Q&A: Ameren's Market Development Initiative
In Aug. 2019, Leidos hosted a webinar – Energy Efficiency for All: Market Development at Ameren Illinois – with its client, Ameren Illinois, and key subcontractor, Walker-Miller Energy Services. The webinar covered different aspects of the award-winning Market Development Initiative at Ameren Illinois, including partnerships with community-based organizations, comprehensive project management services, and diversity and inclusion. We have summarized the key webinar content in a question and answer format below. You can watch the full webinar here.
How did Ameren Illinois’ Market Development Initiative (MDI) originate?
The Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), signed in 2016, is a significant piece of energy legislation that has helped to shape and realize Ameren Illinois CEO Richard Mark’s vision of “Energy Efficiency for All.” Enabled by FEJA, Ameren Illinois saw an opportunity to create energy efficiency initiatives that would build new community partnerships, develop the industry workforce, and deliver enhanced energy efficiency services to low-income customers. The company’s energy efficiency plan was approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission in 2017 and MDI was officially launched in early 2018.
What are the primary goals of MDI?
MDI is comprised of projects and partnerships all working together to further three goals: engage customers who have not previously benefited from energy efficiency, increase the number of industry jobs available to local and diverse candidates, and support new and growing energy efficiency businesses.
"Energy Efficiency for All is the recognition that energy efficiency services and the associated benefits can spur local economic development – especially in low-income communities and neighborhoods."
What is Energy Efficiency for All?
Energy Efficiency for All is the recognition that energy efficiency services and the associated benefits can spur local economic development – especially in low-income communities and neighborhoods. All customers – regardless of income or socioeconomic status – should have access to incentives that help them overcome participation barriers, complete energy-saving upgrades, and increase their quality of life. Through its energy efficiency initiatives, Ameren Illinois is able to build greater community engagement, create energy industry jobs, and deliver cost savings to customers that need it the most.
Why is this considered a new approach to delivering energy efficiency services?
The Ameren Illinois model focuses on leveraging community-based organizations to meet customers where they are in their daily lives. Hard-to-reach customers often don’t have the time or energy to think about energy efficiency projects or how to get started. MDI aims to establish unique partnerships with trusted local organizations who can conveniently disseminate information and provide services to customers through existing touchpoints. Examples of these touchpoints include:
- Engaging families that participate in a Head Start childcare program. When the organization signed up a new family for their childcare program, staff members also promoted the Ameren Illinois energy efficiency program as a way to save money and increase comfort in their home.
- Partnering with the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce on outreach. Ameren Illinois worked with this organization to incorporate energy efficiency education into networking mixers, where minority-owned business owners could sign up for an energy assessment or to be considered for procurement opportunities with Ameren.
- Teaming up with the Senior Services Plus (SSP) organization and their handyman services program. Through SSP’s handyman services program, which provides greatly discounted home repairs to senior citizens, Ameren Illinois was able to distribute information on available energy efficiency programs and products to homebound seniors.
- Collaborating with “Meals on Wheels” programs. Ameren Illinois worked with these meal programs across the territory to educate customers on energy efficiency and provide them with energy-saving kits during meal drop-offs.
Why is it important to connect MDI with energy efficiency portfolio operations?
When this new initiative was created, Ameren Illinois and Leidos added staff members to carry out the goals of MDI. In order to realize these objectives, it was necessary for MDI to closely integrate into the day-to-day operations of the energy efficiency portfolio and its interactions with customers. The integration allows our team to identify more project opportunities, maximize customer touchpoints, and create a simpler process for customers to participate in the energy efficiency programs. In addition, the MDI partnerships with Community Action Agencies, non-profits, and advocacy groups expand the general reach of the portfolio – building new opportunities for workforce development, customer engagement, and future program participation through these trusted community-based organizations.
"...one study shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform non-diverse competitors and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors."
Why is diversity and inclusion important in the energy efficiency industry?
A number of studies show diverse companies outperform non-diverse ones. In fact, one study shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform non-diverse competitors and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors. But it’s not just about adding diverse employees to the workplace; it’s about ensuring that those employees are recognized as equal and have a voice in the business strategies and decision-making processes. Beyond diversity and inclusion, there also needs to be equity in the energy efficiency industry. There are specific barriers and roadblocks to participation for certain demographic groups and programs need to provide enhanced services to these customers to increase the likelihood of participation and long-term benefits. Finally, energy efficiency programs must recruit teams that represent the communities served and support additional outreach opportunities in underserved areas.
How can we measure the success of diversity initiatives?
It is important to assess and analyze key financial opportunities within an energy efficiency portfolio where diverse businesses can provide services to customers. Ameren Illinois, Leidos, and its subcontractors focused on engaging diverse contractors and organizations to deliver energy efficiency services to customers across the service territory. As these diverse businesses and organizations are identified and matched to opportunities, the MDI team creates an online dashboard where activity and vendor information is tracked. Ameren Illinois monitors dollars spent to-date, a pipeline of projected spends, number of engaged diverse and local businesses, and diverse certification opportunities. This tracking mechanism creates a tangible way to measure the success of diversity initiatives within a market development initiative and the broader energy efficiency portfolio.