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Renters Primed for Electric Thrift

Utilities have unprecedented opportunities for renter engagement via energy savings programs.

There are many demographic shifts shaping the United States today, but one that seems to have flown under the radar is the rise of renting. According to a recent report, more Americans now rent than any time in the past 50 years.

This demographic shift has particular relevance for electric utilities, who are already experiencing transformation from a number of factors and who have traditionally viewed renters as a difficult-to-reach subset of consumers that aren’t necessarily interested in new energy products and services.

However, do these long-held beliefs accurately reflect the new landscape of renters? The Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative conducted a meta-analysis of three consumer studies with over 5,000 respondents to determine the attitudes, interests and behaviors of renters as energy consumers today.

The “Spotlight on Renters” report provides guidance for electricity providers and other energy industry stakeholders on renters’ interests in various energy-related technologies and programs, their attitudes towards their current electricity providers and much more.

Before covering the energy-related interests and attitudes of renters, it’s important to paint an accurate portrait on who renters are today.

According to a report by real estate website Trulia, renting is up among many age groups and income brackets. The report showed that renting increased from 33 to 40.7 percent among households aged 35-54 from 2006 to 2014 and that the shift to renting was actually more pronounced among middle-class and more affluent Americans.

In many areas, more than half of the population rents, and contrary to stereotypes, these renters are at every stage of their lives and are represented in a wide range of income brackets. It’s important for electricity providers, particularly in those renter-dense areas, to acknowledge the diversity of renters today.

What programs and services are renters interested in adopting?

When comparing renters’ adoption of energy programs or technologies to homeowners’, the former is typically lower. However, when looking at interest levels, we find that renters’ interest is usually similar to or even higher than homeowners’.

For example, renters express noticeably higher interest in home energy reports, peak-time savings and prepaid billing, and they express similar levels for home energy evaluations, energy usage tracking and savings suggestions via a mobile app. They were only marginally less interested in electricity usage tracking and alerts, and across the board, renters appear to be slightly more interested in their energy data than homeowners’.

Since renters are less able to make major changes to their homes and are much less likely to own major appliances, like dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines, we do see lower levels of interest in smart appliances, electric vehicles and smart thermostats.

The “Spotlight on Renters” research shows that programs that renters can easily participate in without requisite home improvements are much more likely to garner interest than those that require significant financial investments or the approval of their landlords.

While it’s traditionally thought that renters are not particularly interested in enrolling in utility programs or even in the value of being more energy efficient, the “Spotlight on Renters” research shows that this isn’t the case.

Although their current enrollment rates tend to be lower, renters are very much interested in energy-saving programs and technologies – sometimes considerably more so than homeowners. These findings are great news for electric utilities, especially those in renter-dense areas.

With renters comprising such a significant segment of the U.S. population today, electricity providers and their partners would do well to create programs that engage and educate to the specific interests and needs of this group of consumers. The “Spotlight on Renters” research shows that renters are ready to engage, but mostly when programs are tailored to meet their specific needs.

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