High Tech Meets Energy Tech: Uplight


EEI 2023

Fortnightly Magazine - August 2023

The Edison Electric Institute held EEI 2023 in Austin and brought together industry stakeholders from all over the United States. The consensus is that the electric industry's transformation to low and then to zero-carbon electricity must include technological advancements to get there. That is why technology leaders also attended and brought their solutions with them. Public Utilities Fortnightly presents conversations with innovators, where high tech meets energy tech to allow resilient clean energy to be delivered to utility customers.

PUF's Steve Mitnick: What is your role at Uplight, and what do you do on a typical day?

Hannah Bascom: My title is the Chief Market Innovation Officer, so I like to say I have all the fun stuff. Succinctly, my role is to create the market conditions that the industry needs to decarbonize to commercialize those conditions, and then to tell everybody about it.

We want to make sure that our products are resonant and are just ahead of where the market is because you want to make sure that when the market arrives, you have a product there that delivers for buyers and customers.

In my role, I think a lot about how we at Uplight can strengthen our position as visionaries and thought leaders, and how we can highlight successes that our utility partners and customers are having.

I'm newer to the team, but I oscillate between big picture strategic thinking and tactical thinking. For example, right now I'm working on our strategic positions for the market development group.

We pulled back on that work in the past couple years, so I'm effectively rebuilding from the ground up. What are the strategic issues we want to stand for, get involved, and build coalitions around?

But then, at my next meeting, I'm talking with my team about putting together a calendar of our work for the next twelve months. It goes between all the future vision work and the tactical. How are we going to get our work done successfully, and make sure everybody stays balanced in the meantime?

PUF: Talk about your background, but also why you decided to come to Uplight.

Hannah Bascom: I started my career out of college working for the non-profit sector. I have always been mission and impact aligned. I was working as an undergrad in the public school system and saw nonprofits as the nexus of social change.

I was an idealistic twenty-two-year-old who joined a nonprofit in Boston focused on education. I quickly saw, working with our large corporate donors and partners, that large companies had so much influence in terms of creating the impact and change needed in society.

I went to business school with the purpose of going to work for a large company. I took a class on the future of clean energy, and it felt like the perfect alignment with my mission. It felt like a good place to make a career home, and I got lucky and joined PG&E's rotational program.

The rotational program at PG&E was amazing because I got to try out different things. The learning I had early on was that I cared most about the people part of it, so all my rotations were in the customer organization.

I did everything from running the DSM portfolio governance process to care programs, the low-income rate programs. I worked with customer experience and technology.

Learning how utilities work, how to make change within a utility, and staying in touch with those people as friends and colleagues, has been one of the most influential aspects of my career.

I learned at PG&E that any time we were able to do anything interesting vis-a-vis customer programs, it was because regulators were pointing us in that direction. Then, we had some nimble technology or startup partner that enabled us to deliver those programs.

When I left PG&E, I wanted to work for a nimbler company because I'm impatient and the pace of a utility wasn't always aligned with how I wanted to work. I briefly held a role in utility consulting, and through that role, met one of the original Nest team members who brought me in.

PUF: Google Nest?

Hannah Bascom: Yes. I joined Nest in the spring of 2014, when it was still a standalone company, and was the first person who had a utility background. The team had an understanding that utilities have all this money to spend on energy savings technologies, and Nest had a thermostat that saves a lot of energy. I was hired to figure partnerships out.

We got to build the business and do a lot of market development and partnership work, helping set the foundation for smart thermostats as a real product category and residential demand response in its new current form. All of that was super fun.

Nest spent four years as a standalone company and was then integrated into Google. I spent a couple of years doing integration work to position the business to scale.

During my last two years at Google, I was working on Nest Renew, a platform that helps customers understand utility programs, clean energy opportunities, and eventually connect everything in their homes and enable them to participate in dynamic rates and demand response.

