The responsibility of educating consumers on renewables

image credit: Questline
Bethany Farchione's picture
Marketing Director Questline Inc.

Marketing Director at Questline Digital, a marketing and technology agency that builds engaging experiences throughout the utility customer journey, boosting program participation and overall...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Sep 13, 2021

The public is eager to adopt more renewable energy sources, but gaps remain in public understanding and misinformation is abundant.

Energy providers must embrace the responsibility of helping customers understand the ongoing transition to renewable energy and what it might mean for them.

Historically, consumers haven’t been overly interested in interacting with their energy utilities. But that’s no longer the case with the rising importance of renewables.

“Now with renewables, it changes the game,” explains Hanna Balla, Director of Customer Experience & Insights at NiSource. “Now customers do want to engage, and utilities can have fun with it. Customers trust utilities for renewables. So, [we must ask ourselves] how can we inform and educate and become a trusted resource? They want to learn from us and hear about what we’re doing with renewables.”

How should utilities tackle the large undertaking of renewables education? Start by making complex topics easier to understand.

Articles do a great job at educating readers but can sometimes be overwhelming with their depth, length or use of jargon. Employing complementary, more visual forms of content like videos, infographics and interactive calculators can help simplify important concepts and drive more program participation.

As Balla suggests, utilities should have fun with it. Consumers will engage more if entertainment is weaved into communications.

“When an experience is entertaining, as well as informative, it really makes the customer not just more interested, but more likely to engage with it,” explains Brian Lindamood, Questline’s AVP of Marketing and Content Strategy. “You’re showing the customer that you care about their needs and interests… You’re literally interacting with them while also demonstrating that your utility is a helpful resource for them.”

SECC’s Evolving World of Energy video series offers a great example. The popular video series accompanies text-based fact sheets and articles and teaches the basics of renewables by using animation and memorable characters like the charismatic Professor Energy. Bringing issues to life with animation helped to make topics more approachable and comprehensive.

“Visuals like infographics, videos and even social media images to accompany the text-based mediums helped to capture consumers’ attention and were better for sharing,” explains Greg Schwartz, SECC’s previous Director of Operations.

Connect renewable generation goals with customer action

Customers want to know what their energy providers are doing to be more sustainable. They also want to know how they can help.

In addition to keeping customers abreast of your utility’s efforts with adopting renewable energy sources, teach customers how they can support clean energy initiatives with efficiency. Answer questions, like - What changes can they make at home? How can they help their communities? What will the impacts or savings be for them, personally?

Effective content should take the guess work out of renewable energy education. Rather than promoting potential savings, show them exactly how much is possible.

Calculators are highly effective because they take ambiguity out of the equation. For example, Energy Sage has a Solar Calculator that allows customers to estimate future savings from the installation of home solar panels. By entering as little information as a home address and average energy bill, consumers can gain a tangible understanding of their role with renewables.

Embrace renewables education

Today's energy consumers want to hear from their providers about renewable energy.

Take a proactive approach to renewables education by identifying what your customers need help understanding and build resource hubs, run campaigns and share engaging content that helps them better understand their role and encourages action.

Renewable energy is the future and the time to educate is now.

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Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Sep 15, 2021

Could not agree more.  In my state, it's very difficult to navigate what's available to consumers about solar, leaving me at risk of getting bad information or taken advantage of by unscrupulous sales and marketing tactics.  Who better than the utility to be the trusted resource for renewables costs and benefits?  Consumers naturally gravitate to their utility as the expert on so many of these conservation and renewable questions, so it makes sense as a channel to expand the customer relationship and build loyalty and trust. 

Well said!

Bethany Farchione's picture
Bethany Farchione on Sep 17, 2021

Utilities have a strong reputation as being reliable and trustworthy - a great combination for a subject matter expert! 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 17, 2021

It's interesting-- there was almost a willing ignorance from customers for most of the utility history. They just wanted to know they could flip a switch and have power, who cares how or why. And utilities didn't really have a reason to make them care. But addressing future challenges-- reliability, clean energy transition, load management, EV growth-- all bring the issues to the doorstep of the user, so customer and utility alike are now playing catchup.


Thanks for the coverage, Bethany!

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Sep 20, 2021

A long long time ago, in grade schools, there were coloring books that helped explain energy and where it came from. They also covered water.

If you flip thru the requirements for most schools today, they don't have a requirement to even mention energy or water as part of the basic curriculum.

Teaching conservation starts in pre-school and should be part of every year of schooling. IF this is the CRISIS that humanity faces, it should be a key part of learning.

But, we as a society don't care, and so won't teach what needs to be taught in schools. By the time you are 12 or 13 you have engrained habits that will be with you for the rest of your life.

You can't start when they are bill payers, you have to start way earlier in life.

Larry Kauf's picture
Larry Kauf on Sep 27, 2021

There are 2 camps on this topic:
1) Don't know, Don't care, I just want to flip the switch for Power
2) Renewable energy is a gimmick and sometimes the wind don't blow and the sun don't shine, so why bother with an expensive investment that's not reliable?

It is the 2nd group that you have to have an impact on, otherwise you change wont come. Showing a direct correlation to Extreme weather changes because of the way we burn fossil fuels may be a direction that may have an impact. Nothing like a flood or tornado where they have never been before to change hearts and minds. Or perhaps like in TX, sitting in the dark with no heat, lights or clean water for a few days might certainly get ones attention.

Bethany Farchione's picture
Thank Bethany for the Post!
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