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An inclusive approach to energy efficiency program participation

Nov 19, 2020
2 MIN. READ
ICF designs location-based pilots to boost rebate use among low-income households

Everyone loves rebates. But not everyone takes advantage of energy efficiency rebate programs, especially those in low-income households. Take smart thermostats, for example. They can help consumers save a lot of energy and money. However—even with a rebate—the initial investment is too expensive for 25 to 30% of U.S. households.

Rethinking the approach to energy rebates

Justin Mackovyak, who directs many of our energy efficiency programs, sees how—despite robust utility rebates and state-implemented low-income programs—many customers fall in the “low-to-moderate” category. This means they’re not eligible for government assistance, but nor can they afford the cost of energy efficient upgrades (even with those rebates).

“The conversation around energy equity is complex,” Justin says. On the surface, every customer paying the same price per kWh seems the most evenhanded approach. But there are critical questions that utilities should address to put their communities’—and customers’—needs first, like:

  • How energy efficiency programs and products can get into the hands of people in all communities.
  • How to get equitable participation in utility-sponsored energy efficiency or demand response programs.
  • How to help customers who use a disproportionate part of their income simply to keep the lights on.
  • How to ensure that the energy distribution infrastructure is reliable and resilient in all areas, not just in new or gentrified communities.

In the minds of Justin and his team, there’s only one way to tackle these challenges: test different scenarios to see their impact on participation in energy efficiency programs. And so, they worked with several of their utility clients to design a location-based pilot for regulatory approval.

The pilot relies on our proprietary Sightline platform to identify low-income zones and teams across ICF—in community development, energy advisory services, resilience, and commercial energy—working together to also determine areas prone to specific conditions, like excessive heat or flooding.

Beginning in 2021, we’ll explore how to leverage rebate programs to drive participation in disadvantaged areas as well as those with grid constraints or those that would benefit from resiliency upgrades. It’s a win-win for the utility and its customers.

"Location-based targeting first came to us in 2016. Because there are so many complexities, it took some time to figure it all out. But we worked together with our clients to create a pilot concept that is truly innovative,” Justin explains. “I think we nailed it!”

Ensuring equity in energy efficiency programs

This program isn’t our first that explores a more equitable approach to energy efficiency. Through our work with BGE’s Smart Energy Savers Program, we helped the utility grow minority- and women-owned businesses in the greater Baltimore area. And we helped Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative launch a program to keep electric bills low in a stay-at-home world.

Our goal is to create innovative energy efficiency programs until every single person—no matter their ZIP code or income level—who wants to save on their utility costs can.

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