long Island offers an online home energy analyzer that is free for customers to use. It’s similar to a home walk-through, but instead, customers can input information about their home themselves and have their energy efficiency calculated immediately. They can also reuse the analyzer multiple times to test changes to their home and see the results. In the end, customers are made much more aware of the impact on their energy bills.

Example of analyzer quiz to promote energy efficiency education

Additionally, PSEG Long Island promotes seasonal energy-saving opportunities with energy efficiency campaigns. In the summer, the utility developed an email campaign that promoted chargeable electric lawn equipment.

Example of email to promote energy efficiency education

The utility also promoted “National Cut Your Energy Cost Day” on social media by sharing advice for cutting energy costs. It’s important to stay a few steps ahead of your customers in anticipating their needs.

Example of social media post to promote energy efficiency education

There’s No Place Like an Energy-Efficient Home

When it comes to energy efficiency education, residential customers tend to be more open to receiving advice or promotions, simply because they have the time to consider making purchases or behavioral changes. In comparison, time-starved business customers may see these conversations as distractions in their busy day.

“Owners and other decision-makers are busy trying to keep their business running, usually getting their hands dirty right alongside their employees,” observed the Association of Energy Services Professionals. “And as energy efficiency program implementers, here we come, knocking on their doors out of the blue, wanting an hour of their precious time to conduct an energy audit.”

When communicating to residential customers about energy efficiency awareness, there are a few topics that resonate most:

  • Self-serve: Customers want the ability to take things into their own hands and control their energy use. By sharing energy efficiency education tips and recommending things they can do themselves, such as replacing traditional lightbulbs with LEDs or adding ENERGY STAR® appliances to their kitchen, they are more responsive to making these changes.
  • Money: A big motivation for purchasing energy-efficient products is cost savings. Help residential customers crunch the numbers with an energy analyzer tool or calculator that shows exactly what their bill would be if they made these investments.
  • Property value: The more energy efficient a home is, the higher its property value, which means more money for customers. In fact, according to The Guardian and an Energy Saving Trust survey, 70% of homebuyers would consider negotiating the cost of a property if it was inefficient.

Even though homeowners are often the ones who can make large investments in energy efficiency, your energy utility shouldn’t forget about renters. This customer segment is just as concerned about lowering their energy costs as homeowners, if not more. Ensure you have a strategy in place that shares relevant energy efficiency education tips with renters.

Example of interactive content for energy efficiency education

Content marketing is a powerful tool in energy efficiency education. By teaching customers about energy efficiency in fun, engaging ways, they are more likely to make the switch. One example used by Questline Digital clients is the quiz “What’s your energy type?” which prompts customers to think about how they use energy in their day-to-day life. Once they understand their energy style, it provides more opportunities for your utility to promote energy efficiency awareness.

How Peer Pressure Can Create Customer Interest in Energy Efficiency

Another way to reach your residential customers is through friendly neighborhood competition. We’re serious — social norms are a stronger motivator than even your best promotional message.

According to research by the Harvard Business Review, people often use less energy when they think their neighbors care about the environment. When residential customers were told how much energy they consumed and how much energy their neighbors used, customers reduced their energy use by 1% to 2% per year.

“Surprisingly, what matters more than one’s own attitudes and beliefs — how concerned we are with our own energy use and the environment — is whether we believe our neighbors view saving energy as important to saving the environment,” the report found. So rather than always pushing “go green” messages directly on customers, consider taking an indirect route and sharing how their neighbors are making changes instead.

Business Customers and Energy Efficiency

Compared to residential outreach, communicating to business customers about energy efficiency education needs to be much more succinct and focused on two benefits: money and brand reputation.

Like residential customers, money is a top concern for business customers. However, this audience sees savings in a different light. Instead of simple lightbulb swaps, business customers want to know how to save the “big bucks.”

Share energy efficiency campaigns about rebate programs on equipment these customers may often use or need to purchase, or provide side-by-side comparisons of the energy performance (and savings) of key products. For example, illustrate the cost-savings of an electric forklift versus a conventional forklift for warehouse facilities, or electric fleets versus gas-powered fleets for delivery vehicles. By focusing on the equipment that matters to business customers, you can pique their interest.

When it comes to brand reputation, we all know that simple reviews or bad comments can make or break a business in the digital age. Creating a positive image is imperative, especially when it comes to sustainability and energy efficiency. In fact, according to a study by IBM and the National Retail Federation, “Nearly 70% of consumers in the U.S. and Canada think it is important that a brand is sustainable or eco-friendly.”

Business customers need to realize that their public image is just as important as their product. By implementing energy-saving processes or switching to efficient equipment, they could not only reduce operating expenses but increase revenue through customer appreciation and an eco-friendly reputation.

