Strategies for equitable energy efficiency program design

Published October 31, 2022

CUB is pleased to share our report: Strategies for Equitable Energy Efficiency Program Design: A toolkit for two high-priority populations in the Twin Cities: Black homeowners and property owners renting to Latinx households (pdf). As a result of nearly two years of work, CUB and our partners produced this report for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, supported by a grant from the Conservation Applied Research and Development (CARD) program. We are excited to be sharing the results of this work. We believe it will play an important role in influencing the design of existing and future energy efficiency programs. 

The project sought to identify improvements to energy efficiency programs that can better serve renter; low-income; and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) households. The research idea stemmed from work undertaken by the Twin Cities Energy Efficiency Peer Learning Cohort. The research began by identifying the study communities and conducting a community engagement process, which ultimately led to the development of a toolkit for equitable energy efficiency program design.  

The toolkit provides guidance on how energy efficiency programs can address the expressed needs of each study community. Specifically, the toolkit recognizes two very different circumstances in which people make decisions about energy efficiency: emergency situations where consumers feel pressure to take immediate action and non-emergency situations where consumers are considering discretionary upgrades to improve their homes. Energy efficiency decisions are very different depending on which of these circumstances apply. This framework captures practical opportunities to improve energy efficiency improvements in residential buildings. While the focus of the study was on specific communities, we believe the toolkit and associated program ideas will be applicable to many communities and individual circumstances.    

Community Selection and Engagement

To identify communities underserved by energy efficiency programs, the research team analyzed census data to identify geographic and demographic characteristics that correlate with higher-than-average or higher-than-expected energy burdens. This analysis initially resulted in six potential geographic/demographic communities to study. A Steering Committee, composed of representatives from community and energy organizations, provided further insight into the community selection process. The team settled on three communities upon which to focus research efforts: 

  • Black homeowners in North Minneapolis and surrounding areas
  • Hispanic/Latinx renters in South Minneapolis and East St. Paul
  • Rental property owners/managers in South Minneapolis and East St. Paul 

The team engaged with these communities and associated community organizations through surveys, phone interviews, and focus groups. We worked to understand their experiences with energy-related issues and generated ideas of how program design could create opportunities for greater adoption of energy-efficient measures to benefit homeowners and renters. 

Toolkit

The table below summarizes program ideas from the toolkit. It is organized by the type of decision being made (emergency or non-emergency) and by the targeted populations: Black homeowners in North Minneapolis and surrounding areas and property owners who rent properties in areas where Latinx renters live in East St. Paul and South Minneapolis. The final report (pdf) provides a detailed rationale for each idea as well as implementation strategies.

 Program ideas for each targeted population

Black HomeownersProgram Ideas
Emergency decisionLeverage Black homeowners’ enrollment in CenterPoint Energy’s equipment service plan, Home Service Plus, to promote efficiency, lower monthly bills, and support homeowners facing costly, unexpected equipment failures
Emergency decisionProvide personalized, customized equipment replacement support to Black homeowners
Non-emergency decisionBuild on two existing offers, Home Energy Squad and Center for Energy and Environment’s Energy Advisor Service, to launch an integrated energy efficiency advisor service that provides personalized support to Black homeowners to help them identify efficiency improvements and then prioritize, plan, and pay for those improvements over time
Rental Property OwnersProgram Ideas
Emergency decisionTarget emergency replacements by focusing outreach on contractors and other trade allies that provide service to rental property owners, and covering the incremental cost of upgrading to the efficient model
Non-emergency decisionTo encourage discretionary upgrades in rental properties, offer generous incentives, and make it easy for the owners

The consistent theme between these program ideas is to ensure the pathways for making homes more efficient are as simple as possible and that they represent an economically attractive choice for the property owner. Because of the relatively long lifespan of major mechanical system replacements, such as heating and cooling systems (approximately 10-20+ years) and water heaters (10-12 years), it is important to capture key opportunities to replace these systems with the most efficient equipment possible. In order to make this economically attractive, we need to consider incentives and/or financing to reduce the costs of improvements in both emergency and non-emergency situations. The toolkit also recommends additional support to help people plan discretionary improvements so they can happen over time in a logical progression that recognizes the financial constraints of property owners.

Project Team

This research was a team effort. We appreciate all the work by the Project Team, Steering Committee, and support provided by the Department of Commerce. Within the Project Team, CUB served as the project manager. The Chan Lab from the University of Minnesota headed up the census data analysis. TerraLuna Collaborative coordinated the Steering Committee activities and led the community engagement work. Efficiency for Everyone analyzed the information we collected, drafted program ideas, and led the creation of the toolkit and final report. Staff from Community Power and the City of Minneapolis contributed their time and insights throughout the project.   

Next Steps

We are now sharing the research findings with interested parties. Importantly, we are striving to have these concepts incorporated into the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP) Triennial Plans. We believe there are opportunities to integrate these concepts into utility program design.

If you are interested in learning more, we encourage you to review the full report (pdf) and reach out to us with any questions or comments. We are also open to presenting an overview of the findings to organizations and groups that request such a presentation. A webinar took place on July 13. A copy of that recording will be available on the Department of Commerce website in the future.

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Author: Carmen Carruthers

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