I got the opportunity to talk to David Huang, Director of Product at Uplight, who leads an innovative team around devices about his background, his team, and what he’s looking forward to most at Uplight. David established Uplight’s customer engagement portfolio, and now leads our Marketplace and Demand Response products to meet the evolving needs of load flexibility in the grid.
You’ve been at Uplight for over 6 years. What roles have you held and what have been your favorite projects?
I started at Simple Energy, which later merged into Uplight in 2019, managing client accounts in New York state before we had a product team. New York was developing Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) demonstration projects at the time, so it was a chance to put on a product hat and think through innovative approaches to utility programs that grew our software offerings. REV was a statewide clean energy plan mandating that renewable sources will provide 50% of the State’s electricity by 2030.
During this time I had the opportunity to work on my favorite project, the first Demand Response Smart Thermostat Pre-Enrollment (DRPE) that had ever been done. I was involved in making sure the data flows worked, creating the customer experience and journey to ensure successful installations, and working with my client to get it stood up in their program in time for the Black Friday sale period.
Once we formed a product team, I built out our next evolution of residential web and outbound customer engagement products and then brought those products together with the capabilities available at the formation of Uplight.
I’ve now moved to the next challenge, focusing on everything beyond the engagement part of the customer journey, and I’m excited to further connect the dots and find opportunities to deliver client outcomes between devices and the customer engagement products at Uplight.
You now lead the Devices product team. Can you tell me a little more about what you and your team do?
Our team uses enabling technologies (i.e., devices or appliances) to meet our utility partners’ goals. This could be as simple as getting a rebated device like a powerstrip into the home of a customer so that a utility can claim the deemed energy efficiency (EE) savings, or facilitating the end-to-end journey of stacking utility incentives to provide and control a device such as a smart thermostat running daily optimization for a Time of Use rate.
Motivating customers to sign up for relevant programs such as demand response is a big priority for many utilities. How does Uplight help enable this?
First, it is important to take a customer-centric point of view. Uplight invests heavily in end-customer research so that we can really understand customers and ultimately approach them as people, providing the needed context and personalized messaging that helps them understand the why and the how of the program. Uplight recently interviewed contractors to investigate how they could be involved in demand response programs, which also ties into thinking about expanding customer touchpoints and channels beyond bring your own device (BYO).
Customers also want to know what’s in it for them, so providing the right incentive, whether it be a free thermostat or a lower bill, is important. Finally, Uplight helps utilities to think outside of traditional BYO channels for customer acquisition such as online utility Marketplaces, digital marketing for DR programs, and demand response pre-enrollment.
With the recent extreme weather conditions in winter and summer, creating more load flexibility is more important than ever. What have been some Uplight successes that have enabled utilities to do this?
These high-demand weather seasons enabled Uplight to shine. For example, during the California heatwave on September 6, 2022, Uplight’s Orchestrated Energy demand response program contributed to the 1.21 gigawatt drop in demand during the most urgent hours–ultimately preventing blackouts.
Uplight enables utilities to quickly scale programs, both through traditional BYO programs and through free pre-enrolled device giveaways. Our stellar account management team understands their clients’ needs and works with our product, engineering, and operations teams to deliver. One thing I love about Uplight is that everyone cares about our mission and comes together to make it happen.
Uplight also has a unique ability to do daily optimization of devices against different outcomes (rate, energy reduction, grid price signals) while maintaining customer comfort (which also maximizes retention!)
What are you looking forward to most in the few months to a year at Uplight?
I’m looking forward to further connecting our products to even more effectively meet the outcomes of our utility partners. Some of these outcomes are enabling load flexibility on more devices to meet the changing needs of the grid and enabling virtual power plants (or VPPs) to become a meaningful resource for utilities. This is especially important as we bring on more DERs that change the load profile and carbon mix such as electric vehicles, solar, and wind.