DNV, the independent energy expert and assurance provider, recently completed its latest survey of the North American contractors that partner with utility energy programs. As crucial partners for utility energy program success, DNV conducts this survey to uncover the trends and challenges underlying trade allies’ participation in energy programs, as well as to find solutions to make the partnership more beneficial for all stakeholders—the utility, the trade allies, and their shared customers.
The vast majority (84 percent) of the trade allies surveyed reported that utility energy programs were important or very important for their business’s success. Of the programs offered by utilities, trade allies primarily participated in energy efficiency (95 percent), with EV charging, solar, and combined heat and power coming in a distant second, at 13 and 12 percent respectively.
Notably, the number of trade allies who work in renewables and distributed energy resources is increasing, growing to 19 percent from 7 percent four years ago.
Trade allies of all sizes value their relationship with utilities, saying that it strengthens their credibility and ability to win business. This is particularly true for small contractors (1-10 employees), who attribute 60 percent of their revenue to utility energy programs.
However, even though trade allies value their utility partners’ programs, they also find them difficult to navigate. Again, this is especially true of small contractors who don’t complete enough projects to qualify for dedicated support from the utility, unlike larger contractors who have a larger workforce and are able to do more projects. Simplifying the process – from trade ally and rebate applications to incentive requirements – would improve program success for utilities and contractors alike. Empowering small trade allies also provides a critical path into underserved communities, which utilities have historically had a difficult time reaching.
The survey also revealed how difficult the current environment is for contractors, especially small to medium sized businesses. While COVID added additional issues, specifically supply chain constraints and project delays or cancelations, the primary challenges noted in previous surveys remain constant: customer access, navigating complicated incentive rebate programs, and finding qualified and diverse staff. Respondents also indicated that sales overall are more challenging, especially for small businesses--54 percent said that obtaining sales leads or closing new business was difficult.
“It’s a challenging time to be a contractor, with pressure coming from all sides—supply chain constraints, staffing difficulties, and overall rising costs,” said Richard S. Barnes, Region President, Energy Systems North America at DNV. “But utilities know that trade allies are essential for their energy programs’ success. Creating a framework where utilities can work with trade allies as true partners will benefit each other, as well as create jobs in the community and increase the momentum of the energy transition.”
Electrification of final energy demand, expected to grow from a 19 percent to a 38 percent share by 2050 according to DNV’s 2021 Energy Transition Outlook, combined with evolving regulations and laws, will drive utilities to launch new programs focused on renewables and emerging technologies.
Utilities can help to accelerate the energy transition by offering programs that eases customer adoption of new technologies like solar, storage, EV charging and cold-climate heat pumps. Enabling trade allies to sell or install solar and other emerging technologies with training and providing them with guidance on how to demonstrate the value of these technologies through energy use data insights can help trade allies continue to be successful partners for utilities in the energy transition.