A new Deloitte survey indicates that residential electricity customers are currently lagging behind in the clean power race. An information overload has left them waiting for guidance. This reality provides business stakeholders with an opportunity to take the lead and help customers, clients and the public at large accelerate the pace at which they adopt renewable energy.
U.S. businesses have jumped on the renewable energy train in rapidly growing numbers. Much of the acceleration has to do with basic bottom line considerations.
Wind and solar are competing with fossil fuels in a growing number of markets. In addition, evidence is mounting that renewable energy can help attract consumers and clients.
The ninth annual Deloitte Resources 2019 Study fleshes out this powerful trend. The survey includes the responses of more than 1,500 U.S. residential consumers and 600 businesses.
The study outlines a sharp contrast between residential and business customers. Residential customers care about climate change, but many are stuck in limbo. Meanwhile, businesses are “moving resolutely forward, becoming more sophisticated, achieving success, and upping the ante.”
“Businesses see opportunities to create new value by conserving resources, diversifying energy sources, procuring renewables, and deploying energy management systems and applications,” the study concludes. “Residential consumers are doing the best they can, but for many of them, the value proposition either isn’t there or isn’t clear.”
The Deloitte survey makes a strong case for businesses to engage their customers on renewable energy.
The study finds that most businesses recognize the public relations value in transitioning to renewables:
“About two-thirds say their customers are demanding that they procure a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable resources, and a rising portion (72 percent) actively publicize their sourcing of renewables.”
The challenge is relating the business experience to the experience of individual electricity ratepayers.
Until recently, that gulf was a wide one. Renewable energy procurement was dominated by large corporations with a phalanx of consultants providing advice.
Now, as the Deloitte survey indicates, both the lessons that larger companies had learned, in addition to emerging best practices are providing smaller businesses with a smoother pathway for transitioning to renewable energy.
Deloitte notes that many businesses are practicing simple tactics that can be accessible to individual ratepayers. That includes participating in demand response programs and using sensors and timers on various equipment in order to become more energy efficient.
More businesses are also procuring on site renewable energy, mainly in the form of rooftop solar panels. As smaller companies climb onboard this trend, they help to demonstrate that renewable energy can scale down to individual property owners.
In some areas, rooftop solar is already mainstream for consumers and businesses alike. However, state policies vary from one extreme to another across the U.S. Opportunities to work with a local utility also vary greatly from one service territory to another.
Making matters worse, the U.S. public continues to receive false and confusing messages about climate change and renewables from legislators and policy makers - starting from statehouses, to Congress and all the way up to the highest elected official under the U.S. constitution, the current president.
That provides business stakeholders with an opening to create clear, forceful messages about the state of climate science, and about effective pathways for taking action on climate change.
The question is where to begin.
For businesses that want to take the lead, the survey suggests at least one effective pathway for progress: the millennial generation.
The Pew Research Center identifies millennials as those born between 1981 and 1996 - or those persons currently aged 23 to 38.
That age grouping connects the millennial generation with the traditional 18-34 age group coveted by advertisers. It’s also a group that is more receptive to mobile marketing.
While many electricity consumers continue to suffer from a sort of renewable energy malaise, the Deloitte survey finds a bright spot among the millennial participants in the survey.
Millennials “consistently rate clean energy and technology options higher than other age cohorts,” the survey finds, and they are “more receptive to messaging about new products and services, more willing to try them out, and even potentially to pay more for cleaner energy sources if necessary.”
For businesses that are determined to spread the renewable energy message, some advice can be gleaned from Deloitte’s guidance to utilities and other energy suppliers.
For electricity providers, Deloitte advises a renewed focus on “engaging and communicating effectively” with millennial electricity customers, as well as identifying millennial concerns that are also common to other generations.
Similarly, business can help provide clarity on renewable energy by publicizing how their own resource management strategies are helping to reduce carbon pollution. That message already resonates strongly with millennials and it can also ripple out to have an impact on other generations.
Clarity on climate change
Business stakeholders have already stepped up to advocate for renewable energy, but the Deloitte survey provides evidence that they can do more.
Businesses can leverage their advertising dollars and their political clout to push back against false messages about climate change and renewable energy.
U.S. businesses have already staked out ground on issues of broad social concern including gun control, LGBTQ equality and immigrant rights and, most recently, abortion rights.
In recent years, they have also been calling on social media and high profile television personalities to account for hate speech and other offensive behavior.
In another significant development, just last week a group of 600 U.S. businesses publicly challenged President Trump on his tariff policy.
The time is right for businesses to lead on renewable energy and climate change, too.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.