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AEE’s Markets, Jobs, and Lessons from the COVID Year

By Crystal Leaver on

Angela Tucci

Last year was a year unlike any other, but the energy industry adapted to the many challenges presented. Angela Tucci, Uplight’s Chief Operating Officer, joined a panel hosted by the Advanced Energy Economy (AEE). With panelists from ACEE, BW Research Partnership, and Pattern Energy, Angela shared more about Uplight’s journey through 2020. 

According to Angela, Uplight has been focused on delivering a better customer experience to help customers save energy and money, which was especially important to customers in 2020. Like other organizations, COVID-19 had an impact on Uplight’s products and operations in big ways and small. 

First, because customers spent more time at home, they were more interested in investing in their home. Our own survey conducted in May of 2020 found that 23% of customers made an energy-related purchase to be more comfortable. This resulted In more than 250,000 smart thermostats sold on Uplight Marketplaces in 2020.

Second, last year, many people were reluctant to have people in their homes, which had an immense impact on the energy efficiency industry entirely. To accommodate this change in preference, Uplight worked with one utility to create virtual home energy audits, where the customer can walk around their home with a smartphone while an energy professional provides personalized energy saving recommendations. 

Third, as AEE has noted, the industry is seeing massive growth in smart thermostat demand response programs, and Uplight is seeing similar growth. One of the challenges in 2020 was that 70% of customers were home for demand response events, which in previous years the numbers were closer to 30%. This created increased awareness for demand response events, particularly the pre-cooling schedule. Subsequently, this resulted in iterations of how Uplight optimized dispatch and daily schedules across the device manufacturers we work with. Uplight found that emphasizing community impact and the benefit of participation was really important to ensure understanding and ride-through with events.

Also during COVID-19, utilities were really driven to help their customers in a variety of different ways, especially knowing the financial pressures that the pandemic put on their customers. 

A fantastic example is a program Uplight partnered with Consumers Energy and Google Nest to give away free smart thermostats to their customers to help them save energy and money. Electric customers who received smart thermostats were also enrolled in the Smart Thermostat Program, which shifts energy usage to off-peak hours.

This program is an important part of Consumers Energy’s Clean Energy Plan, which will eliminate coal and achieve net-zero carbon emissions. We launched the program in just six weeks, which is unheard of in the industry, and delivered some really strong results to help benefit the customer; the program enrolled 91% of eligible customers into the demand response program, which is substantially higher than the industry average of enrolling 20% of customers. 

While 2020 was a tough year in many ways, we saw utilities accelerating their decarbonization plans and making genuine efforts to create a better customer experience–yielding benefits for utilities, their customers, and Uplight. 

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