🌎 Rewiring America’s electric future

America’s largest electrification nonprofit teams up with Stacey Abrams

The climate tech community knows the IRA is a BFD, but at the end of last year one in three voters still hadn't heard of the legislation.

Founded in 2020, Rewiring America is on a mission to make sure every American knows this historic law created an "electric bank account" for their residential needs and to provide the resources for households to make the best decisions about when and how to switch to electric appliances.

That might not be next-gen nuclear, but electrifying the way we live is arguably the MOST significant decarbonization lever we can pull today. From heating our homes to powering our cars, electrification presents an opportunity to cut the 42% of greenhouse gas emissions that come from households each year and also have a real impact on people’s health and finances. The challenges to implementing these changes to our daily lives are less scientific or technical, more messaging and social science.

The non-profit develops accessible and actionable datasets and tools to help drive electrification in homes, businesses, and communities. The team has created resources including a household guide to the IRA, a blueprint for electrifying schools, and an API for government incentives.

This week, Stacey Abrams became the newest member of the Rewiring America team. While people recognize Abrams for her organizing around voting rights, she has a long history of environmental advocacy as well, including throwbacks to writing her senior thesis in college about environmental action needed in the Gulf Coast and interning with the EPA’s newly created Office of Environmental Justice during the Clinton administration.

"Stacey really represents this vision of shared abundance, which is to say that everyone deserves to have better things. They deserve to be a participant in an economy that confers benefits to them and that they can be a contributing part of." Ari Matusiak, CEO of Rewiring America

Rewiring America has long been at the top of our list and following news of Stacey joining, we Zoomed in with co-founder and CEO Ari Matusiak for the skinny on the nonprofit’s vision and strategy for an electrified future.

Q&A with Ari Matusiak

Tell us a bit about your background and how it led you to founding Rewiring America.

I've spent my whole career focused on social impact, but really at the nexus of where policy meets up with market solutions that impact people's lives in real time. I've always been most interested in the solutions that enable people in communities to achieve their potential, to realize opportunity, and to participate fully in the broader economy. And I have a deep-seated set of beliefs about how democracies don't survive or thrive unless people can be full participants in the economy and be able to realize their potential and achieve their opportunity.

I also have a deep-seated belief that these issues are intertwined. I really came to the conclusion that electrification was like the rug that tied the room together. Because it is, as we talk quite a lot about, the single most direct and largest-scale impact on the climate equation from an emissions perspective. And it actually connects—very directly—people in their day-to-day lives to the climate solution, but in a way that also helps them save money on their bills, improve the health outcomes for their families, create local investment in the economic thriving of their communities, and effectively achieve the largest wealth transfer from energy producers to consumers in the history of the country, if we do this well. It is, I think, actually the most profound and abundant climate strategy—not just because of the emissions impact, but also because of all these other things.

Can you talk about Rewiring America’s mandate and focus? It’s a non-profit but commercial. How does that model work?

Our goal is that within the decade we need to make it so that efficient electric machines are the most affordable and convenient to purchase and install for everyone. Everything that we do is organized around that as our Northstar and we think very expressly about where the levers are to achieve that Northstar. There's an aspect of this which is about storytelling and helping people sort of even conceptualize what electrification means. When we started, people weren't really talking about electrification. And so we wanted to, as a step one, start to insert this into the broader narrative and discussion.

But then realized, as a step two, that we needed to create some real policy levers to start to catalyze the market. And so we focused initially on basically the generational opportunity in Washington to drive policy that could catalyze this market transformation. But we're not a policy organization or research organization. We're good at those things, but that's not how we think about ourselves. We're focused on market transformation. And so now, we are very heavily investing in software products and technology to connect people to what we describe as their “electric bank accounts.” The Inflation Reduction Act has created an electric bank account for every household in America, and now we need to build the tools and the resources and the content to educate and connect people to that. And to defragment the market to make it easier for people to get those electric machines

What was Rewiring America’s role in getting the IRA passed?

I'm very proud of the work that we did on that, in conjunction and coalition with so many others. We played a role in shaping what became the residential electrification elements of the Inflation Reduction Act.

