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Tips from the Field -- Installer Insights from EXF18

Created 5/15/2018 by Warren Fish
Updated 6/7/2018 by Veronica Marzilli
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 Closing out the afternoon session on Day 1 of EFX18 was a fantastic panel (moderated by Geoff Wickes of NEEA)  titled Tips from the Field: Installer Insights.  Panelists Francois LeBarasseur of A.O. Smith and Mike Kirk of Fast Water Heater provided great insights on how they are engaging with customers, utilities, and the heat pump water heater supply chain to move the market toward gas and electric Energy Star rated water heaters.

Francois shared several tips and suggestions on program design elements for utilities looking to help customers save money on energy in their water heating, which consumes 18% of the typical residence's annual kWh.  From what Francois has seen in the Northwest and across the U.S., the best designed and most successful utility programs for heat pump water heaters share two essential features:
    • Instant rebates (not mail in rebates
    • Rebates are offered at both the retail and wholesale level (since leaving one of those channels out is effectively missing about half the market).
He also shared numerous ideas and insights on specific tactics that can help utility programs be successful:
    • Get all the installers in the trade locally to have all installed at least one heat pump water heater.  Some folks are resistant to change, but getting them to experience an installation can really help.  (NEEA currently has a "Pro Deal" promotion going that can help with this--look up Jill Reynolds or Geoff Wickes at NEEA for more info on that.
    • Include your local home builders and energy raters in your marketing, education and outreach.  They are very influential decision makers and advisors and gaining their support for the effort can help a lot
    • Train the local sales counter staff at key local wholesalers so they know how to "intercept" the sale of a standard unit. 
Mike Kirk from Fast Water Heater also shared his terrific insights about the state of the water heater market -- a market in which about 90% of sales are urgent replacements.  Mike advised that when a  homeowner's water is no longer running hot, they usually feel quite a bit of pressure and urgency to get it fixed right away.  He believes this leaves only about a 4-hour window of time in which all the decisions on this purchase will be made.  So having heat pump water heaters and Energy Star rated gas water heaters available as a solution, and promoted as a viable option by the sales channel and utility rebate paradigm is critical to getting the customer to choose that product in that urgent time window.

Mike also shared insights on the numerous utility and retailer (Home Depot) partnerships that Fast Water Heat is partnering with up and down the West Coast.  He suggests utilities look for ways to "grow together," with local contractors involved in the utility program.  Small contractors want to grow their sales, and their brand, and one key way they can actually do that is by partnering with trusted and well-known entities like local utilities.   Some best practices Mike encourages utility program designers to incorporate are:

    • Make sure the products are in stock, convenient and ready to go for your contractor partners.
    • Operate with transparency about the metrics you are tracking amongst your contractor base, and operate with openness so all contractors can participate if they want to.  But that transparency and openness are actually helpful for you being able to reward the contractors and companies who are performing for the program at a high-level.  Whoever is exceeding the specific metrics you have set out and are tracking, that is a company you can partner with "grow together," for example by supporting them with co-branding and shared marketing opportunities.

The session wrapped up with an excellent Q&A focused on data, among other topics.  Utilities often need a lot more data from customers for a larger incentive like for a water heater than what is the case with smaller items like light bulbs, where point of sale instant rebates are generally workable.  Both Mike and Francois acknowledged the challenges and prior failures in the area of data, where complexity has at times bogged down some programs.  But they also shared good news about new program models now being executed which are applying technology and manufacturer support to solve these data challenges,  such as Duke Energy's new program, which captures detailed sales data in a way that meets the needs of all the players.  Overall this was a fascinating session with some outstanding insights from the field from two speakers who are clearly experts in the water heating market.

WATCH THIS SESSION

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Comments (2)
Veronica Marzilli on 05/23/18 on 06:07 AM (Pacific Time)

If you found this post useful, follow the “EFX18” tag for keynote videos, blogs and all of the conference content.

And - if you attended EFX18, please take the time to fill out the conference evaluation by May 29. Thx!

Carol Lindstrom on 05/31/18 on 09:41 AM (Pacific Time)
Want to learn more? A video of this session will be available the week of June 4.

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