Majority of electric utility customers unaware of their utility’s clean energy goals

Majority of electric utility customers unaware of their utility’s clean energy goals
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Even though 82% of US electric utility customers are served by a utility with a stated goal to reduce carbon emissions, less than 20% of them are even aware of the goals and 26% believe utilities will never achieve the goal of 100% clean energy. That’s according to JD Power’s 2023 Sustainability Index, which was released last week.

With imposed and self-imposed deadlines drawing nearer, consumer concerns about the seriousness of climate change remain high with over half of consumers (56%) stating the climate change is serious or very serious.

“Our sustainability index highlights how much work there is to do help consumers understand clean energy goals and the plans in place to meet the goals,” said Andrew Heath, senior director of utilities intelligence at J.D. Power.

Why is this a problem?

The electric grid will require an increased level of customer participation as renewable energy adoption continues. Customers will need to charge electric vehicles at specific times and avoid using excess energy during times of high stress on the grid. This requires an educated consumer who understands how their own energy use impacts the grid and understands the reasons they are being asked to use energy differently. In short, customer buy-in about (or at least awareness of) utility sustainability targets, will help them understand the ‘why’ behind any requests to alter energy use in any way.

“Sustainability is now a strategic focus for electric utilities, and an increasingly critical focus for public policy makers at all levels. Utilities are not in an enviable position, to say the least,” added Heath.

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Communication and customer education is a winning strategy to foster greater customer engagement around sustainability.

“Clear communication about their clean energy goals and plans will build the customer support needed to deliver on these plans,” Heath said.

Following are some key findings of the 2023 index:

Low customer awareness for utility climate initiatives: Overall, just 19% of electric utility customers are aware that their utility has declared a goal to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. The overall sustainability scores for electric utilities evaluated in the study—which are based on customer awareness, engagement and advocacy for their local utility’s climate initiatives—is 28 (on a 100-point scale), unchanged from 2022.

Few customers feel utilities will reach their goals: Just 26% of electric utility customers say they believe utilities will reach their goal of 100% clean energy. Moreover, the number of customers who say they believe a lot can be done to reduce climate change has declined steadily to 37.3% this year from 40.3% in 2020. More than half (52.7%) of customers say they believe climate change is serious or very serious.

Highest-scoring utilities: Sacramento Municipal Utility District has the highest score for a third consecutive year at 35. Other top performers include NextEra Energy (34), Portland General Electric (34), DTE Energy (32) and Southern Company (32).

Following is the full list of electric utility companies and cities that were evaluated, along with their index score:

Utility2023 Sustainability Index Score
Sacramento Municipal Utility District35
NextEra Energy34
Portland General Electric34
DTE Energy32
Southern Company32
CMS Energy31
Edison International31
Pacific Gas and Electric31
Salt River Project30
Con Edison29
L.A. Dept. of Water & Power29
Pinnacle West29
Puget Energy29
Berkshire Hathaway Energy28
CPS Energy28
Duke Energy28
Xcel Energy28
OGE Energy Corp.27
Sempra Energy27
Alliant Energy26
PPL Corporation26
National Grid25
WEC Energy Group24
Duquesne Light23

“In the long run, an inability to deliver on stated carbon reduction targets will negatively affect credibility and will give regulators and politicians a foothold for increased intervention and closer oversight. Now is the time for utilities to capitalize on widespread customer concern about climate change to proactively share the steps they are taking,” said Heath.

The Sustainability Index evaluates electric utility customer awareness, support, engagement and advocacy for their local utility’s climate sustainability programs and goals. The index applies to the 35 largest U.S. electric utility companies and cities, each serving 500,000 or more residential customers. The study is based on responses from 70,486 business and residential electric utility customers and was fielded from June 2022 through May 2023.

Originally published on Power Grid.