Uplight is proud to work with Emerson, one of our smart thermostat providers. Uplight features the Sensi thermostats on our utility Marketplaces, and they are an integral part of our demand response programs–enabling customers to save money and energy.
I recently sat down with Vrinda Gaba, DERMS Partnership Manager, and Matt Leckey, Business Development Manager, to talk more about our partnership, creating a seamless customer experience, and their predictions for the future. It was also a chance to congratulate the team on achieving Energy Star Partner of the Year for their work in making smart thermostat adoption easy and affordable.
Watch the video or view the transcript below.
Don: Matt and Vrinda, can you start by telling us a bit about Emerson and your work with utilities and their customers on energy efficiency and demand management?
Matt: I was extremely excited to get to work for Emerson because it looked to me like their Sensi smart thermostats were a great fit for energy efficiency programs. It looked like a win – win for the utilities and their customers based on the energy savings, approachable price point and ease of installation.
Residential customers receive discounted smart thermostats, it saves them money on monthly energy bills, and they become eligible to earn money by participating in utility demand response programs.
And for utilities smart thermostats are a great way to generate energy savings plus gain a grid asset for demand response when they need it.
Emerson is a multinational corporation known globally as a leader in the HVAC industry. It is a great fit that they are the company to build a smart thermostat that meets the needs of modern utility programs, while also providing homes with comfort and control as they have for the last 130 years.
We focus on what we do best which is making thermostats and helping utilities execute their unique energy efficiency programs.
Our utility clients use Sensi for residential customers and business customers like apartment complexes, senior assisted living facilities and college campus’. Sensi is very popular on utility online marketplaces (especially recently during the quarantine) and included in several types of programs like direct install, income qualified, BYOT, demand response and kit programs.
Vrinda: We approach demand response programs through supporting our API integrations and working closely with our partners. We definitely strive to be a flexible partner, in terms of solving problems, proactively communicating about any technical questions or even quickly jumping to our feet to support our partners as and when needed.
One of the reasons why we have a strong partnership with Uplight Orchestrated Energy is because we’re both constantly trying to look for ways to put the customer and their comfort first. It all comes down to, we want to help our customers reduce energy costs and make the process as seamless as possible. We’re focussed on what we do best – thermostats. We are a thermostat manufacturer and temperature control company first. And we want to provide (our best in class) hardware and software solutions to our partners and utilities so they can solve problems, support their customers and deliver cost effective programs.
Don: And congratulations on recently being awarded the 2020 Energy Star Partner of the Year award!
Vrinda: Thank you. It’s very exciting for the Sensi team. Energy Star has done a great job at bringing awareness to energy efficient products. In fact, Sensi is the first smart thermostat brand to receive the ‘Energy Star Partner of the Year’ award. It definitely re-affirms our commitment to offer high quality, affordable smart thermostat that helps drive energy efficiency and protects our planet.
Don: The success of smart thermostat programs – whether it’s for energy efficiency or demand response – is very much reliant on the end-to-end customer experience. This includes ensuring marketing campaign messaging resonates with customers and is served on a customers’ preferred channel; enabling a customer to seamlessly purchase a smart thermostat with bundled rebates and program enrollments; scheduling installers if selected; and then helping the customer get the most of their thermostat and/or helping them participate in a program.
Would you be able to share a bit on how the team at Emerson approaches the customer journey and how their partners can enable a better customer experience?
Matt: I definitely agree that a smooth customer journey is critical for a successful utility program. Sensi was intentionally built for everyone, not only tech enthusiasts, so we focus on making utility rebates easy to find, thermostats easy to buy, easy to install and simple to use.
We try to reduce as much friction as possible during the buyer research phase so at Sensi.emerson.com we provide online tools to find local rebates, supply links to utility marketplaces, calculate expected energy savings and assist with system compatibility questions.
