Whether driven by regulation, customer service or utility leadership, energy equity is top of mind for many utilities.
Do any of these issues resonate with you? We can help!
We want to understand the needs and service gaps for low income households in our service territory
We need to plan or redesign our energy assistance programs to meet regulatory requirements
Could we be doing better for our low income customers?
We’re not sure how our energy assistance programs are performing — they need to be evaluated or benchmarked
Our Approach to Energy Equity
Energy Equity, Affordability and Burden
What is Energy Equity?
Energy Equity indicates the distribution of costs and benefits of an energy system (e.g. an electric grid) and the accessibility to affordable energy across customers in a region or utility service territory. Low income households pay a larger proportion of their incomes for energy than other customers and addressing their energy burden is beneficial for society as a whole.
What are energy assistance programs? Why do they need to be delivered by utilities?
Energy assistance programs mainly include efficiency services (e.g. weatherization, behavioral programs) and direct monetary assistance (e.g. rate designs, grants or cash discounts). Low income households pay a larger proportion of their incomes for energy than other customers and addressing their energy burden is beneficial for society as a whole. Utilities may have mandates to take on this issue or it may be totally voluntary. But either way, there is no denying that utilities are well-positioned to administer energy assistance programs through their metering, billing and customer program infrastructure.
What are the benefits of energy assistance programs to utilities?
Aside from meeting regulatory requirements in some states, the benefits of deploying energy assistance programs to utilities include reduced administrative burden due to late payments and disconnections, enhanced customer satisfaction and concrete community engagement.
Getting Strategic about Energy Equity
Energy assistance programs are often run in silos with different types of programs run by different divisions in a utility. The different phases in a full program deployment are often segregated. Additionally, the energy assistance need is rarely well understood, and program performance is rarely evaluated. When programs are evaluated, the evaluation cycle is sporadic, which blunts its impact.
There’s a better way to deliver energy equity programs.
Read on to learn about our Energy Equity Flywheel framework for addressing energy equity effectively.
The Energy Equity Flywheel
We created the Energy Equity Flywheel for deploying energy assistance programs aimed at addressing energy equity. The framework is based on our experience with program design, evaluation and implementation, and it relies on strong feedback loops between the different modules of an energy assistance strategy.
Each feedback loop tracks specific data points used to drive decisions in other modules of the flywheel. As the flywheel gains momentum and effective communication and reporting processes are put in place, the feedback loops become stronger. Program delivery becomes more streamlined, more customers are served, and program cost-effectiveness improves. The flywheel is then able to keep rolling unless it meets significant resistance from any of the “flywheel brakes”.
Exploring the Flywheel
The following chart (best viewed on a computer or tablet) allows you to explore the Energy Equity Flywheel. Most importantly, each module meaningfully informs the others to ensure effective delivery–it’s the blue data connections that make the flywheel magic.
Click below for more details about specific flywheel components and contact us to chat about your specific energy assistance program needs.
How many of my customers have a high energy burden? What’s their geographic and demographic distribution? Which customer segments are under-served by current energy assistance programs? How much would it cost to meet the need in my service territory?
The first module in the Energy Equity Flywheel involves understanding low income customers in your service territory. Understanding the need and gaps drives better program design and also allows your program evaluations to focus on the metrics and processes that matter.
Insight into the low-income segment is also critical to effectively engaging customers during program implementation.
Key Activity: Needs Assessment
Empower Dataworks performs low income needs assessments to generate the key outputs required at this stage. This study involves data collection, analysis and, optionally, focus groups and surveys.
Data sources include data from existing energy assistance programs, census, federal and state level datasets, consumption and building data from utilities and demographic information from third-party data vendors.
In addition to the key outputs, the needs assessment deliverables include a web-based dashboard for analyzing different energy burden scenarios and summary data/visuals for integration with the other modules in the Energy Equity Flywheel, as well as a written report.
Key insights: Energy Burden KPIs
The key Understand insights for a service territory include:
Energy burden at the building level
Aggregated energy burden based on geographic, demographic and building characteristics
Energy efficiency potential, both building-level and aggregated
Energy assistance need ($) for different definitions of “high energy burden”
Gap between need and energy assistance program performance
Needs assessment are typically performed every 2-3 years to ensure that the findings and assumptions used to drive programs are up-to-date.
Assessments can usually be completed in 2-6 months depending on the complexity of the programs and customer base.
Do my existing programs deliver customer bill savings? Are they running efficiently? Do they have streamlined processes? How can program delivery be modified to improve performance?
The Evaluate module in the Energy Equity flywheel is a deep dive into the performance of your existing energy assistance programs. The purpose of this stage is to improve the delivery and cost-effectiveness of existing programs.
When paired with the Understand module, we identify potential gaps that can be filled with tweaks to program design or by deploying additional programs. Evaluation also informs workflow improvements for streamlined program implementation.
