Of the $25 million grant that Boulder County, Colorado, received through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), funding was allocated to three different entities: Boulder County, Garfield County, and the City and County of Denver. This funding helped to develop EnergySmart, an energy efficiency program that focuses on reducing barriers to energy improvements.
The program expanded the number of homes and businesses investing in home energy upgrades by addressing concerns including a lack of access to trusted contractors, time commitment, upfront costs, and confusion about rebate forms. EnergySmart helped residents and businesses overcome these barriers by enlisting energy advisors, who helped identify qualified contractors and introduced customers to financing and incentives.
Boulder County’s EnergySmart program removed obstacles and encouraged follow-up to energy upgrades by combining financing and incentives with step-by-step assistance from an energy advisor. Acting as a trusted consultant who walked them through the entire process, an energy advisor worked directly with customers to address their energy efficiency priorities, coordinate the assessment, interpret results, provide a list of contractors, and identify available financing and rebates. Advisors also provided instant energy-saving measures, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, separate from the assessment at no extra cost to the customer. In the commercial sector, advisors provided free energy assessments to identify areas to save energy and money and offered businesses an equipment tune-up program and assistance in finding contractors, rebates, and low-interest loans.
EnergySmart increased the energy upgrade customer base by communicating to residents through trusted community sources and promotional strategies that increased awareness of energy efficiency. In outreach materials, EnergySmart emphasized that environmental gains are only one advantage of energy efficiency improvements; other benefits include comfort, health, and utility cost savings. By simplifying the energy upgrade process and integrating energy efficiency into everyday concerns, EnergySmart has encouraged customers to change their energy use behavior. This profile focuses on Boulder County’s efforts; read more about Garfield Clean Energy or the Denver Energy Challenge. Find more details about all three programs in the EnergySmart final report.
EnergySmart encouraged home energy upgrades by lowering the primary barriers for customers to invest in energy improvements.
- Residential Program Design: An energy advisor guided homeowners through three service options: free phone advising to answer questions and receive energy tips; a $50 home visit with an advisor consultation; or a $135 full home energy assessment (a $335 value for which EnergySmart covered $200). For no extra cost in all service options, energy advisors assisted homeowners in finding contractors, reviewing bids, and applying for incentives.
- Marketing and Outreach: EnergySmart used community partners and innovative outreach to create “buzz” about the program. For example, the program worked with Carrotmob Boulder; a carrotmob is a contest among businesses to see which one will make the biggest commitment to a social cause (in this case, reducing energy use). Customers are then encouraged to patronize the business that wins the contest over a period of time. In another initiative, employers partnered with EnergySmart as part of employee wellness programs to promote an EnergySmart “Healthy Home” seminar. EnergySmart also sponsored a Home Energy Makeover contest and the Kilowatt Kid school education program, which used superhero characters to bring energy efficiency awareness home from Boulder County students to their parents.
- Financing: To lower the cost barrier to energy efficiency investments, EnergySmart awarded residential rebates based on energy efficiency measures implemented and partnered with Elevations Credit Union and the City and County of Denver to offer consumer loans backed by a loan loss reserve. Residential loans were offered at interest rates starting at 2.75% for 3-, 5-, 7- and 10-year terms, and commercial loans started at 3.75% for 3-, 5-, 7- and 10-year terms.
- Workforce Development: EnergySmart worked with local organizations including energy firms and a building guild to provide contractor training in technical skills and installation, sales and marketing skills, and business development. Through the program, more than 118 residential contractors and 167 commercial contractors received training.
- Commercial Program Design: EnergySmart targeted businesses by adapting to individual businesses’ needs, which could include advisor assistance in finding contractors and reviewing bids. EnergySmart commercial advisors also helped businesses identify rebates for more than 120 energy-efficient measures and helped businesses optimize existing equipment.
Through its “people first, buildings second” outlook, Boulder County was able to drive demand for energy upgrades by focusing on communicating with customers and addressing their needs. Lessons learned include the following:
- Offer energy advisors. Assigning an expert energy advisor to each program participant helped to keep homeowner conversion rates from enrollment consistent, even as rebate levels and the program itself changed. A one-to-one relationship between the advisor and the business owner or homeowner kept the focus on the customer, who rated their advisors with high marks and in some cases would return to their advisor for future projects following their initial upgrade.
- Recruit partners to ensure success. Through partnerships with the cities of Boulder and Longmont, as well as the local utilities Platte River Power Authority and Xcel Energy, EnergySmart expanded the list of rebates and other programs that customers could access in conjunction with its own offers. The program found that uptake of utility rebates for energy efficiency measures increased significantly when paired with EnergySmart rebates.
- Communicate through trusted, local sources who share their program experience. Seeing friends, neighbors, or colleagues describe their savings makes the program relatable and more personal. In addition, EnergySmart found that successful outreach emphasized tangible results, such as comfort and improvements to a business’ bottom line.
- Maintain a contractor pool to match demand for upgrades. EnergySmart has worked to maintain a balance between timely project completion for homeowners and contractors having enough leads to justify efforts to raise work standards. The program engaged contractors by subsidizing sales training, safety classes, and basic building science instruction, providing them with skills for both EnergySmart work and future projects.
- Supplement rebates with hands-on assistance. Limited-time rebates encouraged homeowners to complete energy upgrades, but they also caused the market to fluctuate. energy advisors encouraged homeowners to move forward with upgrades in a more controlled manner, through reminders and assistance in prioritizing projects and finding a contractor.
- Establish clear reporting expectations. EnergySmart learned that it was important to reach agreement with stakeholders, including DOE, county commissioners, and city leaders, about what the program would report early in the process. In addition, they recommended choosing a well-supported database that is likely to be compatible in the future, and anticipating four to six months needed for database development, testing, and training.
The energy advisor model is replicable, and both the City and County of Denver and Garfield County successfully implemented a similar approach. The program has a strong foundation for continued energy savings:
- Boulder County and its partners will build upon EnergySmart’s success by working to provide additional sustainability services, such as renewable energy, water quality and conservation, waste reduction and diversion, and transportation.
- Elevations Credit Union’s Energy Loans will continue to provide financial support and plans to introduce a loan program that will offer a longer 15-year term, as well as loans for customers seeking to install solar energy projects (without an energy efficiency requirement).
- To make financing more straightforward, Boulder County will investigate approaches such as incorporating energy efficiency financing into larger lending for homes or business remodels and purchases.
- "EnergySmart: Energy Efficiency at Your Service" (September 30, 2011)
- "Outreach Strategies From Better Buildings Grantees: San Antonio and Boulder" (September 14, 2010)