COVID-19 Resources: Delivering customer support in a new world

Claudette Ayanaba

Photo: Simon Abrams

Since our last post, new unemployment numbers for the energy efficiency sector have not been released. The most recent unemployment and disconnection information can be found in our previous post. We continue to monitor those reports and will update this series with new information as we receive it.


In the eighteen months since we first learned about COVID-19, we have realized that our lives would not be returning to normal as quickly as we had hoped, and there could be some new aspects of daily life that remain long after the coronavirus subsides. Many of us are still working at home, schools weigh continuing precautions, and while improved, unemployment remains high. We have been listening to how our industry and our members’ work has changed since spring 2020 and how it continues to adapt while we learn to live through a pandemic.

When service providers could not enter homes and provide services like home energy assessments and weatherization upgrades, organizations looked for other ways to keep the workforce engaged and provide uninterrupted services to customers. The pandemic also exposed the fault lines in the systems that deliver energy to our homes, schools, and businesses. Our community discovered an opportunity to ensure that all people could live and work in comfortable buildings, expand electric mobility, and create more prosperity across the Southeast.

In October 2020, we surveyed our utility partners and found that many energy efficiency programs had fully resumed, with adaptations or brand new programs to reach home-bound customers. In June, at the National Energy & Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC) annual conference, director of energy efficiency policy, Cyrus Bhedwar spoke on how to include more equity in program design, and we learned how program delivery is changing to reach more people at home. Some of the ways utilities are innovating around service barriers include:

  • Phone-based walk-throughs with customers
  • App-based surveys
  • Virtual training for contractors
  • Online applications and e-signatures
  • Extended crisis benefits to customers affected by COVID

Technicians, service providers, and utilities have found these adaptations not only maintained business during a pandemic, but also improved many facets of program implementation like scheduling, cost, customer engagement, and delivery time. However, innovation does not come without some hurdles. Poor cell phone reception, battery life, and customer access to technology are common challenges. Implementers encountered issues such as trying to explain how technical instruments worked to nontechnical customers. Despite these concerns, companies are keeping many of the innovative approaches to providing remote or virtual energy efficiency services.

As the region, nation, and world grapples with how to tackle the coronavirus, the energy efficiency sector continues to take steps to improve the health, comfort, and resilience of our communities. We continue to seek out and monitor the ways in which our industry continues to adapt to a new way of working and living in a pandemic.


Additional Resources:

Energy Efficiency Jobs in America
E4TheFuture


Annual Energy Outlook 2021
EIA


Sustainable Energy in America 2021 Factbook
BCSE


COVID-19 State Response Tracker
NARUC


Winter and COVID-19 Utility Shut-off Moratoriums
NEADA

COVID-19 Resources

 Claudette Ayanaba

Our new COVID-19 Resources allows for more relevant and more frequent updates. You can access the original, archived resource page at any time.

We welcome your feedback and suggestions. Contact us anytime at [email protected].

Highlights

  • The U.S. lost over 429,000 clean energy jobs from March to December, finishing 2020 with the fewest number of workers in the industry since 2015 It also marked the first year clean energy saw a decline in jobs over the previous year.
  • Nationally, job losses in the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors increased 12% since the pre-pandemic era.
  • 16,900 jobs were added nationally in December.
  • Clean vehicles experienced ongoing job loss of 31,468 and recovered about 400 jobs.
  • “Black and Hispanic workers continue to suffer from disproportionately high levels of unemployment overall, and Hispanic workers suffered increased unemployment rates in December. Women – particularly women of color – lost jobs in December overall while men gained jobs.”
  • In December, the states with the largest gains, Texas, New York, North Carolina, and Florida secured more than 800 clean energy jobs
  • “Over 40 states continue to suffer double digit job losses in clean energy with four states facing 20 percent or greater unemployment and one state, Georgia, facing 30 percent unemployment in the sector.”
  • “The counties that suffered hardest as a percent of their workforce are Fulton County, GA; DeKalb County, GA; and Kern County, CA.”

Workforce Losses by Month (March – December 2020)

Workforce Losses by State (March – December 2020)

Source: Clean Energy Employment Initial Impacts from the COVID-19 Economic Crisis, September 2020, E4 the Future


Related News

  • EIA estimates in its Annual Energy Outlook 2021, that it will take 10 years for energy consumption from all energy sources to return to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy reports in the annual Sustainable Energy in America Factbook that although energy use dropped 3.8% overall, residential electricity use increased.
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Highlights

  • All eleven of the states in SEEA’s territory have resumed utility disconnections. Some commissions have restored winter disconnection moratoria to alleviate mounting customer arrearages.
  • Customer arrearages or energy debt adds to a household’s energy insecurity. Energy insecurity is a key metric for understanding the inequitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of the energy sector to residents of the Southeast. Learn more about energy insecurity in our recent blog post, report, and storymap.
  • NARUC has a new tracker following state responses to utility disconnections.
  • NEADA tracks dates for COVID19 disconnection moratoria along side annual winter disconnection moratoria.


