10 reasons energy-efficient appliances are good for consumers and businesses

Technology Writer

The benefits of energy-efficient appliances aren't always apparent when consumers and businesses are in the market for an upgrade. Most consumers do not think about their dishwashers very often, until they break down and need replacing.

For utilities, such a moment can be a key entry point to building stronger customer relationships by steering consumers toward energy-efficient appliances. Here are 10 reasons why utilities should seize such opportunities:

1. Build a favorable impression with consumers by saving them money.

Eco-friendly appliances often carry higher sticker prices than standard models. According to Consumer Reports, if a consumer owns a dishwasher that was made before 1994, that person will pay an extra $35 a year to the utility. That may not sound like much, but if you multiply that cost across all household appliances, such as the washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, air conditioner and stove, the average consumer will save significantly more. Utilities should act as advocates, pointing out the long-term savings newer, energy-efficient options can provide.

2. Federal and state pressure.

Financial incentives for the utilities and consumers will drive providers to encourage the use of less energy. As a 2013 U.S. News & World Report story noted, "Somewhere at the top of the electricity supply chain, there is often a mandate that requires a utility to take a tiny percentage of each consumer's bill, usually around 1 percent, and feed it back into an energy-efficiency program." This is typically mandated by states, but some federal requirements apply.

3. Third-party pressure.

If utilities don't take advantage of government benefits encouraging energy efficiency, third parties will. As The Wall Street Journal noted, Efficiency Vermont, a nonprofit arm of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, offers free consulting for consumers and businesses on how to become more energy efficient. Their advice focuses on using more energy-efficient devices, light bulbs and other products.

4. Examine customers' data and help them make smart decisions.

Though we are at the dawn of the age of connected appliances, smart devices can already thoroughly monitor consumers' use. Using such data, utilities can track peak usage and suggest off-peak times that would save customers money on their energy bills. Armed with this information, a consumer might set the washing machine to run in the middle of the night when local electricity use is low.

5. Marketing and PR.

Recommending energy-efficient appliances to consumers puts utilities on the right side of the continuing environmental debate. Advocating energy waste is a losing position.

6. Consumers want to be led.

"Consumers are positive about saving energy," a recent McKinsey & Company report found. "Yet they expect business and the government to take the lead on the journey toward the low-energy home."

7. Selling appliances gives insight into product life cycles.

Some utilities, including San Diego Gas & Electric Company and Xcel Energy, have already begun selling energy-efficient appliances to consumers, according to The Guardian. Doing so opens up a new window into each consumer's behavior and encourages that person to go to the utility when appliances fail. By anticipating product life cycles, utilities can fashion messages accordingly, helping consumers maintain their appliances and prepare for when one needs to be replaced.

8. Mobile penetration.

As energy-efficient appliances like mobile-connected thermostats become more prevalent, consumers will be more open to the idea of controlling their energy use on their phones. By offering apps, utilities can step in and establish a dialogue with consumers via mobile.

9. End paper billing.

By advocating appliance choices for consumers, utilities will open a communication channel and can offer other opportunities, such as online billing. This would eliminate paper as a wasteful, expensive and increasingly antiquated method of reaching customers.

10. Gain consumers' email addresses.

When turning to utilities for advice about energy-efficient appliances, consumers can opt for email communication, which gives companies new opportunities to reach out with special offers and updates. This establishes a new level of customer relationship management.

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