The commercial, industrial and large customer side of the U.S. energy equation clearly is mostly all-in on the mission to decarbonize and perhaps save the climate. Those office and factory owners may just need a little help to get there.
Residential and smaller customers, however, are significantly less aware of energy management and sustainability offerings from their utilities and other energy providers. And this is a key problem considering residential energy use accounts for nearly a fifth of nationwide greenhouse gas emissions, according to federal data.
These are conflicting findings delivered by two different and recent reports by J.D. Power and consulting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers. The former is more negative about current adoption of energy transition initiatives, while the latter shows a supermajority of large customers--more than 70 percent--are well aware and likely even have a plan, if uncertain how to incentivize that journey.
“C&I leaders across the US share a common goal — to build a cleaner, more energy efficient and affordable future for their companies,” reads part of the PwC executive summary. “Almost three-quarters of those surveyed say their organizations have comprehensive energy strategies that are backed with concrete goals and plausible plans to achieve them."
Those carbon reduction strategies vary, often depending on the geographical regions where the customer is located, PricewaterhouseCoopers noted. What doesn’t vary is the call for help—90 percent of those customers who responded to the PwC survey say they want external help in undertaking energy initiatives.
“C&I customers have sights set on building a cleaner, more energy efficient and affordable energy future, and want help getting there,” the PwC report pointed out. “Nearly all those surveyed expect their companies will need at least some or major support from external providers to help with their investments into on-site generation, battery storage and other significant energy initiatives. This need echoes across industries, regions as well as executives and functional leaders.”
Over at J.D. Power, however, the findings are less optimistic for those who consider the moment for tackling climate change is now. Utilities serving most of the nation’s electricity customers have some kind of sustainability plan in place, but only 38 percent of residential customers are aware of one or more energy management services, according to JD Power’s survey, which took into account three years worth of reporting.
Only 26 percent of those residential customers responding knew of environmental products or services offered by their utilities, the report says. These percentages are actually lower than in 2020.
And the customer awareness did not broaden despite electricity bills rising 13 percent on average in 2022, J.D. Power says. Increased costs of energy use were not inspiration enough to seek out efficiencies, apparently.
“If energy conservation and transition to more sustainable alternatives are the goals for electric utilities, sky-high rates should be the catalyst to driving the consumer behavior changes needed to finally meet those goals. But that’s not happening today, and it’s largely a function of communication,” reads the residential summary.
“Awareness is a big problem, but, even in cases where customers are aware of sustainability and energy conservation initiatives, they are often ignored,” J.D. Power says. “Far too often, products and services that are required to meet clean energy goals are designed to make things easy for the utility, not necessarily easy for the consumer. For example, many rebate programs can be difficult to find on utility websites and it is not always clear which appliances qualify or what information needs to be provided.”
So while many of the C&I customers we cover in EnergyTech are making decarbonization and energy resiliency for themselves—whether that includes renewable energy, microgrids or building energy efficiency efforts—utilities will remain an indispensable part of the overall energy transition equation.
And they are under pressure from all sides. For instance, automakers are pushing forward on electrification strategies, but few believe the grid is ready to handle all of that dispersed load. Utilities and commercial fleet managers need to talk and come up with collaborations.
On the residential, commercial and industrial side, home is where the heart is when it comes to energy. Utilities may have to push hard and accommodate more at the same time. Information is power.
There are many paths to Net Zero, and it will require all hands on deck to make the journey successful.
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(Rod Walton, senior editor for EnergyTech, is a 15-year veteran of covering the energy industry both as a newspaper and trade journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]).
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