In 2008, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council recognized the opportunity for these systems to make a major contribution to reducing the region’s energy usage while providing homeowners a more comfortable and affordable heating and cooling option. In fact, the group estimated that ductless heating and cooling systems had the ability to save the Northwest enough energy to power almost 150,000 homes each year. A lack of consumer awareness and trained installer base, however, created obstacles to achieving that energy reduction goal.
The NW Ductless Heat Pump Project, in collaboration with the region’s utilities (Clark Public Utilities included), was created to unite manufacturers and to provide training to the region’s HVAC contractors and strengthen distribution channels in order to build the market’s capacity to supply and install ductless systems. Since the program’s inception, more than 2,000 installers from 900 HVAC companies in the northwest have received program orientations and training.
With installers and distribution channels ready to go, participating utilities heated up their marketing efforts and developed incentive and financing programs to help homeowners offset upfront costs and make purchasing the system easier and more accessible. The NW Ductless Heat Pump Project developed marketing tools and strategies in collaboration with its utility partners. These marketing platforms and tools were made available to local contractors to help their business development goals and help build awareness through marketing campaigns, public service announcements, paid advertising and public relations efforts.
As word spread, homeowners responded very favorably. Roz Halstrom, residential manager for Tri-Tech Heating in Vancouver, has had a display unit at the Clark Public Utilities Home and Garden Idea Show for the past four years and said easily half of those who stop by want to talk about how much they enjoy the ductless heating system they’ve already had installed.
During a down economy, ductless systems have provided much-needed new business for HVAC contractors. Since the launch of the NW Ductless Heat Pump Project, cooperative efforts have led to the installation of more than 16,000 units in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington for a savings of 56,000,000 kWh per year. That’s enough electricity to power 5,000 average homes for an entire year. The collaboration’s success can be measured in one additional way: in 2008 consumer awareness in the NW for ductless heat pumps was below five percent. It’s now approximately 35 percent.
What made the collaboration successful?
The Number one factor to look for in strategic alliances is that everybody wins. The NW Ductless Heat Pump Project and its partners helped bring this technology to the region, identified a new business opportunity for the HVAC industry, provided tools and resources to help spread the word about this technology and helped grow their businesses. Utilities helped their customers save energy and meet energy reduction goals, and NEEA reinforced its mission to accelerate the innovation and adoption of energy-efficient products and services in the marketplace.
How can other companies create similar alliances?
Finding strategic partners entails thinking about what other groups or companies can mutually benefit from collaboration.
There are other successful examples of this model in the market from the Vancouver USA Regional Tourism Office, which works with hotels to entice conventions here, to informal groups of wedding service providers, like bakeries, photographers and florists who help drive referrals to each other.
Reaching out to another company with a “big idea” is what is needed to thrive in today’s economy.
Alexis Allan is a spokesperson at the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. For more information about the organization, visit www.neea.org.