Adapting services to meet the demands of a new reality
The coronavirus crisis has had severe economic and health effects on people, businesses, and communities. Unemployment has reached record levels and businesses of all sizes are struggling to stay afloat. In the face of this crisis we have had to quickly adapt to meet the changing needs of our customers and clients without risking their health or the health of our staff.
VEIC identified new objectives to guide our actions. We set out to address acute customer challenges caused by the pandemic and make participation in our services as easy as possible, all while reducing health risk to our staff and customers. Services: Energy Efficiency
In a three-month period, we redesigned programs to alleviate burdens on low-income customers, small and medium businesses, and nonprofit organizations; shifted customer engagement strategies and expanded our virtual offerings; and moved to a remote workforce. As a result, we saw higher engagement rates this July than we did the same time last year.
Resetting our priorities for 2020
We started 2020 prepared to take on our clients’ energy challenges and achieve big GHG and cost savings for our customers. But with the arrival of coronavirus, their needs changed almost overnight. Businesses had to suddenly halt or reduce operations, face layoffs, and react to dramatic drops in revenue. People were thrown into working from home, many of them trying to juggle life without childcare. And many lost their jobs and were facing bills they could no longer afford.
We saw these shifts happening rapidly and knew we needed to be a part of the solution. So, we overhauled our priorities for 2020 to establish new objectives.
In order to continue providing meaningful service to our customers and clients, we set out to:
- make participation in our services as easy as possible;
- address acute customer challenges caused by the pandemic, with an emphasis on meeting the needs of low- and moderate-income customers; and
- serve people and businesses without risking the health of our staff and customers.
Bringing solutions to life, fast
In keeping with these objectives, we started showing up virtually, focusing on low- and no-cost opportunities to save energy, offering new incentives for appliances that improve indoor air quality, such as dehumidifiers, and supporting organizations and spaces serving our most vulnerable community members. Operationally, this required a great deal of flexibility and collaboration across all our teams and brands. Here are some of the ways our work evolved.
Online resources and virtual consultations: Our energy efficiency utilities (EEUs) – Efficiency Vermont, Efficiency Smart, and the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) – serve residents, businesses, and communities in Vermont, Ohio, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. With stay-at-home orders in place in each region, we shifted focus to substantially increase online educational resources and make website interface improvements. We also quickly transitioned to offering energy consultations virtually to avoid in-person interactions.
Following the COVID-19 State of Emergency, Efficiency Vermont acted quickly to implement a combination of revised online marketing materials and new offers to meet customers’ needs. After an initial drop in engagement, contact volume to the Customer Support team recovered to normal levels within weeks, and increased another 70% by mid-July. Simultaneously, the Efficiency Vermont website saw an 82% increase in visits compared to March 2020 and an 80% increase compared to the same time last year.
The DCSEU launched a new training, credentialing, and certification program for District Certified Business Enterprises (CBEs) and CBE-eligible firms called the Sustainable Energy Infrastructure Capacity Building and Pipeline Program (SEICBP Program). This program is designed to expand the local green workforce and grow business opportunities in the region.
Efficiency Smart launched a Home Energy Challenge to give residential customers more opportunities to engage with the energy efficiency program’s resources, including free online home energy assessments and educational activities designed for the whole family.
Serving Nonprofits: Through our EEUs, we expanded our service offerings to nonprofit organizations, with an emphasis on those providing essential services to community members during the pandemic. We worked to find and deliver immediate energy savings that would free-up nonprofit funds to focus on community support. We also supported appliance upgrades for organizations seeing increased demand, such as foodbanks.
The DCSEU partnered with a business to fund safety kits at local food banks and community-based organizations. The safety kits included hand sanitizer, soap, and an LED nightlight.
Incentives for low-income customers: With high levels of unemployment and more time spent at home, energy burdens are increasing for low-income customers and the number of low-income customers is rising. In Vermont, we launched a voucher program for free appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, and clothes washers, and programs to swap out energy-wasting equipment and increase weatherization in energy-burdened households. Alongside the Washington D.C. Public Service Commission, the Office of the People's Counsel (OPC), and the Department of Energy and Environment, we launched the #Here2HelpDC public awareness campaign designed to highlight utility consumer protections, consumer assistance, and energy saving opportunities for DC residents during and after the pandemic.
Efficiency Smart provided enhanced outreach to vulnerable customers in Ohio and Delaware. By working with new partners, such as food shelves, senior centers, and schools, we were able get free LED kits into the hands of people most in need at an increased rate. In the first 9 months of 2020, Efficiency Smart distributed 36% more kits to vulnerable populations than it did in all of 2019.
Free Technical Trainings: VEIC works with utilities and energy offices to provide customized technical trainings. In June, we saw an opportunity to quickly roll out a selection of our most popular trainings as free, virtual professional development opportunities for our clients and partners to enhance their knowledge and skill base. We hosted three trainings with a total of 340 registered attendees. Each training presentation is available on our website. Our EEUs also offered dozens of virtual trainings for contractors and customers in Vermont, Washington D.C., Ohio, and Delaware.
Sharing and scaling to expand impact
We know that this crisis is far from over, and the repercussions will be felt for years to come. At the beginning of August 2020, we launched a Clean Energy Call series designed to bring together industry leaders across the country to discuss and unpack the challenges, opportunities, and innovative approaches critical to making clean energy core to post-pandemic recovery.
“By taking a holistic view and solving holistic problems, we can advance energy efficiency. If we can become a community of interest, we can go a lot further together.”
Through adaptability, flexibility, and creative thinking we revamped our 2020 work to meet the most urgent needs of our customers and clients. These solutions are customizable to more regions and relevant across the country. We aim to share our learnings and designs, and to continue evolving our work to support pandemic recovery and mitigate climate change.