The message is loud and clear—we need to combat climate change now. The European Union has set out ambitious targets to reach climate-neutral society by 2050. At the same time, policymakers are embedding consumer-centricity into policy measures and positioning consumers at the heart of the energy transition, giving them more choice, better information and protection. Consumers also want to do their part and to contribute to the energy transition, but many still face obstacles on their journey.
With this in mind, Eurelectric and Accenture set out to understand what could be done to partner with customers on this quest for a sustainable, inclusive and smart energy future. That was the question we aimed to answer through a series of design thinking workshops I held throughout 2019. The goal was to understand the perspectives of various stakeholders across the energy ecosystem to identify the barriers and opportunities for engaging consumers in the drive toward a zero-emissions society.
We conducted eight workshops across Europe with more than 120 people, including diverse representatives from NGOs and consumer associations, electricity, automotive and technology companies, academia, as well as policymakers and regulators.
Workshop participants examined the barriers, opportunities and solutions for consumer involvement in three key areas:
- Maximizing energy efficiency in heating and cooling
- Promoting renewable energy integration into the system
- Supporting adoption of electric vehicles (EVs)
We used interactive and creative design thinking methodologies to foster innovative thinking and cross-pollination of ideas. This enabled lively, informal exchange of ideas among multi-disciplinary experts which led to a constructive dialogue to uncover fresh, practical solutions for consumer empowerment at a local level.
Each session started with an initial design challenge: “How might we support residential consumer participation in the energy transition, in line with the EU targets in energy efficiency, demand response for renewables integration and electric mobility (eMobility)?”
The first part of the workshop asked participants to empathize with the consumer and think about the most important barriers and opportunities for adopting zero-emissions solutions. From there, we reframed the problem definition to focus on the priority barriers and opportunities and then targeted it further toward a specific persona; for instance, commuters with respect to eMobility.
Then we turned the tables. This time participants were asked to imagine themselves as the CEO of an energy service company and identify solutions they would implement to eliminate barriers or elevate opportunities for consumer adoption of zero-emissions solutions.
And it was this dynamic of fostering a collaborative, creative environment that made the process so valuable. The opportunity to tap into a strong set of collective expertise across the European energy ecosystem allowed us to identify common themes and recognize differences between countries.
We uncovered four key barriers across all workshops and themes that hamper consumer engagement in the energy transition:
- Too many choices, determining the appropriate one for different consumers
- Insufficient information on the true costs and benefits of low-carbon solutions
- Difficulties in accessing finance for energy-efficiency investments or renewable energy systems
- Concerns about data use and privacy
But we also uncovered key enablers and opportunities for consumer engagement:
- Driving awareness and sense of urgency of action on climate change
- Leveraging technology as a key enabler for empowering consumers
- Activating community networks
And we ideated a series of innovative ideas. Here are three of my favorites:
- Sustainable in a day
This is an example of a service proposition ideated by the Amsterdam participants that nicely captures the idea behind offering standardized packaged solutions to minimize the hassle for consumers when adopting low-carbon solutions. The idea proposes a complete package including isolation, installation of solar panels and delivery of an EV with a home charger and integrated energy management system, plus financing. And all measures would be implemented in a single day. This type of solution has advantages that were also addressed in other workshops, such as:
- It offers potential for standardization and scaling.
- It focuses on delivering energy services rather than a commodity.
- It reduces hassle for consumers.
- Stimulating EV adoption through corporate offsetting
In all countries, participants highlighted affordability as a key barrier to the uptake of EVs. The main problem is in the high upfront capital costs of the car and the home charging station. As a potential measure to overcome the cost barrier, participants in Germany suggested that corporations wanting to offset their carbon emissions could provide e-cars free of charge through social programs which could help accelerate adoption and improve the image of e-cars. In return, the company would get certificates of the carbon-emissions reductions, which it could use toward its emissions-reduction target.
- AirCnC: Enabling peer-to-peer charging infrastructure
Availability of charging infrastructure is another key barrier for adoption of EVs. Therefore, participants in Italy came up with the idea of “AirCnC” or Car and Charge. People that own a charging point could make it available to other EV drivers though a platform and profit from renting parking space and charging point. Another spin-off of the AirCnC idea is for a community to invest in shared charging points and a community solar installation to power it.
There many more ideas captured throughout the workshops. I invite you to read the full report on Eurelectric’s website, “Seeking shared success: Empowering consumers in the energy transition.” The outcomes of this unique consultation process, as summarized in the Seeking Shared Success report, also informed Eurelectric’s study, “Driving change: 15 pledges to customers,” signed by more than 90 energy providers representing more than 200 million citizens in Europe.
We continue to closely follow up on this study with Eurelectric and hope to see a great uptake of the energy transition triggered by all our joint actions. Consumers are at the heart of the energy transition and only if they start to move, it is going to happen with trust, simplicity, transparency and affordability as key experience drivers for adoption of zero-emissions energy solutions. Together we can make the step change needed to move toward a zero-emissions society.
Feel free to share your thoughts. Let’s keep the conversation going as we strive toward the goal of a zero-emissions society by 2050.