Making Energy Simple—No Easy Task


Part two of a two-part post series based on Brand Cool’s conversations with Claire Tramm, one of the most daring energy efficiency innovators out there and the CEO of Effortless Energy, a Chicago-based home energy performance company.

Interesting things are happening for Claire Tramm and Effortless Energy, her Chicago-based home energy performance business. As we mentioned in our previous post about Effortless Energy, the company is now headlong into its pilot phase, with a waitlist of homes in Illinois ready to partake in its unique offering.

Effortless Energy is marketing home energy upgrades as a service, with no upfront cost to the consumer. The company is paid a monthly fee, amounting to a portion of the customer’s energy savings. By incorporating smart thermostats and other advanced data-collecting technologies into each project, Effortless Energy makes quality assurance and energy savings calculations simple…at least for its customers.

When we caught up with Claire again, we asked her one fundamental question: What are the implications of business models like Effortless Energy’s for energy efficiency programs and the energy efficiency industry as a whole?

One of the key insights that inspired Claire and cofounder Matt Gee to launch Effortless Energy was the fact that typical utility or public efficiency programs are loaded with opportunities for homeowners to say “no.”

That is, they have to say “yes” to a number of things—from a home audit to a scope of work, a stack of applications, financing paperwork, etc.—before they can get to an actual upgrade project. Each step along the way is effectively an opt-out, one more moment for a homeowner to decide upgrades aren’t worth the hassle.

“Effortless Energy is offering essentially a soup-to-nuts “free” home upgrade, not a rebate or a loan,” Claire said. “We’re offering an upgrade that basically pays for itself through savings. I think that really changes the value proposition for energy efficiency when you’re reaching out to homeowners.”

Effortless Energy’s initial experience in the marketplace, along with the extensive customer surveys the company has been conducting, confirm a belief shared by many in the energy efficiency market (Brand Cool included) that simply communicating the functional attributes of energy savings is the wrong way to go.

Strong marketing taps into the deeper emotional benefits energy efficiency has to offer, such as home comfort, enhanced home value, greater control over the home, a smaller carbon footprint, etc. But that doesn’t mean presenting the market with a laundry list of benefits is the right approach, either.

The trick is to deeply understand the audience you’re communicating with and then tailor messages for maximum appeal. From there, you can communicate the right message to the right audience at the right time—all in a cost-effective way.

Yes, I used the word “data” and “simple” in the same line. Ironic, yes, but by tracking more data, the process for the end user of getting their arms around energy management and its relevancy to them is vastly simplified.

Effortless Energy’s business model is largely predicated on the ability to track real-time energy consumption data from its customers’ homes, which, as I mentioned, is done through smart thermostats and other related technologies. This means that verifying energy savings is a simple, turnkey process requiring none of the complex predictive modeling typically associated with today’s efficiency programs.

If the stakeholders who drive program design took a similar tactic, much of the often complicated calculations associated with program evaluation wouldn’t be needed and programs could be evaluated based on real energy saved, in real time.

When we look to the future, companies like Effortless Energy see serious competition for the home energy efficiency market. Major companies like AT&T and Comcast are announcing their plans to offer energy services like automation and efficiency. This has major implications for utilities, which are already struggling to deal with increased competition in the wake of deregulation.

Consumer brands have had a lot of practice in developing products and services based on what people are interested in buying. Utilities? Not so much.

There’s no time like the present for utilities and public bodies to start taking cues from consumer-oriented platforms, like Effortless Energy, and start giving the people what they want by focusing on the real, human benefits versus program features.