Related News

COVID-19 Resources

Claudette Ayanaba

This month, we moved our COVID-19 Resources to a new format to allow for more relevant and more frequent updates. You can access the original, archived resource page at any time.

We welcome your feedback and suggestions. Contact us anytime at [email protected].

October 2020

Southeast Job Losses and Gains, March – September 2020

Source: Clean Energy Employment Initial Impacts from the COVID-19 Economic Crisis, September 2020, E4 the Future

Highlights

  • The U.S. lost over 477,000 clean energy jobs from March to September.
  • Nationally, job losses in the clean energy and energy efficiency sectors increased almost 14% since the pre-pandemic era.
  • 12,500 jobs were added nationally in September.
  • Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina experienced the greatest losses in April; and Florida and North Carolina gained back the most jobs in June.
  • Jobs were added monthly between March and September.
  • June saw the highest job gains across the region.
  • The Southeast states experienced small but steady job increases July through September.

Related News

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Highlights

  • Since March, utility disconnections have paused and restarted. In the Southeast, moratoria remain in Kentucky.
  • NARUC has a new map of disconnection moratoria and the status of payment plans.
  • Regulators and utilities using several means to ease the strain on customers:
    • Increasing energy efficiency funding
    • Leveraging charitable contributions
    • Redirecting surplus (lowering natural gas prices)
    • Offering bill payment assistance and flexible payment plans
NARUC Map of Disconnection Moratoria

Related News

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Wacky Wednesday

Mandy Mahoney

Where are we? What is going on? Why is there a piece of bacon hitting a baseball?

Today my son’s kindergarten class is hosting a virtual Wacky Wednesday. He decided to wear his Macon Bacon t-shirt because a piece of bacon playing baseball is pretty wacky. The Macon Bacon is part of the Coastal Plain League, an amateur baseball league comprised of college baseball players from schools like Georgia College and Eastern Kentucky. Last August, in the slow heat of the Georgia Piedmont, our family went to a match-up between the Macon Bacon and the Savannah Bananas. There was no breeze blowing through historic Luther Williams Field. The ball field was built in 1929, and has seemingly stood still in time for the last 90 years.

The game was a highlight of our summer. On a Friday afternoon, we drove down to my hometown and met my mom. We dined on Macon’s famous Nu-Way Wieners. At the ball field, my son excitedly sought out Kevin, the team’s half person, half bacon mascot, to take a picture with him. The baseball wasn’t very good, and I don’t remember who won, but that wasn’t the point.

That time seems so far away on this Wacky Wednesday. Now every day feels like we’re living Wacky Wednesday. Last week, Anne and I heard from one of our partners, “If you would have told me a month ago that I would be talking about where to get toilet paper on a work call I would have thought you were crazy.”  We are all pretty shocked that our lives have shifted so dramatically, from supply scarcity, to virtual everything, distance learning, grocery delivery, job losses, and grief.

It all feels pretty wacky.

What I loved so much about the Macon Bacon game was being in community with people I loved and people I didn’t even know, the connection to my hometown, and introducing my son to a part of my history. We all still want those things today. Our brains are struggling to make sense of the rapid changes happening all around us. We struggle through the bewilderment of how to maintain and find that authentic, deep connection to family, friends, and colleagues during the pandemic.

The team at SEEA and I have consciously slowed down our work and our pace of activity. We believe now is a time to reach out to our partners and observe what the real needs are in this new era before we move into action. Yesterday, Cyrus and I were on a video call with another close partner and he started out by saying, “Well I am not sure why we are talking today.” My response was that we care about him and just wanted to see how he was doing. I could instantly see a sense of relief come over him. He appreciated that we simply wanted to know how he and his family are doing. We got around to talking about work later in the call. When we approach opportunities for connection with vulnerability and curiosity, we experience deeper, and more meaningful relationships.

Our conversations with partners and stakeholders over the last 10 days have given us some glimpses of the needs and strategies. We find a consistent concern about the burden of energy bills for the waves of workers laid off from the restaurant, retail, and many other impacted industries. We also hear a theme that we both want to respect the real suffering of this time while also not missing the opportunity to build back better.

We want to connect with you. We want to hear your thoughts, reflections, concerns, and ideas. We are better and stronger together.