Key Activity: Program Evaluation
Empower Dataworks performs program evaluations to characterize program performance, quantitatively and qualitatively. This evaluation involves data collection, analysis, and stakeholder interviews.
In addition to the key outputs, the program evaluation deliverables include summary data/visuals for integration with the other modules in the Energy Equity Flywheel, as well as a written report and presentation.
Key Insights: Program Performance
The key Evaluate insights include:
Evaluation of current program processes and workflows
Review and benchmarking of energy savings and/or customer bill impacts
Assessment of program rules and eligibility criteria, comparison with best practices
Recommendations for program delivery improvements for improved, cost-effective savings
With the Energy Equity Flywheel, program evaluations should be embedded with program implementation to build healthy feedback loops. A comprehensive evaluation should be performed every 3-4 years, accompanied by frequent updates of key metrics. The exact frequency depends on the task at hand. For example, program rules may be evaluated annually, marketing material may be evaluated quarterly, and savings impact may be evaluated monthly.
Comprehensive program evaluations can usually be completed in 2-6 months depending on the complexity of the programs and customer base, and lighter updates can be completed in 1-4 weeks.
Which customers should I target? What should my eligibility rules be? How does a customer apply to my programs? How much should I pay in incentives or discounts? How much should we budget?
The Design module in the Energy Equity flywheel involves crafting a comprehensive program architecture to ensure successful program delivery. The main purpose of this stage is to design cost-effective programs, in line with the insights from the Understand and Evaluate modules. Once a program is launched, the architecture can be refined with insights from program implementation.
Key Activity: Structured Program Design
Empower Dataworks offers program design advisory services that integrate recommendations from the Evaluate and Understand modules, best practices from similar programs across the region, and specific insights for your service territory. Our programs are designed to ensure regulatory compliance.
In addition to the key outputs, program design deliverables include economic calculators, program delivery manual, and program marketing recommendations.
Key Insights: Program Model
The key outputs of the Design module include:
Actionable program logic model
Informed incentive/discount structure
Recommended program workflows and processes
Budgets and defined key milestones
With the Energy Equity Flywheel, comprehensive program designs are performed every 3-4 years, accompanied by frequent updates of program rules, incentives and budgets every 9-18 months based on Implement module KPIs.
Comprehensive program design advisory projects can usually be completed in 2-6 months depending on the complexity of the programs and customer base, and the regular design updates can be completed in 3-4 weeks.
What kind of infrastructure do I need to run my programs? What about IT, marketing and finance? Which reports do I need to show compliance? Who should I hire? What should I outsource?
The Implement module in the Energy Equity flywheel involves setting up the people, process and tools required for cost-effective success. The main purpose of this stage is to put the infrastructure in place to efficiently run and scale the program. Practical insights in this stage are used to drive improvements in all the other modules of the Flywheel.
Key Activity: Implementation Architecture
Empower Dataworks offers implementation architecture to jump-start the (re)launch of successful energy assistance programs. This service includes assessments and recommendations for specific tooling and marketing and IT infrastructure, workshops with trade allies and contractors, training for implementation staff, and everything else needed to begin implementation.
Key Insights: Reduction in Energy Burden
The key outputs of the Implement module include:
Reduction in energy burden for targeted customers
Achieved energy savings and/or customer bill savings
Program participation data
Required reporting for regulatory compliance
With the Energy Equity Flywheel, program implementation architecture is designed at the outset of a program then maintained and updated on an ongoing basis depending on the needs of the program.
Program implementation architectures can usually be completed in 2-6 months depending on the complexity of the programs and customer base.
Achieving energy equity could be difficult or even impossible without data. Curious if your team is ready to embrace data?
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Energy Equity Flywheel Pricing
We price Energy Equity Flywheel services by module (Understand/Evaluate/Design/Implement). We use standard pricing for the different components in the Energy Equity Flywheel and we work with utilities to customize packages that fit within their budgets.
Expected price ranges per module are provided below based on a utility’s number of residential meters.
Why pricing by meters? We’ve found that the number of meters is usually a good measure of the geographical and demographic diversity of the service territory and the complexity of customer programs, which in turn affect the anticipated level of effort. When purchased as a complete package (4 modules), we offer a 20% discount.
Please note these are rough pricing estimates. Reports and regulatory support can be added on–contact us for a custom quote and scope.
Census QuickFacts can help you find general demographic statistics on any county or city. The Census Data Explorer is a more in-depth resource on demographic data down to the census tract and census block group levels from the Census and American Community Survey.
Always Google “[Your county or city] needs assessment” and “[Your county or city] community assessment” (example, “Wenatchee needs assessment”) to research what’s been done before in your region. Many of these resources may be health, housing or poverty-related but social determinants of health and housing are very relevant to energy equity as well.