The Congressional Budget Office scored [the IRA] at $369B, the largest climate investment in the history of the country. We would say about $100B of that is for residential electrification. But actually, that's not accurate, because the Congressional Budget Office is making a projection based on uptake of policy. And what's important to note about so much of what's available from a residential electrification perspective, is that most of it is uncapped. There are no limits on the amount of incentive that people can access. It is actually just tied to participation. So if we do what the climate requires, and people fully access their electric bank accounts over the next 10 years, the Inflation Reduction Act, we think, would spend closer to $858 billion dollars on residential electrification alone. So in terms of a market opportunity and how catalytic it can be, it's enormous.

And we were very focused in the policy stage of this—in the conversations around what was in the Inflation Reduction Act—to create incentives that were kitchen-table oriented. Meaning to say that if you think about it as 42% of our energy-related emissions come from decisions people make around the kitchen table—what kind of cars they drive, how they the heat the air and water in their homes, how they cook their food, how they dry their clothes, and where the power comes from for all of those things—then we were very focused on creating incentives that met every single one of those kitchen table decisions.

How does IRA change the way you’re going about this work?

It's helped give us focus and clarity on what the next stage is. We think of the Inflation Reduction Act as creating that electric bank account for every household in America, but people need to know that they have it. So when President Biden signed the inflation Reduction Act into law, we created a calculator as a tool to test basically how interesting it would be to people. The calculator shows you what you are eligible for with the Inflation Reduction Act. We have spent no money marketing that—it's been entirely socialized through earned media, through reporting—and we've had 400,000 people use that tool in the intervening months. And the conversion rates are incredible: 60% of people who come to the calculator page calculate their results, about 15% of them then give us their email address, and about half of those are giving us their phone number.

In June, we’ll launch a consumer education website to help people navigate and understand what's available to them. And we are going to launch what we're calling the personal electrification planning tool, version one of that, which will be kind of a way to meet you where you are. Are you thinking about getting an EV? Well, let's talk about that. Are you wondering about your furnace? Are you curious about an induction stove? It’s really more based on someone's pathway and their decisions, and then tying that first decision to a whole plan for how to electrify the rest of their home.

So we're investing quite a lot in the capability to understand a lot about your home and make recommendations based on that to build a fantastic product experience for people so that they get their electrification plan. But that is the beginnings of what we're hoping will be a way to make Rewiring America, frankly, a hub of information, content, and resources to connect people to their dollars. That tool will also tie together not just your federal, but also state, local, and utility incentives as well.

What’s next from Rewiring America?

We believe very strongly that the way to [distribute these tools] is to partner with trusted messengers. Last year, we announced that a number of companies were joining with us to educate their customers and their partners: Airbnb and Lyft and Arcadia and Mosaic and Redfin and Propel and Duquesne light, among others. And we've since added to that list of folks who are partnering with us, but they are going to take our content, push it out to their hosts, their drivers, their users, and connect people back to Rewiring America to get their personal electrification plan.

That is very important, because we listen to brands that we trust. We listen to our friends and neighbors, to our family members. And so the other aspect of this is that we're going to be recruiting and training up thousands of electric enthusiasts. When Obamacare passed back in the day, the law had in it something called the Navigator Program. And the Navigator Program was money that actually through the law paid for local nonprofits and people to just handhold folks to get enrolled in their health insurance. There isn't anything like that in the Inflation Reduction Act, so we want to create the analog of that program tied to the consumer education website in our electrification planning tool. Because it's really important that people hear from folks that they can trust and have a relationship with someone who can help them navigate to what the right answer is.

The last thing is that we have a very strong thesis that what we need to do is aggregate demand in local markets. So we are going to launch a program that we're calling Rewiring Communities, which is effectively that—partnering with civic and local leaders to take that national campaign local. But also to aggregate households that are low- and moderate- income and energy-burdened and make sure that they are getting expressly connected to the resources so that they can get the benefits of a lower-cost and healthier home.

Had you worked with Stacey before this? How did the conversation begin about having her join the team?

We did not know her. We were introduced to her and started a conversation about how we just had this natural coalescing of interests and how exciting it would be to work together on taking this agenda forward. Stacey really represents this vision of shared abundance, which is to say that everyone deserves to have better things. They deserve to be a participant in an economy that confers benefits to them and that they can be a contributing part of. Kind of what we were talking about at the beginning about why I personally got into this and how we think about Rewiring—she's demonstrated that in manifold ways across her career. That her project is really one of shared abundance and enabling people to achieve their potential. So it just made a lot of sense for us to work together and we're thrilled that we get the opportunity to do that.

