ENERGY EFFICIENCY:

Don't say 'retrofit,' say 'upgrade' -- study

Give the people what they want. Know your customer. Make it easy to do the right thing.

These are some of the common-sense recommendations featured in a new report that highlights just how unprepared many energy program designers are when it comes to selling efficiency to the public.

In a study of programs aimed at improving residential energy efficiency, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found much to learn from. The results, they say, should serve as a guide to the more than 2,000 towns, cities, states and regions with stimulus funding to spend on clean energy programs and with minimal experience to draw from.

For starters, the researchers said, don't offer "audits" or "retrofits" -- customers shy away from the negative connotations. Instead try offering "energy assessments" and "upgrades," but focus messaging on health benefits, improved comfort, community pride or other benefits that consumers tend to care more about.

Other suggestions included working with trusted local partners, minimizing the paperwork and hassles that customers face, and following the marketing rule of thumb that it takes three "touches" to convince most people that something is worth buying into.

A key partner for such programs should be the contractor workforce, the authors said, because contractors know the marketplace for residential construction work and will be the "face" that customers see when they interact with the program. Ensuring that contractors are well-trained, they added, can help to avoid problems and consumer backlash.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is fond of saying that his goal is to make people save money through energy efficiency. But the new report underscores the psychological components to energy consumption patterns that have historically proven difficult to change.

"Convincing millions of Americans to divert their time and resources into upgrading their homes to eliminate energy waste, avoid high utility bills and help stimulate the economy is one of the great challenges facing energy efficiency programs around the country," said Merrian Fuller, an author of the study and energy analyst in the Berkeley Lab's Electricity Markets and Policy group.

"Usually, when policymakers address the issue of energy efficiency benefits, they ... neglect the issue of how to motivate consumers to take advantage of home energy upgrade programs," she said. "This is often a missing element in policy discussions and a primary impetus for us in writing this report."

The study examined 14 home efficiency programs that the authors felt were successful, including one by the Bonneville Power Administration in the Pacific Northwest and efforts in Houston, Minneapolis, Kansas, Boston, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

Click here for the report.