In many countries large numbers of people and increasing numbers of especially younger people are opting to rent their homes as they don’t want or are unable to enter the buyer market.
In Europe, for example, home ownership averages about 70% according to the statistics portal statista (with considerable variation between countries from as low as 43% in Switzerland to over 96% in Romania).
In the US, home ownership has been exhibiting a decline over the past decade and stood at less than 64% at the end of 2016, according to the same source.
Unlike home owners, these renters often lack the authority or control to make energy efficiency related upgrades or for example, to install generation or storage resources. As a result, they also may be less inclined to engage with their energy providers.
So what are the opportunities for utilities to engage with them?
In order to shed some light on the attitudes and opportunities for renters, the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) undertook three surveys during 2016, each involving more than 1,500 respondents claimed as representative of consumers in the US.
While obviously country specific, the findings are nevertheless of wider interest and relevance.
Renters vs home owners
In terms of the demographics the renters were found to be more likely to work part-time than home owners and they tended to less affluent and to own a vehicle or household appliances such as washers and dryers.
Renters also were more likely to be students, while older renters are more likely to live by themselves.
Renters as energy users
Contrary to some expectations that renters are likely to be disinterested in energy issues, the survey found that renters are both knowledgeable and interested in energy-related issues affecting their day-to-day lives.
Although renters are somewhat less likely than home owners to be knowledgeable about energy efficiency actions they can take for their homes and are less likely to own a programmable thermostat or use online bill pay, they are, nevertheless, interested in using these products and services.
This lower adoption also suggests some lack of awareness, particularly among younger renters.
These findings offer an opportunity for new avenues for consumer engagement, says the SECC.
Interest in energy-related technologies and programmes
The research investigated consumer interest in 18 energy-related concepts across the three categories of savings opportunities, utility programmes and offerings, and energy-related technologies.
Renters’ interest levels were generally similar to those of home owners across the concepts, and like the previous ’Spotlight on Millennials’ research, younger renters and younger home owners expressed higher rates of interest than older home owners and renters for most of them.
This similarity between younger home owners and renters is good news for utility programme designers and marketers seeking to engage with this younger segment of consumers, the SECC notes.
Among the 18 concepts, none of the seven energy-related technologies examined appealed to a majority of renters, although some of them appealed to a majority of younger renters. This is most likely due to the lack of applicability to their lives as they are mostly the owners’ domain.
Nevertheless, five of the concepts – two savings opportunities and three programmes – appealed to 50% or more of renters. Energy usage reports and energy savings suggestions delivered via an app or website, the two savings opportunities, generated the most interest.
Among the three programme concepts, two programmes focused on shifting energy usage to off-peak times in exchange for bill credits or rebates and one programme offered incentives for home energy visits with discounts on energy efficient appliances. All three appealed to over 60% of younger renters.
Again, this is an opportunity for new areas of consumer engagement for energy stakeholders, the SECC points out.
Attitudes towards electricity providers
Most renters, like home owners, indicated high levels of satisfaction with their current electricity provider. However, younger renters in particular, were somewhat less satisfied. They also indicated, more so than older renters or home owners in general, that they are more willing to consider an alternative supplier if given a choice such as another utility or a provider of solar power.
As more energy choices become available to consumers, this could lead to more churn among these younger customers. A strong interest in solar energy among younger renters also suggests these customers may be looking for more clean energy options from their providers.
Opportunities for utilities
The SECC points to the two key takeaways for electricity providers from the findings as renters being familiar with and interested in energy technologies and programmes and that they are interested in more opportunities.
Customer engagement is at the heart of meeting these with additional outreach efforts targeted towards renters.