Stem Employee Insights Series: Dana Christensen, Senior Product Manager

By Stem | January 18, 2021

Q: Tell us about yourself and your background.

I joined Stem right out of college. I had always been interested in clean technology and renewable energy, so the opportunity to work on it professionally was really exciting. I graduated from Northwestern University with an engineering degree, and originally I joined Stem as a Sales Analyst. It was a great role for me because it took advantage of my technical skills and also provided a good view into many different aspects of Stem’s business, including our customers and the energy storage industry overall.

When FERC Order 841 was released, and then the Massachusetts SMART program soon after, I became fascinated by the opportunities that were starting to open up for storage in wholesale energy markets, including a lot of use cases and value streams for front of meter (FTM) projects that no one had really addressed before. And since I wanted to work with Stem’s engineering team but also wanted to stay customer focused, I switched over to join the product team.

It’s been really exciting to help lead the charge, both internally at Stem and with colleagues across the industry, to advance energy storage – which is still a very nascent technology – and help drive the kinds of policies and programs that make storage projects more feasible.

Q: How would you describe your role on Stem’s product team?

Within the product team, I’m mainly responsible for creating products for solar developers and independent power plants, and that includes everything from developing a product, to helping to market and sell it, all the way through to helping deploy and operate it. Now that Stem is participating successfully in ISO New England, the challenge is to expand into other wholesale markets and create products for clients that are showing new interest in storage, like municipal utilities and electric cooperatives.

My day-to-day is pretty wide ranging. It includes anything from customer calls, supporting Stem’s sales team, working with the operations team and other Stem engineers, figuring out product requirements – what it needs to do, how it should look, how to design it – and working within the product team to track timelines and dependencies and develop new code so things run smoothly. I also track Stem’s AthenaTM smart energy storage software and overall performance analytics.

Q: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve worked on recently?

Well, I’m a big energy nerd, so all of it is interesting to me! Seeing large-scale solar plus storage projects start to replace fossil generating plants is personally very exciting, and it’s also a major win in terms of dealing with the climate crisis.

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Athena isn’t just software, it’s a full suite of services. Our services are really where Stem goes above and beyond, and what enables us to help customers achieve lots of different goals and KPIs – whether those are revenue-based, savings-based, or climate-based.

From a technology perspective, I’m really excited about how Stem is developing its advanced AI capabilities. A lot of the new features we’re implementing for our forecasts are really cutting-edge within the AI space. We’re also starting to get more human involvement with our algorithms – what’s called “human in the loop” – which helps our AI perform even better.

It’s also been really exciting to see how the scope of services Stem provides through Athena has expanded, even in just the last year or so. Software can be used for energy management way beyond a battery, and it’s exciting to see our customers wanting those use cases – optimizing an entire plant’s operating schedule, say, or smart charging for new electric vehicle (EV) loads.

Q: What recent energy industry trends have made a big impression on you?

The first one that comes to mind is the big increase in EV demand, and California’s recent EV mandate. This could dramatically change what Stem’s customers are looking for, both in terms of how commercial and industrial (C&I) customers handle their own building load management, but also how the grid will handle all those new EVs and predicting what that load will look like. That’s all very positive for software and batteries.

Another is seeing the different approaches U.S. states are taking to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In California, energy storage charge and discharge are being tracked to make sure storage reduces GHG emissions, and California and other states are encouraging batteries as a replacement for fossil generating capacity. As a product manager for Athena, that’s especially interesting to me because reducing emissions gives Athena another constraint to consider and co-optimizing against constraints is really where Athena thrives.

Q: What about Stem would you want our partners and customers to know?

I always emphasize that Athena isn’t just software, it’s a full suite of services. Our services are really where Stem goes above and beyond, and what enables us to help customers achieve lots of different goals and KPIs – whether those are revenue-based, savings-based, or climate-based.

Q: What advice would you give to budding clean tech product managers?

Some of the best advice I’ve gotten is to be really curious and read books on lots of different topics. There’s a lot you can learn from other people; you could learn it yourself, but you’ll learn it faster from someone else. I find that’s good advice generally, not just with career stuff.

I read a lot of professional development books in my spare time, and management books and the like, and that’s been super helpful. Three favorites are “Measure What Matters,” by John Doerr, the investor and venture capitalist; “Product Leadership,” by Banfield, Eriksson, and Walkingshaw; and “Extreme Ownership,” by Jocko Willink, a former Navy SEAL.

I actually read “Product Leadership” in the car on the way to Yosemite, and I had this a-ha moment where I said to myself, this is definitely the right career path for me. And I was right!