“Customers are not being provided easy energy solutions for their homes,” says Claire Broido Johnson, chief of New Markets and Services for New England-based home efficiency provider Next Step Living.
That’s the problem affecting everything from insulation and air-sealing contractors to high-tech energy monitoring and management companies. Johnson and others spoke on the topic recently at Babson College’s Energy & Environment Conference.
Even in Massachusetts, which offers generous rebates for home energy-efficiency upgrades through statewide and utility-sponsored programs like Mass Save, gaining traction in residential and light commercial energy efficiency can be difficult.
“There isn’t a lot of social contract,” says Johnson, citing that 70 percent of people are dissatisfied with home contracting work. “People don’t trust contractors, and that is going to have to change over time, with a lot of good work.”
“The efficiency market is pitiful. It is broken,” says Barun Singh, founder and chief technology officer at WegoWise, which tracks water, electricity, gas and oil consumption for building portfolio owners and housing authorities helping low-income families. Singh says initial costs for efficiency upgrades remain too high and customers don’t know where to make investments in efficiency. “Changing a culture is what we’re doing,” he adds.
“There are major inefficiencies inside the energy efficiency market,” cites Allan Telio, vice president of business development at MyEnergy, which says its software platform can access the utility energy usage data of 90 percent of homes in the United States. MyEnergy tracks energy usage reported to utilities and offers assessments of measures people can take to be more energy efficient.
By inefficiencies, Telio largely means that communicating the need to be more energy efficient has not been as effective as it should. Utilities, which are at the heart of many energy efficiency programs, have been particularly challenged as many are making the transition from viewing their customers as mere ratepayers. Telio says utilities are just beginning to understand who their customers are and how to talk to them.
MyEnergy’s solution provides comparisons with others in your community, rewards such as a month’s supply of potato chips, and the company is working with utilities to offer energy-saving competitions. Think gamification.
Here Comes Energy Management?
Next Step Living, which works with the state’s Mass Save program to offer energy assessments and then performs efficiency work based on the audits’ recommendations, offers solar systems through a partnership with SunRun, heating and cooling air-to-air heat pumps and energy-efficient windows, and is looking into the energy management space.
“Home energy management is a bright shining star in the energy efficiency space,” Johnson says. “We have the data, and other folks have the access.” And who is that? Johnson cites security system providers.
That may mean partnerships with service providers like ADT, Comcast, Verizon, Vivint, Alarm.com and others that offer security systems with home connectivity platforms and some energy management, so thermostats and lights can be programmed and operated via smartphones.
As WegoWise’s Singh warns, though, “There’s a lot of technology out there, but if the incentives aren’t there and [the capital to support them], nobody’s going to be using it but the well off.”
That’s more of the market Next Step Living is going after. More to come.