Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements
Policy makers and program designers in the U.S. and abroad are deeply concerned with the question of how to scale up energy efficiency to a level that is commensurate both to the energy and climate challenges we face, and to the potential for energy savings that has been touted for decades. When policy makers ask what energy efficiency can do, the answers usually revolve around the technical and economic potential of energy efficiency—they rarely hone in on the element of energy demand that matters most for changing energy usage in existing homes: the consumer. A growing literature is concerned with the behavioral underpinnings of energy consumption. We examine a narrower, related subject: How can millions of Americans be persuaded to divert valued time and resources into upgrading their homes to eliminate energy waste, avoid high utility bills, and spur the economy? With hundreds of millions of public dollars flowing into incentives, workforce training, and other initiatives to support comprehensive home energy improvements, it makes sense to review the history of these programs and begin gleaning best practices for encouraging comprehensive home energy improvements.
Looking across 30 years of energy efficiency programs that targeted the residential market, many of the same issues that confronted past program administrators are relevant today: How do we cost-effectively motivate customers to take action? Who can we partner with to increase program participation? How do we get residential efficiency programs to scale? While there is no proven formula—and only limited success to date with reliably motivating large numbers of Americans to invest in comprehensive home energy improvements, especially if they are being asked to pay for a majority of the improvement costs—there is a rich and varied history of experiences that new programs can draw upon. Our primary audiences are policy makers and program designers—especially those that are relatively new to the field, such as the over 2,000 towns, cities, states, and regions who are recipients of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds for clean energy programs. This report synthesizes lessons from first generation programs, highlights emerging best practices, and suggests methods and approaches to use in designing, implementing, and evaluating these programs. We examined 14 residential energy efficiency programs, conducted an extensive literature review, interviewed industry experts, and surveyed residential contractors to draw out these lessons.