Energy Efficiency Programs: COVID-19 Impacts and Innovations

Jul 13, 2020

How COVID-19 has unfolded may not have been much of a surprise to epidemiologists, but it did seem to come on fast for those of us working in energy programs. Rapid decision making was needed to ensure the safety of our client’s customers as well as our networks of Trade Allies and Service Providers that we manage who are the ones performing most on-site work for the programs we manage. With a little innovation and good planning, we were able to maintain our energy savings pipelines and keep projects moving with very little disruption by transitioning to virtual audits, remote inspections, adapted messaging, and easier workflows. 

New Virtual Call Center and Business Processing

Our Customer Care Center in Salt Lake City also had to be nimble. As information about COVID-19 emerged, Nexant put together plans allowing representatives to work from home. This option was made possible thanks to our cloud-based call center software (Five9) and reliance on our proprietary web-based application processing systems, iEnergy. As COVID-19 spread accelerated, Utah went to a "red" status requiring work from home for all non-essential business. In response, Nexant’s internal technology and WFO teams kicked their plan into high gear.  A plan that was expected to take 6 weeks was accomplished in 5 business days, as Nexant's Customer Care team went from 5% virtual to 95%. This transition was further complicated by a 5.2 earthquake that hit the Salt Lake Valley halfway through the transition. Yet, through this and several aftershocks, we didn't miss one call, one service level, nor was there any delay in processing or batching. Now, 9 weeks later, processing residencies are the best they've been in 2020 and our service levels continue to exceed expectations.

Energy Efficiency Program Adaptations 

Adaptations to our commercial energy efficiency programs were implemented in record time as well, even though some required a pause on accepting new applications. Today, with many states phasing into more open status, program marketing has begun to resume and our programs are working hard to still meet our savings targets with many customers inquiring about small business rebates as an investment in their business to reduce costs. We’re hopeful that participation will be back up as states start reopening. 

Trade Ally and Service Provider Impacts from Coronavirus

The shutdowns that happened in March, April, May, and June (depending on the state plan), were very difficult for any Trade Allies or Service Providers not designated as “essential services”. Many depend heavily on work generated from energy programs and these reductions in work resulted in painful measures such as furloughed or laid off workforce. To counter these negative impacts on our Trade Allies, one program we run in the Western U.S. made several changes to make doing business for them easier. Some things we've implemented include the following:

  • We encouraged remote project inspections (via phone video/photo) and remote project assessments.
  • We offered promotions for them to complete online training videos during downtime.
  • We made several program changes to make their process easier including direct deposit, extensions for projects, some new invoicing policies, some relaxation around signed documents.
  • We've made the path to becoming a "Premium" status Trade Ally easier and with more benefits. Instead of adding or removing Trade Allies from the Premium vendor list on a quarterly basis we shifted to doing enrollment twice a year and once a trade ally is a Premium vendor they remain so for a full year. We also introduced co-branded golf shirts for the Premium vendors to wear.

We communicate with Trade Allies as much as possible regarding immediate process changes, educating them about social distancing with customers and the business rules around that, reminding them to submit projects, providing financing options, and giving verbal support that we would be doing everything we could to help them through this time. 

Marketing Adaptations for Coronavirus

Our communications to utility customers are now being crafted with extra care and relevance to the new pandemic reality. We’ve offered them information like low- to no-cost tips and tricks to save energy and water while spending time at home, rather than hard sells. Some customer postcard communications were suspended early on, but have just started again with COVID-appropriate language. This will help financially-uncertain vendors who would like to get some leads in the pipeline. 

Onward and Upward

Safety is our highest priority as we continue this work. We strive to be a strategic and supportive partner to utilities from grid management to customer engagement. While this pandemic is undoubtedly disruptive, we still do our best to work together, do the right thing, and think differently. Our staff teach and learn each day and we are still having fun while working toward our goals, albeit virtually.