Guide Your Customers to Energy Savings

Building energy efficiency awareness comes down to what your customers need. Every customer is unique — it’s up to your energy utility to identify what matters to them and provide relevant solutions.

Customers are interested in saving energy and willing to make the switch, but your energy utility needs to educate them on the efficient products and services that will make an impact and help them save.

Learn how a content strategy from Questline Digital can help your utility drive customer interest in energy efficiency.

Sonja Britland has worn many hats at Taunton Municipal Light Plant (TMLP), from marketing to public communications. In her latest role as Sustainability and Commercial Development Manager, she is passionate about the environment and helping customers take advantage of renewable energy.

“I really hope to make a difference and put my energy toward something tangible to help our customers,” Britland says. “At the end of the day, I feel this role is so meaningful to me. I want to make an impact on our local community and future generations to come.”

Britland joined TMLP in 2004 as a marketing specialist for the internet side of the business. When they needed to cover a soon-to-be-open public communications position for the energy division in 2012, she was asked to fill in. It was supposed to be temporary, but ultimately it turned into a full-time opportunity for Britland, along with managing energy services and key accounts.

This past year, Britland took on the responsibility of managing TMLP’s newly created sustainability department, including hiring employees and crafting a sustainability plan. “It’s so much more than simply buying Renewable Energy Credits,” she explains. “It’s also about building vendor partnerships and finding ways to increase sustainability in the community.”

Headshot of Sonja Britland for Energy Spotlight interview

Throughout her tenure, Britland has been dedicated to increasing customer participation in renewable energy. One example is the Go Green 100% program, which she helped communicate to the public. This voluntary program gives customers a choice to have their electricity come from 100% renewable energy sources.

“We have customers who want their energy to come from renewable sources,” Britland explains. “But we live in an area with quite a few multi-dwelling units, and some customers are unable to take advantage of solar power. This is a way that we could make it economical for those that may have barriers to entry.”

For Britland, the biggest challenge for TMLP is the balance of providing competitive rates and reliable service, while also being an environmental steward. Some customers want their energy to come from 100% renewable energy sources, and others only care about energy costs. That’s why, she notes, it’s important to hear ongoing feedback from customers to develop new and equitable programs.

“Everything we do revolves around our mission to provide reliable, competitively priced services in an environmentally sensitive manner,” Britland says. “When you think about it, that’s a three-legged stool: If one of those pieces disengages, the stool won’t stand on its own. That mentality is what guides us.”

If she wasn’t creating sustainability goals for TMLP, you’d find Britland doing special effects makeup for horror movies. In her early 20s, she created makeup looks for various Fangoria Magazine events. Nowadays, you’ll find Britland in the great outdoors, whether hiking, kayaking or swimming. She also loves music and spending time with her friends, husband and 11-year-old son.

Questline Digital connected with Britland to get her thoughts on changes in the utility industry and what inspires her on a daily basis.

How did you get started in the energy utility industry?

With a background in business and marketing in the private sector, I joined the Taunton Municipal Lighting Plant (TMLP) in 2004 as a Marketing Specialist for the Internet Services Group. My primary role was to work with our commercial customers interested in bringing fiber optic internet access solutions to their facilities.

What has changed the most about your job working in the utility industry over the course of your career?
The most significant change was transitioning from general utility operations to a more strategic approach to decarbonization and sustainability, while balancing our rates and reliability to our customers. As a public power provider governed by our elected commissioners, our customers have an active voice in TMLP.

What excites you the most about the energy utility space?

Emerging technologies and tools being introduced to aid in decarbonization and electrification initiatives. It’s exciting to see what can help us achieve our federal, state and utility-provider goals to mitigate climate change.

What campaign or initiative are you most proud of?

Go Green 100% is a voluntary program that allows our customers’ electricity to come from 100% renewable fuel sources. Go Green 100% accomplishes this through the purchase of Massachusetts Class 1 Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).

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

The Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” television commercials. They were so outlandish, but also creative. I always looked forward to the next installment. A close runner-up is Dr. Pepper’s Lil’ Sweet commercials because they make me laugh and I’m a HUGE Prince fan!

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

The hardest part of working in the energy industry is the balance of providing reliable service with low rates, while also working toward decarbonization.

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

Creating special effects for horror movies.

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

I believe we will come up with new technologies that will enable us to reduce our carbon footprint to help stall climate change.

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

It’s amazing how quickly things can change in this industry. Always keep your mind open to new ideas and technologies, and how they can help our customers and our environment.