After helping to set that business up to scale, I wanted to go back to a more entrepreneurial culture, so I joined Span, which is, like Nest, an incredible combination of a piece of hardware that does technically important things with software on top.

In the not-so-distant future, that's where all the magic is going to happen. The size of wires from the transformer into your home is one of the major barriers for electrification, and going to work for Span felt like I was able to help solve that problem.

I did a combination of internal facing work, because of the point the company is at. It needs to go from being just a consumer products company, which it's very good at, to more of an enterprise products and services company, which it's on its way to. I also did market development, early partnerships work with utilities, and had a great time.

Along the way, this opportunity with Uplight fell in my lap. At Nest, I worked with the early component companies of Uplight, so I'd known the business and a lot of the people for a long time.

I worked with one of the current members of the leadership team at Uplight when I was at PG&E, so the alumni network was helping to shape my career. The role they created for me perfectly uses my background, from utilities, to Nest, and utility consulting. I'm excited to have the breadth of the scope of work.

There are few companies as well positioned to have a comprehensive impact on the utility business and customers as Uplight is. That's the magic. We are playing in the end-to-end space of customer journeys for utilities.

PUF: What is it that differentiates and makes your team at Uplight able to make such a big difference?

Hannah Bascom: Uplight has a unique knowledge of customers, an ability to surface offers and programs that are relevant depending on where they live, what's in their house, and drive them to action through things like marketplaces. What we pioneered with Uplight when I was at Nest is pre-enrollment.

We found if you had a bunch of thermostats in the wild and you sent those people loads of emails, you could maybe get twenty percent enrollment rates in demand response because people are busy, they're not paying attention to emails.

If you got them at the point of purchase of thermostat on the utility marketplace, to say, "Yes, I'll opt into this demand response program, give me an extra fifty bucks or whatever, click the terms and conditions," more than eighty percent of customers would say, "Sure, I'll enroll in that."

We pioneered that with Uplight and it's eliminating friction from that experience across a variety of touch points. It is important to get customers to adopt these technologies and then enroll in the programs that utilities want and need them to.

PUF: What's your grand vision for where you'll be in, say, five years?

Hannah Bascom: My grand vision is that Uplight will continue to enable utilities to reach their customers, strengthen the relationships they have with those customers, and increase the adoption of electrification in general.

It's a powerful idea to have a variety of devices across lots of different households working together because like everything else in our lives now, portfolios are what we want, and energy devices will be no different.

We're already starting to see this with DERs. Customers can participate, but they won't notice that they're on a critical peak rate or managed charging because Uplight is able to deliver a customized program for them.

From a utility perspective, if you can do that in a million different households, that will defer a lot of investment on the grid side, it will enable more renewables to be integrated, and have this nice portfolio effect.

I also want to enable the connection of federal, as well as utility and state, incentives to catalyze decarbonization. I think the customer experience as electrification continues could wind up being friction-filled. Uplight's unique role will be to seamlessly bring together dollars from states, utilities, and the federal government to enable customers to adopt those offers in a way that makes sense.

PUF: Why do your loyal utility clients love working with you? Why should the utilities that don't work with you much consider working with you more?

Hannah Bascom: The utilities that are working with us see the value in the entire customer journey. Having worked at a utility, I know that often utilities will buy in only for energy efficiency, demand response, residential or commercial efficiency.

But now, there are so many technologies delivering multiple benefits in our lives so we have expectations that our energy devices will similarly be seamless and work together. That is what Uplight allows, while transforming these smart devices at the edge of the grid from strains to assets.

I hope in the future, utilities that are not currently working with us understand that even if they can only start with just a residential EE program or DR program, over time that can grow to be a more comprehensive suite of services that other providers don't have.

Uplight hopes to be good partners for the long haul. We have to deliver excellent results with what we start with, but we do see engaging with utilities as what we want to do over time, across multiple types of programs and classes of customers.


EEI 2023 conversations at fortnightly.com: