How Utilities Can Better Serve Residential Renters

Posted to Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) in the Customer Care Group
Nathan Shannon's picture
President & CEO, Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative

Nathan Shannon is the President and CEO of the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative, whose mission is to advance consumer-friendly, consumer-safe smart energy through research, education and...

  • Member since 2015
  • 22 items added with 21,920 views
  • Mar 22, 2022

As electricity providers and other industry stakeholders strive to deliver more equitable energy efficiency and clean energy programs and services, residential renters are one key customer segment for engagement that should not be overlooked.

Making up more than one-third of American households today, renters have unique barriers that have traditionally made them difficult to reach. They typically have limited agency to make substantial changes to their homes and are, therefore, unable to participate in many programs or install various technologies, such as weatherization upgrades or rooftop solar panels.

I recently joined host Jason Price and producer Matt Chester on the Energy Central Power Perspectives™ podcast to discuss these issues as well as strategies that can be used by electricity providers and other stakeholders to address these challenges. I was joined by Elizabeth Moore, a manager of commercial energy solutions at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), who shared steps that TVA has already taken to better address this customer segment.

During the discussion with the hosts, I shared many key findings from SECC’s recent “Understanding the Needs and Wants of Renters” study. In that survey, which was fielded to a nationally representative sample of 1,000 renters, we found that renters understand both the environmental and money-saving benefits of energy efficiency on an implicit level and are interested in participating in utility programs and services – despite current participation levels being relatively low.

These findings – just a few of the many presented during the podcast – suggest that many residential renters will be eager program participants if electricity providers and other stakeholders can help address the barriers that often hold them back, including helping navigate the relationships with residential property landlords.

Throughout the podcast, Elizabeth shared some information about pilot programs that TVA has been implementing with local utilities in their service territory and how key takeaways from SECC’s study have been used to adjust and improve these pilots. Elizabeth noted that the study confirmed many of the trends that TVA had been seeing in their pilots and helped them resolved issues.

One of these key takeaways for TVA has been that renters want to do the right thing to benefit the environment, which they have seen from renters at their multi-family workshops. TVA conducted a workshop at a high-rise building in downtown Nashville with a single meter – meaning electricity costs for customers are wrapped into their rent and their behaviors won’t lower a utility bill – and found that residents were eager to learn what they could do to benefit the environment.

These renters wanted to know what types of actions they should take around their apartments – for example, the optimal thermostat settings – to be more efficient. This helped TVA realize that they needed to improve communications to the rental market, an area that had previously been overlooked.

Another key finding for TVA was that property management outreach has been essential to program success for the renter market. TVA found that most property managers are preoccupied with maintenance and other day-to-day concerns and were not educated on or concerned with energy issues in their buildings. Bridging this gap can be a win-win-win situation for renters, property managers and the utility.

As communities continue to battle the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and as electricity providers look to improve equity in their offerings, the residential rental market is a key area to address. These customers stand to benefit greatly from energy efficiency offerings, and many are eager to participate. To learn more about key findings from SECC’s study and TVA’s pilot programs, listen to the latest episode of the Power Perspectives™ podcast here.

Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC)
SECC is a nonprofit organization that works to learn the wants and needs of energy consumers, encourage the sharing of best practices in consumer engagement among industry stakeholders, and educate the public about the benefits of smart energy
Janna Normington's picture
Janna Normington on Mar 23, 2022

Renters are a segment that have often been overlooked.  In certain markets, they make up a significant portion, even a majority, of the households. Involving this demographic which is open to participation will help utilities to achieve their efficiency goals.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 25, 2022

"TVA conducted a workshop at a high-rise building in downtown Nashville with a single meter – meaning electricity costs for customers are wrapped into their rent and their behaviors won’t lower a utility bill – and found that residents were eager to learn what they could do to benefit the environment."

However eager they say they are to benefit the environment, giving renters a flat price on electricity will only encourage them to use more electricity, not less. Has anyone thought this through?

Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Mar 30, 2022

The TVA finding about property management companies was an "a-ha" moment for me.  Should have been obvious, but we all get bogged down in our own day to day business to see the forest for the trees.  Utility engagement with renters through the property management companies makes sense, whether it's an outreach program conducted on behalf of the utility & property manager, LED bulb kits or coupons, or just an energy efficiency newsletter promoted through the property management company, that partnership delivers valuable insights and builds program awareness among renters.  Thanks for the post.

Nathan Shannon's picture
Thank Nathan for the Post!
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