The American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers (ACCES) was quoted in the Guardian’s latest article on the topic of renewable energy retail choice.
Written by Sarah Shemkus
Unlike other products, electricity options don’t sit side-by-side on store shelves. American Efficient is partnering with local shops to show consumers their choices.
At Bayside Milk Farm in Flushing, New York, customers can shop for homemade meals, fresh produce and, as of this month, green power.
The supermarket has partnered with clean-energy startup American Efficient to promote Oasis Energy, a local renewable-power supplier, in the store and online. Customers who make the switch are rewarded with a $25 gift card to the supermarket.
“The same type of customer who is looking for green energy is looking for all-natural antibiotic-free chicken and organic produce,” said Patrick Perulli, co-owner of Bayside Milk Farm. “It’s the same mindset.”
The program, called Go Good, attempts to build a business model around helping competitive energy suppliers connect with residential power consumers. American Efficient forms partnerships with green-power suppliers, then approaches retail businesses – coffee shops, barber shops, grocery stores – in its partners’ service areas. In return, retailers agree to post flyers, distribute literature and answer questions about the service. Interested customers can go to a website where the names of the retailer and the power supplier are listed to learn more, sign up and receive a gift card to the retailer that pointed them there.
What’s in it for retailers? It’s a way for them to connect more strongly with the community, encourage return business and strengthen their bonds with customers, American Efficient CEO Chanin says. Meanwhile, American Efficient makes commissions on the sales it facilitates. Consumers get gift cards to favorite local shops and information about green energy. And green energy suppliers get closer to solving one of their most pressing challenges: creating consumer awareness.
Most Americans simply don’t have a choice but to buy electricity from their local utility. Only 17 states and the District of Columbia allow alternative electricity suppliers to compete against the utilities, according to the US Energy Information Administration, a federal body that monitors energy consumption patterns. Efforts to increase renewable energy production have generally focused on encouraging more generation rather than increasing consumer demand, said Ruben Lobel, assistant professor of operations and information management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
“The competition is mostly on the supply side,” he said.
Even in areas where consumers do have a choice, many don’t realize it or just don’t bother changing suppliers. According to the EIA, the percentage of customers switching from utility-provided service to a greener supplier is very low in every state except Texas, which in 1999 set aggressive renewable-energy targets for its utilities.
“If everyone knew, I think more people would have switched,” said Justin Snyder, national brand manager for Oasis Energy. “I’m sure more people would like clean power.”
In some cases, consumers are aware that they have choices, but competitive suppliers have used unpopular marketing techniques, such as telemarketing and direct mail, that have left a bad impression, Chanin said. Furthermore, consumers are likely to expect green energy to cost significantly more than conventional power, he said. The reality, however, is that the suppliers American Efficient works with are likely to cost only an additional $2 to $10 each month, he said.
No one has yet found all the right answers to the challenges of connecting clean energy suppliers with eco-conscious consumers. But progress is being made.
In recent years, growing interest in environmentally friendly living has made more people aware of the competitive energy market in the states where it exists, said Frank Caliva, a consultant for the American Coalition of Competitive Energy Suppliers.
“It’s been a driver in making people aware of their choices,” Caliva said.
He also points to education as an essential tool in getting more people on board. The coalition website offers frequently asked questions, state-by-state information and a guide to help consumers analyze their energy choices.
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