Is There a Market for “Dark Energy”?

on November 15, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Sydney Goes Dark For Earth Hour

Could more effective marketing bring energy efficiency into the limelight?

One word that frequently comes up in discussions of energy efficiency is “boring”. It’s not sexy like oil or revolutionary like shale gas. Obtaining it sometimes requires that people modify their behavior in annoying ways, with no immediately visible benefits.

There’s also a great deal of discussion about the disconnect between what energy consumers know – that they should use less, and how they can use less – and what they are actually willing to do. But there is potentially far more money to be made in the opportunities that energy companies have to earn income on their foregone power use.

For More on this, see Growing the Negawatt Market

The most obvious way to kick-start efficiency improvements is through regulation. Energy efficiency requirements such as appliance and corporate average fuel economy standards have been hugely effective in reducing energy use. And although recent attempts to pass energy efficiency legislation stalled in the Senate, backers of the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill are reportedly lobbying hard to get an amended version passed.

But regulations will take time to kick in, and at least one study suggests that efficiency standards may not be the best means of reducing consumption. Regulations would also likely miss some of the low-hanging fruit that might be difficult to enforce, such as disconnecting phone chargers or turning the lights off when not in use.

To make more headway in these areas, perhaps efficiency could benefit from a little bit of re-branding.

A good marketing campaign can turn even the dullest commodity into something noteworthy or memorable. Ad agency Viktor & Spoils – which counts Coca-Cola and Unilever as clients – recently unveiled a hilarious (but unfortunately fictitious) marketing campaign for broccoli, billing it as “now 43% less pretentious than kale”. We’ll never know what a real campaign would have done for broccoli sales, but the idea is both straightforward and powerful.

One thing energy efficiency definitely needs is a new name, or perhaps a catch phrase. Marketing pushes have tried to make “negawatts” happen, but with only limited success. A chat with someone in marketing at a firm that specializes in financing energy efficiency yielded a few possibilities, of which “dark energy” seemed the most promising – a bit menacing, a bit mysterious, and it manages to convey what happens when the lights aren’t on. Somehow, “dark energy revenue streams” sound a lot more fun that selling negawatts back to the grid.

Companies that specialize in helping their customers avoid unnecessary energy expenditures often have big advertising budgets. Perhaps a little of that spending could go a long way towards making efficiency more attractive.