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A concern for the environment, including the depletion of natural resources, continues to trend upward in the United States; however, this does not always lead to a decrease in the use of environment-degrading resources. For example, in some areas of the country, the demand for natural gas is outpacing supply. This has led some utilities companies to begin to encourage the use of more efficient, alternate energy sources such as geothermal energy. But how can these companies best encourage adoption with their consumer base?

Our client, a utilities company, sought to promote the adoption of this alternate energy source by offering incentives (in the form of rebates) to customers who purchased and installed a geothermal ground source heat pump. To encourage greater adoption of the initiative, our client approached C+R to conduct exploratory research with users, potential users who had dropped out of the program, and contractors to understand potential barriers and opportunities for the geothermal energy program.

We conducted qualitative phone- and webcam-based interviews to answer our client's questions. Our client came away with a deeper understanding of the barriers and attractions of their rebate program, as well as factors to help identify the best customer target for the program.

Problem

Our client, a regional utilities company, had partnered with another company to offer homeowners within their footprint incentives for installing geothermal heat pumps as an alternative to natural gas. Because demand for natural gas was outpacing supply, and also because heat pumps are more energy-efficient, the client wanted to identify winning strategies to encourage and increase the take rate of the geothermal heat pump offering.

Specifically, our client wanted to understand homeowners’ and contractors’:

  • Reasons for installation/consideration of a geothermal heat pump,
  • Consideration of alternative systems,
  • Knowledge/familiarity with geothermal energy, and
  • Satisfaction and usage patterns (among users).
Result

Our client gained a greater understanding of geothermal use in their target area, including average demographics of geothermal users, the popularity of geothermal and perceived benefits from adopters, and who prime prospects would be for geothermal systems. The study also identified several barriers that prohibited more installs in the area and outlined a typical path-to-purchase.

We also provided our client-specific identifiers for quality leads, which are considered good candidates for marketing efforts. (both homeowners and contractors).

Solution

We utilized exploratory qualitative research to help our client answer their business questions. Specifically, 30 in-depth interviews were used to gather feedback on geothermal energy and our client's rebate program. Each interview was completed via phone or webcam and lasted 45-60 minutes. 
We completed interviews with three groups of consumers: 

  1. those who had participated in our client's rebate program within the past year, 
  2. those who had received a proposal for the program but ultimately opted not to move forward, and
  3. contractors - including those in our client's geographic area of interest and those who worked within the same state.
     
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