What will her role as senior counsel look like? Are there specific ways you hope her involvement will move electrification forward?

She's going to help us launch and scale this national awareness campaign and the Rewiring Communities Program. Help us build this network of rewiring communities, large and small, who are working to help Americans go electric. And as a really, really smart and seasoned person, she’s just going to help us grow and scale the organization and think about how best to do that.

Stacey is one of the most successful organizers in political history in the United States. And what does that mean? That, for me, means that she is one of the best translators in the history of the United States, connecting to people about what's possible for them. And if we go back to the beginning of the conversation, a big aspect of what we need to do when it comes to electrification is not just tell the story, but connect the story of electrification and its potential to people's day-to-day lives.

We recorded a video with her and Saul [Griffith] about her joining Rewiring and she said something in it that really struck me: that electrification is a very personal thing. It's almost like an intimate thing. It's about heating the water to take a shower. It's about how you take your kids to school, those were examples that she used. Stacey has an ability to relate things that seem kind of complex or technical or esoteric to people's day-to-day lives. And I think one of the reasons why she was interested in partnering with us and why we were also excited to do that is because electrification is very practical. It's not sort of this fanciful thing that I'll never get to be a part of, because I'm not a nuclear engineer. It's not something that I will never see in my lifetime. It's my water heater. Helping us figure out how to translate that story, so that it makes sense to people so that they can find out how they can best benefit from it and participate in it—I think that's going to be a huge part of what she helps us to do.

Are there ways the broader climate tech community can support Rewiring America’s goals?

This part of the climate puzzle is poised for just massive adoption and scale. It is also super complicated. And it's going to require, I think, innovative models for how to break through what is effectively a fossil fuel feedback loop.

My hope is that there is a commitment and a rigor to breaking through that feedback loop and coming up with the models that are going to be successful and embracing whatever it's going to take to get there. Because unless we electrify all these machines, we will not achieve our climate goals. For anybody in this space who's serious about moving the needle on climate, they have to be serious about electrification—and in its very tactile, last-mile, machine-in-house kind of mode. And our view is that the way to start breaking through that feedback loop is to aggregate as much demand as possible, because it starts to organize the market natively as a result. And so there's a lot of work to do together on that and we're excited to partner on all fronts.

This is not a technology sort of problem. This is a market organization problem. And sometimes I think we tend to look at market organization problems as in a sense less interesting, because they are harder. But the power of this solution is that it is a solution that can be organized. And the opportunity on the other side is nearly limitless.

Are there misconceptions about electrification today that you most wish you could clear up for consumers? Or for investors/founders in the climate space?

I think maybe two misconceptions: One is this chicken and egg dynamic around whether we have enough workers or we have enough supply to deal with the demand. I think we have a complicated market dynamic that needs to get resolved, but to me, the way that you resolve that, just to say it again, is via aggregating demand. If you can aggregate demand in a very express way, it starts to unlock the justification for why somebody might train their workers to install these machines, or be committed to doing so.

The other piece is there's a dynamic or a “whataboutism” that’s raised sometimes, which is like, ‘The grid! It can't handle it! We're gonna overload all the things.’ And I would just say there: We have to electrify a billion machines. I'm pretty sure that's not happening next Thursday. It's going to be a multi-decade process. And the key—from my perspective, anyway—the way that we handle the grid and its ability to support an electrified future is actually by electrifying all the machines. Because the more that we electrify, in homes and in communities, the more capacity we have, actually, to do the kinds of things that people are talking about—the virtual power plants, the demand response, the load sharing. So even though you're tripling or quadrupling the amount of electric demand, you're also creating much more robust resiliency in the market. So I think the way we go about this and the way we talk about this should be from the perspective of ‘electrification is the answer to how we handle electrification.’

Fired up by the mission to electrify one billion machines with speed and dexterity? Donate, volunteer, nerd out on IRA savings calculations, or go whole-hog and join Stacey in joining the team—Rewiring America is hiring across strategy, product, design, and policy.

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