With both the household use and cost of electricity increasing and an abundance of older homes, Connecticut’s market was ripe for residential energy efficiency upgrades. Through a two-year pilot program, the Connecticut Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge (N2N) sought to improve the state’s existing residential energy efficiency programs, with the goal of reaching 10% of the households in the targeted towns and reducing their energy use by 20%.
The 14 participating towns varied in their geographic makeup and economic diversity, but they were all leaders in other state clean energy programs. Using $4.2 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, N2N partnered with local organizations in each town to encourage residents to undertake energy upgrades.
N2N worked with the existing state ratepayer-funded Home Energy Solutions (HES) program to take advantage of its subsidized assessments, rebates, financial offerings, and existing contractor network. N2N was composed of a team of nine public, private, academic, and nonprofit organizations, and one of its primary strategies was community-based social marketing. N2N employed an on-the-ground team of young professionals, the Clean Energy Corps, to perform direct community outreach to homeowners, including a direct install lighting program and a variety of tools to reach homeowners. N2N focused on several key approaches: rigorous data tracking and reporting; behavior and social science and experimentation; home performance contractor network support; deep partnerships with community organizations and local governments; and implementation designed for continuous process improvement and increased program cost-effectiveness.
N2N was positioned as a friendly competition among the 14 towns to decrease household energy use by performing the most home energy assessments and upgrades. The program tested multiple models to determine the best way to structure a performance-based rewards program that would benefit the towns and local organizations and meet energy upgrade goals. Read more in the N2N final report.
(July 2010 to September 2013)
N2N used existing financial resources and a new community-based social marketing approach, testing various performance-based rewards models to drive demand for home energy upgrades in the participating towns.
- Residential Program Design: Leveraging the state ratepayer-funded program, HES, N2N partnered with local organizations to encourage homeowners to pursue energy upgrades. The program was designed as a competition among the 14 towns and tested three different performance-based rewards: 1) towns competed for points to get rewards from a catalog of energy-efficient prizes; 2) local organizations could receive $25 per completed HES assessment that they facilitated; and 3) community groups could win a prize or money, depending upon the numbers of upgrades achieved.
- Rigorous data tracking and analysis: N2N developed a robust data tracking and analysis technology infrastructure to address the needs of three implementation stakeholders: the program, public, and customer. For example, the tracking database supported all N2N data collection, tracking, analysis, and reporting efforts, and was especially helpful for understanding where leads were stuck in the energy contractor pipeline. For public-facing implementation, the N2N platform enabled data transparency, promoting market innovation to both N2N participants and N2N partners, including energy contractors, the utilities, and state policymakers and regulators. The tracking database also allowed N2N to have two-way conversations with participating customers.
- Marketing and Outreach: N2N used a multifaceted, community-based social marketing strategy. The Clean Energy Corps educated homeowners about the program through community meetings, canvassing, and other events. N2N also reached homeowners with energy upgrade messages by partnering with trusted community organizations. To foster healthy competition among the towns and track their progress, N2N employed an online “leaderboard,” a scorecard that ranked the towns’ performances.
- Financing: Existing state subsidies and rebates were available to program participants to finance their upgrades through the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, which oversees the state’s ratepayer-funded programs.
- Workforce Development: N2N worked with the preapproved contractor network through the existing state ratepayer-funded HES program. N2N offered sales training to these contractors to help them increase demand for upgrades following energy assessments.
As a pilot, N2N served as a testing ground for different ways to design a residential energy efficiency program. Over the course of the pilot, N2N staff experimented with different strategies and continually assessed their progress, learning the following lessons:
- Embrace community-based marketing. N2N successfully used social and behavioral marketing approaches to promote home energy upgrades and increase community buy-in for its friendly neighborhood competitions, including partnerships with trusted local organizations. Its Clean Energy Corps also helped to reach a wide audience by engaging homeowners at community events and meetings.
- Employ a multifaceted marketing strategy. Beyond partnering with local organizations and leveraging their existing communication channels, N2N relied on word of mouth and testimonials to encourage homeowners to participate in the program. The Clean Energy Corps also reached out to homeowners, promoting the program at community events and workshops and visiting homes to provide compact fluorescent light bulbs.
- Shift resources when necessary. The nature of the state’s existing HES assessment program did not lead to a significant number of upgrades, as it lacked incentives for contractors and customers to proceed from assessment to implementation of upgrades. As a result, N2N staff shifted marketing and outreach resources and strategies away from driving demand for the assessments and instead focused directly on driving demand for upgrades. N2N began generating leads for upgrades through the ratepayer-funded Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program, which launched in April 2012.
- Facilitate the homeowner-contractor relationship. Homeowners completed the most upgrades when they had access to a well-developed contractor network. Contractors in the HES network initially struggled to convert energy assessments to upgrades, so N2N provided sales training. To solicit feedback from homeowners on their contractor experiences, the program provided them with contractor scorecards as a tool to assess contractor performance.
- Invest in a data platform to facilitate the process. N2N program staff found that having an information technology infrastructure for program outreach and contractor sales delivery was crucial to achieving conversions. The program implemented a customer relationship management database to track where customers were in the sales pipeline, which enabled program staff to determine how they could target or follow up with customers in the future, as well as provide towns’ performance data for the online leaderboard.
N2N will not remain as a standalone initiative in Connecticut, but the program has served as an important resource for the state:
- A related state organization, the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, has created four new residential financing products and will incorporate the community-based social marketing approaches learned through N2N staff to promote these offerings to homeowners.
- A new nonprofit organization, Empower Efficiency, will advise other nonprofits, state and municipal organizations, and utility companies on how to market residential efficiency programs to customers based on the lessons learned through N2N.
- The Clean Water Fund, a working partner of N2N, is using lessons learned through N2N to pilot a solar outreach campaign with another organization.