- By Shawn Cohen, Director of Digital Strategy at Energy Circle
Electrification is widely viewed as a critical step toward decarbonizing the world’s energy infrastructure.
In 2016, energy and climate change writer David Roberts published an article on Vox.com on the topic that helped catapult the concept of “electrify everything” into a more mainstream consciousness.
Since the Vox article, we have watched the concept gain momentum as a full-blown movement. The hashtag #ElectrifyEverything has solid and sustained traction on social media, and you can easily find a range of content online dedicated to the idea — from webinars, to blogs, to Facebook groups and beyond.
The steps necessary to convert a home’s energy systems off of gas and oil to efficient electric systems — heat pumps for space heating and hot water, induction cooking, etc. — are inherently comprehensive contracting jobs. When combined with rooftop solar to provide that electricity, the electrification movement has the potential to provide a significant new demand channel for the home retrofit and solar contracting sectors.
In this week’s issue of Challenge Accepted, we examine the opportunities that electrification presents for companies and professionals in the better building and home services industries, as well as the challenges of marketing the associated services to consumers on a larger, more impactful scale.
In Short: Convince more consumers to consider converting their oil and gas reliant appliances and systems to electric.
In Long: Support and grow the electrification movement by helping to define the concept and associated services, and working to educate consumers about the environmental and economic benefits of going all-electric. In doing so, help HVAC, clean energy, and home performance contractors book more, larger projects associated with converting entire homes and buildings to electric systems and appliances.
A Lack of Awareness Has Bred a Lack of Interest
So far, much of the “Electrify Everything” movement’s traction has been initiated and sustained by a relatively narrow group of “insiders” – climate change activists, the academic and scientific communities, government organizations and some public utilities, and a very select group of home performance, HVAC, and clean energy professionals. To make an impact, however, a much larger and broader population needs to understand and implement the concept in their homes and businesses.
But, how do we reach that broader audience, and how do we frame the message in a way that more homeowners are likely to understand — and be compelled to take meaningful action?
The Revolution Needs a Name
One issue contributing to a general lack of awareness stems from a lack of consistency in the industry as to what the concept or associated services is actually called. In a recent webinar, we at EC refer to this phenomenon as “wonk talk,” and while we’re able to identify and find some information on a few of the terms that are floating around (beneficial electrification, decarbonization, strategic electrification, etc.), no one term is the clear dominator. Google Trends turns up pretty much no search volume for any of the wonky terms, and some quick research using Google’s suggested search functionality shows us common searches that do contain the term “electrification” are more likely related to the “original electrification” movement of the early 20th century.
It’s very difficult to build awareness around a concept with no real established identity (or name), so it makes sense that interest and demand for electrification services would have a hard time gaining traction.
The same Google Trends and Suggested Search research did reveal some momentum around comparison searches. For example, “electric versus gas” and “electric versus oil” presented with some steady search volume. It is worth noting that based on the search suggestions and the corresponding organic results, it’s likely the majority of these searchers are looking for content around a cost comparison – relating to both the initial cost to convert, and the ongoing costs to power and maintain electric systems and appliances.
Combatting Mistrust & Misinformation
It’s no secret that the public utility companies in many areas are not the most popular service providers among their customers. From coast to coast, prominent electricity providers are struggling with bankruptcy, maintenance of aging grids and infrastructure, outdated technology, and full-on scandals involving the failure of safety practices and protocols. This has led to a culture of mistrust and skepticism among the general public, presenting a serious challenge to the electrification movement. Consumers are literally looking for ways to get off the grid!
In addition to combatting the mistrust bred by utility companies, we are also up against competing energy industries who have been marketing fossil fuel dependent systems for longer, with bigger budgets and more established legislative and industry support than those backing the “electrification movement.” Effective marketing tactics touting the benefits of having a balanced energy portfolio, or capitalizing on consumer fears that home electrification will lead to soaring utility bills have been deployed by the oil and gas industries for years.
In marketing the concept of total electrification, we will need to sort through the misinformation and combat the conceptual confusion caused by much of this competing messaging with facts of our own. The challenge is educating a large majority of people to whom it is not immediately obvious that going electric is a path away from fossil fuels, particularly in locations where the grid is largely coal. The content we produce will need to clearly explain that even if the electricity feeding homes is coming from a non-renewable source, the appliances and technology that use electricity in homes now-a-days are so much more efficient, making it a better choice from the perspective of reducing carbon emissions. (Not to mention the added benefits of increased comfort in home temperature and humidity control, reduced overall costs, and access to air conditioning via heat pumps that many homes wouldn’t have otherwise). The bottom line is that eliminating the need for combustion (burning fuel) in a home by using electric heating and cooling systems and appliances, instead of those fueled by oil or gas, is enough to offset the “dirty” power being pumped onto the grid on the electricity supplier’s end.
Opportunity is Easy; Leveraging it is Harder
This point is actually more of an opportunity than a challenge, but just because an opportunity exists doesn’t mean it’s easy or obvious how to take advantage of it, and that presents a challenge in and of itself. Right now, markets and consumers are more primed than they have ever been to absorb messaging around electrification. There are so many options for how to win the attention of this primed audience, and so many outlets on which to reach them, that the opportunity is almost overwhelming.
Climate change is no longer a fringe cause; it’s a major global crisis. People are actively searching for their role in affecting change, and acknowledgement that each individual needs to do their part is at an all time high. Upgrading to renewable sources of energy and working to reduce carbon emissions are both already popular tactics in the fight against climate change. But, while the broader population understands the impact of actions like installing solar or purchasing an electric vehicle, many American consumers have yet to grasp the benefits of converting their homes’ heating, cooling and cooking systems to electricity.
So, the motivation (the opportunity) is there! The target audience is amped up (couldn’t let that pun pass us by) and ready to invest in real change. In certain areas, there’s even infrastructure already in place to help support that customer base. For example, there are areas where public utilities offer aggressive incentive programs or where there’s a strong push for heat pump installations from the local building/HVAC industry, backed by manufacturer provided product incentives. Even areas where the oil or gas company has a poor record of safety, efficiency, or environmental consciousness creates a huge population of people looking for an alternative to their fossil fuel dependant lifestyles.
With such a strong foundation already in place in many areas, it is challenging to pick the right path: which audience, message, or incentive do we (as marketers) focus our limited resources on? Which opportunity is the best one to leverage?
Strategy: Be the First! And Leverage the Opportunities!
Time is of the essence. Right now, awareness around the concept of “electrify everything” and the financial and environmental benefits of going all-electric is still relatively low, presenting a unique opportunity to be first at bat (in biz speak: first move advantage.) The earlier and more aggressively you get your chosen message to your target audience, the better positioned you’ll be as a leader, innovator and trusted source for credible information. To accomplish this, employ tactics designed to reach large, broad audiences quickly with compelling and engaging content.
As an HVAC, home performance, or solar contractor, at the end of the day, the goal is to book more impactful and higher quality home improvement projects. In the area of total electrification, that means informing potential customers about the concept, and leveraging existing opportunities to generate interest and start capturing those leads! Positioning yourself as a leader and expert on the process and benefits around electrification is a great start toward building trust, awareness and demand for home and building electrification services in your area. Creating a series of videos, blogs or articles is an effective method for quickly reaching and educating large audiences, and when deployed as dedicated marketing campaigns as opposed to stand-alone pieces of content, their ability to grow and nurture your target customer base becomes even stronger.