As energy costs rise, utilities continue to face the prospect of rate increases. Consequently, the terms “demand-side management” and “energy efficiency” are beginning to work themselves into the vernacular of electric utility customers. No matter how hard utilities try to highlight measures customers can take to lower their energy bills, it is often difficult to get the message across. Sometimes a show-and-tell approach is the one to take. 

Public power utilities across the country are using the concept of energy efficiency “makeovers” to open their customers’ eyes to concrete steps that can be taken to reduce energy usage, helping to preserve the environment and keep utility bills low. At the same time—thanks to the popularity of television makeover shows such as ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition —these utility programs can result in positive media coverage for sponsoring utilities. They also provide an opportunity to promote partnerships between utilities and local businesses.

Here are some tips utilities can use to start their own energy efficiency makeover program:

Determine the Scope and Budget of the Project

Before your utility looks for a lucky customer to receive an energy efficient makeover, consider the project’s scope and budget (in that order). Think about what energy efficiency measures are most vital in your community and which ones will resonate with your customers. Timing’s important, too. You may want to coordinate the contest to culminate during Public Power Week or Earth Day. 

You don’t need to have huge budget to offer a Home Energy Makeover. There are several ways to proceed with little or no cost to the utility (including community partnerships). 

Here are some questions you may want to answer before you get started:

Scope

What kind of energy efficiency measures do we want to highlight?

What are our customers doing well?

What are our customers not doing well?

What will garner coverage allowing us to get the message out?

How broad of a focus should the makeover encompass?

An entire home?

A kitchen?

Appliances?

Lighting?

Budget

How much can our utility afford to spend (in dollars and human resources) on:

Planning the project?

Executing the project?

Promoting and marketing the project?

Are there potential partners in the community who could donate time or resources (in exchange for recognition in promotional materials)?

Contractors?

Builders?

Appliance dealers?

Hardware Stores?


Find a Customer to Makeover

After you’ve determined the scope and budget for the makeover, your utility needs to find a target customer for the makeover. As you consider ways to identify a winner, remember to keep in mind what message your utility wants to deliver and to whom.

Here are some questions to consider:

Should the winner be chosen at random?

A drawing including all residential customers?

A drawing including customers who enter the contest?

Should the winner be chosen based on need or merit?

An essay contest?

Video entries?

Execute the Makeover

Once you’ve formulated your makeover and chosen a winner, it’s important to keep your customers—the community—involved in the process in order to effectively deliver your message. Don’t forget to document the process: take pictures, shoot video, and record testimonials from the winner.

Here are some questions to consider:

How can we adequately highlight the energy efficiency improvements?

Is there a hook to involve local media?

Can the utility’s employees help spread the message?

Can the story be shared in internal and external newsletters?

Share the Results

Once the makeover takes place, don’t forget to share the results. Let your customers know how much energy—and how much money—the makeover will help the winner save. Point your customers toward resources to help them make energy efficient improvements in their own homes.

Public Power Examples

Examples of public power home energy makeovers are available:

GRU Contest Spotlights Home Energy Efficiency – Quarterly Communicator, Winter 2008
Kitchen Challenge Winner Announced – Braintree Electric Light Department, 04/10/2006
BELD Broadband Helps Out with Some Summer Cleaning – Quarterly Communicator, Summer 2005