Market development efforts help bring energy efficiency to all
Energy costs are a significant financial burden for lower income households – with many families spending approximately 20 percent of their monthly income on utility bills. Additionally, homes and buildings in low-income neighborhoods tend to be older and have fewer energy-efficient features and equipment – a combination that can lead to substantial energy waste and higher energy costs. Low-income customers stand to benefit the most from reduced energy bills, but are often least able to afford energy-efficient upgrades in their home. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), about 23 percent of U.S. households have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty line, a threshold that often qualifies these households for enhanced financial assistance through utility energy efficiency programs.
Since their inception, energy efficiency programs have faced challenges in gaining significant participation from low-income households and engaging hard-to-reach communities. Utilities have the opportunity to better serve low-income customers with energy-saving projects while improving the economic landscape of the communities and neighborhoods in their service territory. By focusing on comprehensive market development initiatives, energy efficiency programs can deliver benefits to all customers and create greater advocacy for energy conservation at the neighborhood and community level.
Ameren Illinois and its prime program implementer, Leidos, have established an industry-leading Market Development Initiative that leverages more than $100 million in funding to make energy efficiency more accessible to all customers. Signed in 2016, the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act created new investment in energy efficiency, renewables, and energy innovation while challenging industry leaders to deliver solutions that create new jobs and address the state’s clean energy future. This significant piece of legislation also emphasizes enhanced energy efficiency funding for low-income households and new investments in local communities – two tenets that helped shape and realize Ameren Illinois CEO Richard Mark’s vision of “Energy Efficiency for All.” Ameren Illinois’ Market Development Initiative focuses on providing additional resources, financial support and innovative solutions to residential and business customers in lower income communities throughout central and southern Illinois. Additionally, Ameren Illinois is focused on making investments in their communities that advance collaboration and innovative ideas in energy efficiency, create opportunities for diverse contractors and suppliers, and build an energy efficiency workforce of the future.
Ameren Illinois and Leidos are partnering to deliver innovative solutions through the Market Development Initiative, including:
- Collaborating with community-based organizations
Across its territory, Ameren Illinois is partnering with community-based organizations, including Community Action Agencies, non-profits, and advocacy groups, to raise energy efficiency awareness in underserved communities. These trusted and established organizations help bridge the gap between underserved customers and the incentives that are available to them. For Ameren Illinois, a key success in collaboration has been integrating with non-profit and community-based partners’ existing customer touchpoints. By leveraging these partners’ individual strengths – such as event planning, individual counseling, wrap-around services, in-home upgrades and installs and relationship building – it provides an opportunity to build on the value they are already providing their clients.
- Increasing workforce development efforts
Strategic partnerships with community colleges and technical schools – which provide scholarships, internships, specialized training, and job opportunities – bring diverse students and trade contractors into the energy efficiency industry and develop the future energy efficiency workforce. As an example, Ameren Illinois created the award-winning Opportunities Scholarship initiative to help train the next generation of Construction Management and HVAC professionals. The initiative funds a total of 24 scholarships per school year at six Illinois community colleges and has expanded to include additional majors, including Construction Technology and Carpentry. The scholarship provides each recipient with a $3,000 stipend to defray the costs of their training.
- Delivering energy-efficient technologies to low- and moderate-income customers
To overcome cost and complexity barriers and encourage participation in energy efficiency, Ameren Illinois created a Smart Savers direct install initiative that brought the latest smart thermostat technology to low- and moderate-income customers at no cost. The direct install program provided new smart thermostats to approximately 5,400 income-eligible customers in pilot communities in 2018, who are expected to save 2.5 million kilowatt-hours and 270,000 therms – or a total of over $515,000 in estimated savings each year. To further boost economic impacts, the pilot program relied extensively on local or diverse-owned suppliers to identify program participants and install the smart thermostats.