Guest Interview - Vivin Nath

Vivin Nath is Product Manager for Platform Intergrations at EcoFactor

How long have you worked at EcoFactor?

I’ve been at EcoFactor since April 2014.

What is your role at EcoFactor?

As the product manager for Platform Integrations at EcoFactor, I am part of a team that defines product vision and priorities for our home energy management solutions. A large part of what we do involves working with partners – utilities, multi-service operators, energy retailers to thermostat and device manufacturers – to develop and deliver services that help their customers automatically reduce energy usage and save money all while keeping them comfortable.

How long have you been involved in demand side activities?  

My journey with demand side activities started as an MIT graduate student in 2011. In my thesis, I explored demand side technologies from multiple lenses and developed a model that captured the key dynamics shaping this highly complex industry. I also had the opportunity to organize the Demand Response Panel at the annual MIT Energy Conference. Since then I have worked for smart grid firms developing demand response management systems and other utility facing demand side solutions. At EcoFactor, I’m involved in using a very novel approach to develop demand response and energy efficiency services by using Internet-connected thermostats and a combination of big data cloud architecture, machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics.

What challenges have you faced as a DR professional both at your organization and within the industry?
Demand response has been around for a while now to the point that it is gradually becoming a commodity. A challenge that I faced in the past was differentiating our demand response offerings from others in the industry. As demand response products and services commoditize, companies must deliver intangible values such as ease of use, customer experience, trust and reputation. At EcoFactor, we have understood this very well and hence design our services, applications with a user centric approach. This approach has resulted in helping us achieve sustained high participation rates among residential DR programs.

What changes have you seen in the industry as it relates to DR and EE over the last few years?
Traditionally demand response and energy efficiency were viewed as different demand-side avenues for customers. Increasingly utilities and companies have come to realize that demand response and energy efficiency are interconnected. Demand response firms now understand the opportunities that exist in the energy efficiency space and have in the recent past delivered a more vertically integrated solution. At EcoFactor, we’ve been able to integrate both in such a manner that the same set of cloud-connected technologies is used to deliver both load reduction during peak hours and permanent energy reduction throughout the year for residential customers.

Integrating demand response and energy efficiency is not the end of the road either. Other services could be bundled together with demand response and energy efficiency to provide more value to the customer.

What do you expect to be the biggest challenge with implementing DR in the next decade?

The residential sector remains one of the last bastions where demand response is still in its nascent stage. Some of the biggest barriers to residential demand response growth include the regulatory environment, program design and setup, incentivizing and engaging the consumer.

From a regulatory perspective, energy prices still do not fully reflect the true marginal social cost of energy consumption. When regulators start internalizing for these costs then demand response becomes more and more lucrative as an option. Utilities need to create the right incentive structure to enable higher demand response participation instead of defining what technology to use or not use.

A clear trend that is slowly emerging is the concept of year-round demand response (including the use of dynamic rates like time-of-use and critical peak pricing). One of the key challenges in moving towards continuous load management programs beyond summer and winter peak reduction programs is having to provide ongoing and better consumer engagement.

From my experience, customer engagement tools such as mobile apps and easy-to-use portals have proven to be effective in communicating with customers about their energy use by integrating demand side opportunities. But more needs to be done.

What advice or guidance would you give to young professionals who are considering a career in demand response and smart grid?

The electric power industry is often portrayed as uncool and boring. That it is far from reality. I have met numerous passionate, energetic and tech-savvy people in the industry and my own organization who are revolutionizing the industry. In a highly interconnected world, there are endless possibilities by applying predictive analytics and machine-learning algorithms to make the smart grid even smarter. So, there is no dearth of opportunities in making your mark.

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