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

From the airline industry to healthcare, Hanna Balla has seen it all. Currently the Director of Customer Experience & Insights for NiSource, Balla looks to her past industries with gratitude for helping her get to where she is today.

Working with utility digital experiences, Balla has seen the energy industry go through a major transformation. Long gone are the days of “ratepayers,” making way for opportunities to engage and listen to customers. Her passion for the environment ties in perfectly with the growing role that utilities play in energy efficiency and sustainability. “The industry is fun to be in right now,” she notes.

Headshot of energy utility customer experience leader Hanna Balla

Balla grew up in New York but has lived in Columbus, Ohio, since college. Beyond her work with NiSource, Balla loves hiking, surfing and traveling. Although international travel had to be put on hold due to COVID-19, Balla said that the remote year actually helped her team, which is scattered throughout the Midwest, become more efficient, effective and closer. “In the past, Columbus colleagues would meet in the office,” she said. “With everyone now over Zoom, the opportunities to engage as a full team have been equalized.”

Balla is also a strong advocate for minorities in the energy industry. “I’m Korean-American and I don’t see a lot of Asian-Americans in the energy industry, at least from where I sit. Since I don’t see it, I’ve become an advocate for minorities in energy and leadership in general. It’s been really fun to be a part of that and to pave a path for others.”

Focusing on customer experience is also important to her work. “The voice of the customer has gotten louder and we’re responding to it,” Balla said. “Previously, old systems and processes hadn’t been touched, but now we’re focused on making things easier for customers and catching up to their expectations. There is a lot of energy and acceleration to help customers do more online than they could before.

“Things are changing, and utilities are excited to get fun and creative now,” she added. “The moment we look at things as a customer, the narrative changes.”

Questline Digital spoke with Balla to get her thoughts 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?

It was actually by accident! I had a couple of good friends/former colleagues in the healthcare industry who were working for NiSource. At the time the company was hiring a marketing manager for one of its states, Columbia Gas of Ohio. Given my experience, my former colleagues reached out about the opportunity.

I didn’t have any sort of background in the energy industry. Most of my experience was in the airline, healthcare, retail and QSR (quick-service restaurant) industries, but a lot of those skills were transferrable to the role at Columbia Gas of Ohio. I applied — and I’ve been on the energy industry learning curve ever since. 

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

I’ve actually held four roles in the five years I’ve been with the company. I started in energy efficiency marketing for Columbia Gas of Ohio and now I’m leading customer experience and insights across the enterprise (six operating companies). It’s been exciting because things have constantly been in flux. The energy industry has seen a major shift in customer-focused modernization and transformation in the last few years. Sitting on the customer-focused side, that’s the biggest shift I’ve seen. 

What excites you the most about the energy utility space? 

The opportunity. We’re in an industry that experiences a lot of change and innovation, from digital transformation to a focus on renewable energy, and we’re giving our customers more control, transparency, and options. The industry is ripe for change, and the pace of the change has been rapid, which has been very exciting. 

Tell me about the campaign or initiative you’re most proud of.

When I first joined Columbia Gas of Ohio, we did a full marketing audit and a rebrand to ensure that our messaging was consistent and impactful. Also to ensure it resonated with our customers in order to improve awareness, recall, and action for energy efficiency programs and initiatives. It was exciting to see the impact that strategic marketing can have on not only customer awareness and participation of our programs, but the positive impact those actions were having in communities and on our environment. 

What is the hardest part of an energy marketer’s job today?

I think it’s keeping things simple. Our industry is large and complex, but at the end of the day, our customers care about having reliable service and interactions being simple. One of our challenges is making sure we constantly see and solve for things through the customer’s lens — not our own as people who are close to the industry. 

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

We often say that our customers don’t have a choice to be our customers, and though that may not change in the near future, I do think that how they get energy from us will change and the options they have for energy sources will grow. With that, customer choice becomes greater and being able to meet customer needs and keep things radically simple and transparent will become more and more important. I think the opportunities with renewable energy is incredibly exciting!

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

Stay curious. This is a large, complex industry with a lot of moving pieces and parts, and a lot of history with dependencies in many areas. In order to do good work, it’s critical to understand the industry itself and all the levers that influence the work we do. That means there’s a lot to learn, there are a lot of existing systems in place, and sometimes, it takes some creative problem solving to get things done.

Five years in, I feel like I just scratched the surface. I think it’s a balance of understanding the industry and also bringing fresh ideas to the table to really make an impact for our customers.

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

Ensuring the reliability of your customers’ energy supply is one of the most important jobs for any utility — yet it’s often taken for granted by customers. By participating in commercial demand response programs, business customers will better understand the role they have to play and directly contribute to making the electric grid more stable.

