EcoPinion: New Vision Required To Better Serve Low Income Customers in Utility Sector

In January 2015, Distributed Energy Financial Group (DEFG), a management consulting firm specializing in energy, released EcoPinion Consumer Survey No. 20 focused on low income utility customers. The national survey included 723 adults (18 years or older) with annual household incomes under $50,000.  The survey indicated that low income energy consumers would welcome new approaches to manage their energy usage and control utility bills.

DEFG’s press release noted the following primary findings from the consumer survey:

  • Four in ten low-income households have trouble paying electric and heating bills at least once in a while, and many relied on payment assistance this past year (one in eight) or payment arrangements with the utility this past year (one in five).

  • Low income customers have access to smart phones and there is a lot of support for mobile applications that would educate customers and help them to enroll.

  • The two most practical and useful programs that a utility company could offer to anyone having trouble paying their bills were payment related: “offer extended payments” and “offer more frequent payments without fees.”

  • There is a ripening opportunity to better serve low income customers by leveraging daily smart grid information. Customers want to better manage their energy spend, and they appear ready for daily information.

  • Payment assistance and payment arrangements may work at cross purposes with utility energy conservation and energy efficiency programs.

  • The respondents who claim the greatest difficulty in paying utility bills are much less likely to say it is easy to save money on utility bills. This represents a cycle of dependence that must be addressed with education and new offerings.

  • There is a need to look at payment assistance, payment arrangements and alternatives to both. Utilities need to examine all the costs (time spent, cost to serve, etc.) to determine the best path to getting customers back in control.

Report Prepared By:

Nat Treadway – Managing Partner, DEFG

Date: January 2015

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