November 21, 2019 Teaching the Market to Fish

Market transformation and energy efficiency

By Jesse Row, Vice President, Corporate Performance

Have you heard of the expression ‘teaching someone to fish instead of giving them a fish’? In the energy efficiency business, this is how you change decisions being made about energy-use in buildings and equipment. By spending time building interest in energy-efficient products and emerging clean technologies, service providers and consumers develop the habit of choosing equipment and practices that waste less energy. Over time that grows the demand for these and similar products. Throughout the last half century, this “demand-side” engagement has led to dramatically increased efficiency in thousands of products from major household appliances to the motors used in every industrial and commercial facility, and more. Read on to understand how Energy Efficiency Alberta is leading self-sustaining market transformation in Alberta.

It’s well accepted that energy efficiency saves businesses and households money. Unfortunately, energy efficiency can be overlooked as we tend to buy the products that are cheapest, the ones we’re familiar with or we may not even think about efficiency at all. That’s why it’s important to make choosing efficiency easy - so we don’t have to think about it every day, but we can still benefit from lower utility bills, local energy efficiency jobs and lower emissions.

The ultimate goal of energy efficiency initiatives is self-sustaining market transformation – teaching the market to fish. This means working with service providers and buyers, encouraging adoption of energy-efficient products and practices until they become common. Once a new product or practice is widely used, focus then shifts to the next generation of products and practices as they enter the market.

Getting everyone involved

Building this familiarity with new products and practices needs to happen throughout the supply chain. Asking for a new energy-efficient product only works if the supplier is familiar and has had good experiences with it. Spending time with product and service providers to help them try out new approaches and understand the benefits for their customers, and for themselves, is a critical step in building capacity in the market. And one of the best ways for this to happen is for suppliers to start delivering these new products and services in real-world projects undertaken by their customers.

Familiarity also needs to be built with end users whether they’re businesses or households. Few people or organizations want to be the first to try out a new product or service. It becomes easier as they see it more widely used.

Energy management training and support for large commercial and industrial facilities are proven ways to increase energy efficiency that more than pays for itself. End-users also benefit easy access to innovative financing mechanisms. Because energy-efficient products often cost more than standard efficiency products, financing is a way to spread the cost over time and match it with the savings that are delivered over the life of the products.

The final step in market transformation is the introduction of a building code or equipment standard to institutionalize an efficiency level that the market has already spent years becoming familiar with. This can help prevent a backslide to less efficient products. Building codes and equipment efficiency standards are typically set at a national level, such as the national energy code for buildings.

By teaching the market to fish, all consumers – businesses and households – can benefit from lower utility bills, and jurisdictions benefit from local job creation and demonstrating progress on reducing emissions. Energy efficiency is the lowest cost way to meet our energy needs and to reduce emissions - it’s a fish that’s well worth learning how to catch.