How do energy utilities encourage business customers to participate in demand response? By sharing the benefits of these programs, addressing common objections and offering energy-saving education, utilities can enlist the participation of more businesses and ensure the success of demand response programs.

What Is Demand Response?

Demand response is an effort to manage the capacity of the electric grid during peak events, or times of extremely high power draw. If businesses and households demand more electricity than can be produced — say, during a hot August afternoon when the air conditioning is running full blast — it may lead to outages. Producing more electricity by constructing new power plants can be costly and take years of planning. Plus, it often it means adding more fossil fuel generation to the grid instead of renewable sources.

Demand response programs seek to minimize the impact of peak events and prevent the need for building more power plants. Commercial demand response programs pay business customers to reduce their power draw during peak events, ensuring the stability of the grid for other customers and ultimately reducing the cost of energy for everyone.

How Does Demand Response Impact Commercial and Industrial Customers?

Customers can look at demand response events in two ways: the (potentially temporary) inconvenience of participating and the (potentially detrimental) drawbacks of not participating.

Commercial and industrial customers who participate in demand response programs may be asked to reduce their power draw during peak events. This can lead to minor inconveniences like reducing HVAC use or major impacts like closing the business for part of the day. On the positive side, program participants receive financial incentives that may include cash payments or reduced rates — even if a response event is not needed. The amount of advanced notice varies by program.

Businesses that don’t participate would not receive these incentives, of course, but they still might suffer the negative effects. An unexpected outage during peak events could cause devastating business interruptions. Long term, without effective demand response programs, a utility might have to add more carbon-based generation to the grid and rely less on renewable sources — increasing the cost of energy for everyone.

How to Promote Demand Response Program Benefits

The importance of demand response programs to your utility is clear: Managing the load during peak events is critical to ensure the reliability and stability of the grid. But why are these programs important to businesses? When promoting demand response, the key is to focus on the benefits to your customers, not the benefits to your utility.

Commercial demand response programs benefit your customers in three significant ways:

  1. Financial incentives. Businesses get paid to participate in demand response programs and can benefit from upfront payments, rebates and/or lower energy rates.
  2. Operational planning. Program participants can prepare for demand response events and ensure smooth transitions. It’s much better than being caught off guard by unexpected outages.
  3. Green reputation. Businesses are partners with the utility in ensuring a cleaner and more stable energy supply for their community — which both employees and consumers appreciate.

Overcoming Common Hurdles to Demand Response Program Adoption

Despite these benefits, commercial and industrial customers may be wary of demand response programs. After all, reducing power draw could be a significant interruption to business operations. It’s important for energy utility marketers to acknowledge these objections and clearly address customers’ concerns.

Make it easy to participate. The thought of interrupting business operations or reducing power draw at a busy commercial facility may be overwhelming. Help customers participate, and demonstrate how easy it is, with clear guidelines and processes for demand response events.

Share testimonials. Who knows the benefits of demand response programs better than current participants? Look for success stories among your customers and capture video testimonials to share with businesses that are considering the program. Spoken in their own words, such videos are authentic and relatable to other business customers.

Segment messages by new/returning customers. If you require past participants to sign up for your demand response program each year, it’s important to remind them of the benefits even though they may already understand the program. New prospects, on the other hand, will require a more detailed explanation and may need repeated outreach.

Segment messages by industry. Reducing power draw during a demand response event will affect a healthcare facility much differently than, say, a factory or warehouse. It’s important to address each industry’s specific concerns with a segmented communication strategy and offer relevant participation advice for each type of facility.

Examples of Effective Commercial Demand Response Promotions

Commercial demand response programs may seem complex or intimidating to potential participants. It’s not enough to simply market the benefits of these programs with a typical campaign. Demand response promotions need to include a healthy dose of education to fully explain how the program works, the benefits of participation, and advice about compliance, including industry-specific efficiency information.

Questline Digital produced a comprehensive campaign for a major IOU in the Midwest to promote its demand response program. The campaign was a success, exceeding the utility’s participation goals and reaching customers in multiple channels with a variety of content formats:

  • Website landing page with full program details and benefits
  • Video testimonials from current participants
  • Infographic with energy-saving advice
  • Email campaigns to past participants and prospective new participants, including behavioral follow-up messages to both audiences
Example of email promotion for commercial demand response program
Example of email promotion for commercial demand response program

Business customers have an important role to play in maintaining the reliability of the electric grid. In addition to financial benefits, demand response participants can be proud of partnering with their utility to ensure a cleaner and more stable energy supply for the entire community.

Learn how to promote the benefits of your demand response program with a digital engagement strategy from Questline Digital.