Uplight’s latest quantitative survey found that low to moderate income (LMI) customers, who are more adversely affected by high bills, tend to have lower awareness and use of utility energy saving programs. These customers are also less likely to contact their utility for help on their bills.
In the last year, 32% of LMI customers said they struggled to pay an electric bill, three times the rate of higher-income customers. Yet fewer LMI customers reported going on the utility website for resources to reduce their bill, and only 17% have contacted their utility about a high bill or to ask for assistance in paying.
Roughly 10% fewer LMI customers have used energy saving tips and are aware of or have used utility rebates. LMI customers also showed lower awareness of online audits, home energy reports, marketplaces, electric vehicle support, time of use rates, and demand response programs. This gap was also reflected in efficient purchases: 10% fewer LMI customers reported purchasing LED light bulbs in the last year, and 13% fewer reported purchasing smart thermostats. And while 72% of LMI customers agreed that using less energy is a good way to cut monthly spending, only half reduced their energy usage.
Why are LMI customers lagging behind?
The survey found that customers overall aren’t inclined to believe that their utility can help them pay their bill. A third of all customers surveyed said they did not think their utility would help them pay their bill if needed. Half of LMI customers are unaware of these programs and 42% say they can’t afford to buy the products. LMI customers are more likely to be renters, and almost a quarter also think that utility offers don’t apply to renters.
How can utilities help LMI customers?
This customer segment can be difficult to reach and engage, but they also benefit the most from utility programs. By offering communications by a variety of channels (such as text message), reducing friction for energy efficient purchases and rate selection, and offering free or reduced cost products, utilities can help LMI customers find the right energy saving or bill assistance program for them.
Utilities can also embed LMI-specific program offers and energy saving tips in utility bill communications, high bill alerts, or mid-month projections to make it easier for these customers to see their energy usage and view relevant tips. Utilities should be creative about supporting renters, a segment that can feel left out of energy saving programs.
Utilities can also offer ways to help customers reduce their energy usage with less effort such as through smart thermostats, demand response programs, and time of use optimization programs.