Uplight has really mastered the utility marketplace concept, and we believe these online stores are a great experience for Sensi customers. They can compare thermostat brands, shop for additional energy saving measures and instantly claim utility rebates at checkout.
Sensi has two smart thermostats: the Sensi Touch, which was rated best overall smart thermostat by (USA Today’s Reviewed.com). It has the big touch screen and a sleek modern look, and the Sensi Smart Thermostat – rated best value (USA Today Reviewed.com) – is ideal for utilities, because of the high energy savings, ease of installation and low price point, especially when utility rebates are included. This is the one I use at home, the scheduling is so easy from my phone.
Both have been shown to save about 23% on HVAC energy and we have special utility model numbers to avoid fraudulent returns.
Installation is another critical moment on the customer journey and one Emerson has spent decades perfecting. We get a lot of feedback from contractors and homeowners that Sensi is simple to install which is ideal for utility programs. The DIY installation has opened some opportunities during the quarantine for online marketplaces, kit programs and virtual audits where a zero contact measure is required.
Vrinda: On the marketplace side, consumers are able to take advantage of the stacked EE and DR rebates, which is a big factor in driving enrollments in DR programs. And depending on the rebate amount, consumers may be able to buy Sensi at a heavily discounted price or even get a bill credit for it.
To ensure that we’re supporting our consumers, DRMS partners and utilities, we have launched some utility-specific features. And Phil Jensen, our Technical Product Manager, and his team have been instrumental in the development of these features.
The first one is our demand response pre-enrollment feature, so as soon as the thermostat is registered and comes online, it’s automatically enrolled in the DR program. It makes lives easier for consumers (by saving them clicks and extra steps), DRMS partners and utilities. So it helps drive stronger consumer participation in these programs.
In addition to email marketing, we are also messaging about local demand response programs and ways to save energy through our in-app enrollment feature. And we’ve had success with re-directing consumers to sign up for the DR programs available in their area.
I want to mention that the Uplight team, both on the marketplace side and OE, has been exceptional at communicating with us, whether it’s on our mutual Slack channel or otherwise.
Don: Certainly Uplight has really enjoyed working with Emerson both as part of our marketplace solutions we provide for utilities as well as part of our demand response programs, where Emerson’s APIs allow us the flexibility to run our enhanced Orchestrated Energy algorithms to achieve increased load shifting while maintaining customer comfort, and enable additional benefits such as bill savings with time-of-use rate optimization.
I’m curious as to where you see the residential energy management sector heading over the next 10 years and the role Emerson sees itself playing?
Vrinda: Yes, Sensi’s flexible API makes it a great choice for DR programs – It is like drinking through a firehose. We completely recognize how important it is for our DRMS partners and utilities to have access to all the relevant information for M&V and to cost optimize and deliver effective programs.
Our outlook for the next 10 years is very positive. Smart thermostat adoption rate is around 12-13% as of 2019, and so it’s in the early majority stage based on the tech adoption curve. It’s only just getting ready to reach the mass market. Sensi is perfectly positioned to cater to the majority population because of affordability and ease of use. And demand response programs definitely fit in our long term strategy. So the potential in the next 10 years is huge.
Matt: Over the next 10 years I am interested to watch the continued growth of residential water heater demand response programs, and I expect Emerson will play a role in that.
Another interesting opportunity for load shed is around grocery stores. Tens of Thousands of grocery stores use Emerson refrigeration equipment and controls, so we see a big opportunity to pre-cool refrigerators and freezers when energy is plentiful and use thermal storage during peak pricing to maintain food safe temperatures.
I would say the key point is that Emerson is extremely focused on smart thermostat demand response programs. This is not just a pilot we are testing, but a long term strategy to build a grid asset that utilities can call on when they need it. We are enjoying working with our utility clients and industry leaders like Uplight to build the features that will be needed over the next 10 years and beyond. Emerson is very committed to the thermostat category and we look forward to being the hardware partner utilities are looking for.