As we look toward 2016, our energy team has identified a few trends we anticipate seeing over the course of the new year.

1. Consumer Engagement in Solar Market

With the passage of the solar investment tax credit (ITC) by Congress, experts predict growth in the solar energy sector. Greentech Media projects that solar energy installs to increase 54 percent by 2020. Utilities and solar energy providers in the residential and community market will need to increase consumer marketing through earned media and strategic digital communications. With the projected solar market expansion, it’s crucial for companies to create brand loyalty with consumers at different levels of understanding about solar and solar energy. This will be even more critical for utilities and solar providers in states and regions with increased competition or regulatory challenges.

2. Alternative Fuels Need to Reach Both the CFO and CSO Despite Low Oil Prices

Even with oil prices well below $40 a barrel, fleet owners and managers are looking at alternative fuels to hedge against the volatility of fuel pricing – and to meet their customers’ sustainability requirements. Alternative options, like domestically-produced compressed natural gas (CNG), are insulated from the price instability that oil faces. In addition, alternative fuel companies should keep their sustainability messages to their communications toolboxes. While we’ve seen that messaging on sustainability does not always move the needle in a C-Suite, companies that combine the sustainability value proposition with financial benefits messaging see greater return from marketing activities.

3. Bridge the Gap Between Emergence and Reality for Energy Storage

Viable energy storage is the next phase for renewable and clean energy integration. However, the energy storage sector is still in its formable years. Last month, Energy and Sustainability EVP Andy Beck, was in California for the U.S. Energy Storage Summit 2015 hosted by Greentech Media and met with executives from energy storage and battery companies about the market challenges ahead. As energy storage expands, these executives highlighted the need to address the disconnect between the public and regulators’ perspective that energy storage projects have not been proven and the reality of successful, scalable storage deployments. A key for some energy storage companies in the coming year is to communicate directly with consumers, large load energy users and utilities to better define proven energy storage technologies, what the options are and will be available, and what this means for grid resiliency and energy use.

4. Smart Home Integration

As we’ve seen at the 2016 CES, our homes are only getting smarter. Today, household devices can manage our energy usage, monitor our activity around the home and change the temperature accordingly, and some devices can specifically wait until off-peak hours to perform higher energy-intensive functions. Additionally, the household devices themselves, such as LED lightbulbs, use less energy and perform at a higher level than their legacy products. As the technology matures and the space becomes more competitive, it is crucial for companies to create campaigns that build loyalty to their brand and market to the home and lifestyle.

Every year brings new opportunities and challenges, especially within the energy sector as actions by Congress or other governmental organizations can impact this industry more so than others. It’s essential to not only plan ahead for what we can anticipate, like the four trends above, but it’s also vitally important for a communicator to adapt to changes in the market as they happen.

– Samantha Nevels

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