background image

The customer engagement needed for Net Zero: Innovation alone isn’t enough

author image

By Monica Collings

· 5 min read

Technology often dominates our thoughts as we contemplate the journey toward net zero and expediting our shift to a sustainable future. It’s essential for establishing a secure, resilient, and affordable energy system. 

But what about the customers? 

In the midst of conversations about holistic system approaches, policy changes, and fostering flexibility, do we prioritise designing with consumer needs in mind to ensure affordability and efficiency?

The truth is, that achieving the energy transition hinges on deep consumer involvement. While technology is a pivotal element, historical lessons remind us that embracing radical, transformative changes requires time — a luxury we don’t have. Precisely, we have only 308 months until 2050, the deadline for achieving net zero.

The silver lining of the energy crisis 

The energy crisis has inadvertently offered a global opportunity that could catalyse consumer engagement in the transition — energy engagement is at an all-time high. It’s become so prevalent that energy discussions might just surpass the King’s Speech as the top topic at Christmas dinners.

Innovators are driven, amassing their solutions to address the UK’s notoriously leaky housing stock and enabling demand flexibility without consumers having to lift a finger. Many demand management and home efficiency strategies are being developed to ensure no demographic is left behind as we race toward a future energy system.

Yet, who has provided consumers with a clear roadmap to the net zero destination we’re urging them to commit to?

How are innovators tailoring designs to effectively meet consumer needs—specifically, to ensure warm, affordable, and comfortable homes? 

The challenge is immense, with households constituting approximately 26% of total carbon emissions and millions still in fuel poverty. [1]

Citizen’s Advice recently reported that 3 out of 5 homeowners are uncertain about where to obtain energy efficiency guidance. [2]  

Therefore, the issue transcends technological innovation for infrastructure; we must forge a closer connection with consumers to foster widespread adoption.

Engaging consumers for an equitable path to Net Zero

Direct consumer experiences are unmatched in building momentum for change. When we focus on the outcomes needed to meet customer needs and inclusively deliver net zero, the most significant barriers to adoption are evident. 

By concentrating our focus on the outcomes necessary to meet consumer needs and inclusively achieve net zero, the most significant adoption hurdles become apparent.

The up-front costs of home improvements currently exclude a significant segment of the population from participation. Market dynamics are strongly influenced by those who can afford and are willing to invest in green technologies. As the advantages of these technologies become clearer, optimism flourishes.

However, an inherent injustice needs addressing: those with the means to purchase electric vehicles and operate their homes on advantageous time-of-use tariffs, shifting demand to more affordable periods, incur lower costs than lower-income households who are home throughout the day. They lack the resources for meaningful demand flexibility and consequently face the steepest energy prices.

Moreover, a substantial portion of the population in rental housing lack control over their energy situation because landlords have minimal incentives to adopt the myriad of available solutions to enhance the efficiency and comfort of their properties.

Embarking on implementation 

We're on a quest to develop and deliver an energy system that's future-proofed, flexible, cost-effective, and capable of achieving net-zero emissions for everyone.

The energy sector must align behind the ‘how’ of a just and equitable energy transition, going beyond theory into actively involving customers in the journey toward a sustainable future.

Key questions arise: 

  • Who will be the leading players in this new energy system? 

  • How will customer interactions be shaped, their needs fulfilled, and what advantages will they reap from the substantial investments (and potential savings) in achieving net zero?

As we witness the emergence of innovative solutions from the sector’s newcomers, it’s crucial to prioritise and invest swiftly to magnify their impact through widespread deployment. Prompt action will accelerate customer involvement, fostering wider acceptance and advocacy for these products in ways that reputationally tarnished traditional energy firms may struggle to achieve. This, in turn, will attract fresh talent and alternative capabilities, propelling the energy transition forward.

Embracing diversity to enhance representation and participation

The challenge we face is unprecedented in complexity, and greater than anything experienced since the Industrial Revolution. The cultural and technological shifts that will take place will undoubtedly alter consumer behaviour. To navigate this transformation successfully, we need a mosaic of new perspectives and skills to complement the wisdom inherited from the sector’s legacy players. For an energy system that is truly equitable and inclusive, decision-makers in positions of power must take responsibility for reflecting the diversity of society at large. Despite the growing interest and investment in renewable energy, the latest Untapped Reserves Report by BCG and WPC Energy indicates that gender diversity in the energy sector is still trailing behind most other industries. [3]

Orchestrating a triumphant transition

The energy sector’s reform is a rebirth, like nothing seen since the Industrial Revolution. We aim to ensure that by 2050, we will have transformed dramatically from today’s world. Beyond futuristic concepts like air taxis and self-driving cars, practical initiatives such as ‘heat as a service’ and innovative, cost-effective housing solutions are essential to societal progress.

It is worth reflecting on the wisdom of the African Proverb: 'To go fast, one might go alone, but to go far, we must go together.' With a mere 308 months left, the pressing question remains: How can we collectively advance at pace and go the necessary distance toward our shared vision?

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

References and notes




Did you enjoy this illuminem voice? Support us by sharing this article!
author photo

About the author

Monica Collings is a portfolio non-executive working plurally across a number of board and strategic advisory positions, including as Chair of entech Swarm Energy and NED at Dalcour Maclaren.

Other illuminem Voices

Related Posts

You cannot miss it!

Weekly. Free. Your Top 10 Sustainability & Energy Posts.

You can unsubscribe at any time (read our privacy policy)