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If You Rebate, Will They Come? Incentives Alone Won’t Decarbonize America

It seems everywhere I turn these days, I encounter news, conferences, discussions and opinions on the transition to clean energy and decarbonization of our energy supply. Across the country, energy offices are consumed with developing the infrastructure to distribute billions of dollars in federal incentives and tax credits to facilitate the transition to clean energy. Utility and energy efficiency programs are strategizing about how to leverage their program frameworks to help achieve aggressive goals for electrification.

It’s perhaps the most exciting time I’ve seen over the course of my career in energy marketing, and without a doubt, the most challenging, despite the abundance of incentives aimed at overcoming cost barriers. Why? It’s widely known that cost is the primary barrier to action, and the tax credits and incentives provided through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are designed to help us overcome that hurdle. What’s more, the energy industry has a wealth of expertise in market transformation strategies that leverage rebates and incentives to drive new product adoption. These factors can certainly work in our favor, but marketing the shift toward clean electric is much more complicated than driving sales with incentives, no matter how substantial.

The transition to clean electric will require homeowners to spend much more effort, consideration and money than any other in recent memory. It will require state energy offices, utilities and energy efficiency programs to craft messaging and media strategies to move customers past those barriers while also answering questions about electrification, quelling anxiety and building trust with their audiences. In short, we need to meet customers where they are and guide them through the transition. In order to do that, we need to understand their current levels of awareness and understanding, attitudes, perceptions, motivators, and barriers to action.

Recent research C+C conducted on behalf of ENERGY STAR® revealed that consumers are largely unfamiliar with the terms decarbonization and electrification. Those terms don’t resonate with them and are seen as overly technical/industry-speak. That said, once they do learn about it, they are widely receptive to the concept, optimistic about the transition to a clean energy future, and enthusiastic about the ability to mitigate climate change. What’s also encouraging is that the strongest motivators for learning more, and the most desirable benefits of electrification, relate to its personal impact — not just in terms of changes they may need to make to their homes but also how their personal actions can play a part in climate protection today and for future generations.

Despite these positive indicators, it’s important to recognize that consumers also have a lot of questions and concerns about the transition — some at the macro level, like the cost of the transition, the reliability of a clean electric grid and the potential for job loss. And the entity from whom they learn more matters. Overwhelmingly, consumers supported the idea of ENERGY STAR serving as their guide toward electrification, given the brand’s credibility with regard to energy efficiency and its mission of environmental protection. Providing clear answers and guidance, supported by a reliable, trusted voice will be key to successful consumer engagement and activation.

At the end of the day, like any initiative aimed at social change, it will be critical to meet consumers where they are with messaging that resonates at a personal level, practical guidance that answers questions and helps move them along the path to purchase with a trusted, credible voice. The rebates and incentives are key — but there’s a lot more to driving action than offering dollars off.

It won’t be easy. But it can be done. History has shown that this industry can rally together to make change happen. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds!