Low-income families spend a greater proportion of their incomes on utility bills, fuel and energy, and could benefit greatly from the savings provided by more efficient homes, appliances and cars. However, these groups are often the least likely to be able to afford investments in more energy efficient measures and technologies. On March 31, TDEC, along with the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley Authority, hosted a forum that featured several panel discussions targeting the topic of Energy Efficiency, Conservation & Low-Income Households at the University of Tennessee’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. The forum highlighted key aspects of the topic from the viewpoint of consumer behaviorists/economic researchers, governmental agencies, non-profits, transportation specialists, and utilities through panel discussions, keynote presentations, and open dialogue.
As our nation currently wastes more energy than it consumes, wasted energy is now recognized as an important resource base to grapple with and minimize. Through programs and policies that promote energy efficiency and conservation gains, there are a growing number of market opportunities to reduce energy consumption and unnecessary financial spending. In fact, through the development of its 2015 Integrated Resource Plan, TVA was able to integrate energy efficiency into its projected fuel mix and to consider it a resource. This helped to determine the amount of electricity generation needed and how much can be avoided by way of energy efficiency to meet future needs.
Given the way that many energy efficiency incentive programs are structured, however, low-income households are often unable to participate due to financial constraints. Most commonly, a program will offer financing options or provide an incentive or rebate to a customer that purchases an upgrade or installs a measure to improve the efficiency of their home. If a customer does not have the money to invest on the front-end, they are unable to take advantage of such programs. Highlighting this as a major constraint to current program design, the forum sought to address how existing programs could be augmented and new programs could be structured to aid low-income communities.
By bringing objective analysis and experience to the table, panelists and industry experts shared their insight on the subject, including lessons learned, to inform policy development and program design efforts. In particular, the adoption of key financing alternatives, the construction of more efficient homes, and the incorporation of more grassroots education and outreach strategies to reach low-income populations were highlighted as considerations for programs that seek to amplify their impact on these target communities.
The forum was the second in a series of collaborative events hosted by TDEC, UT’s Baker Center and TVA. Work is already underway on a third forum, which will address a separate topic of interest and is tentatively scheduled for fall 2016.
To view the presentations in video format, click here.