Stem Employee Insights Series: Mary Shaffer Gill, Director, Customer and Partner OperationsBy Stem | March 1, 2021
Q: Tell us about yourself and your background.
I joined Stem in summer 2020 after spending two years at AMS, where I helped manage its large portfolio of battery energy storage projects across Southern California. That job involved working closely with both the businesses who hosted storage systems as well as the asset owners who owned them. When investors chose Stem to take over management of the portfolio, I was part of the team that came over to Stem to ensure a smooth transition.
Before AMS, I spent a decade in the solar industry. My first job out of college was helping the City of Knoxville reduce barriers to solar energy, under a “Solar America Cities” grant it had received from the U.S. Department of Energy. From there I co-founded my own installation company that did turnkey solar installations and energy efficiency projects for commercial and residential customers. After that company got acquired, I worked for a solar distributor that provided equipment to contractors throughout the U.S. Some of those contacts Stem works with now – small world!
Growing up, I was always environmentally focused, which I got from my parents. In college I was originally interested in global change but switched to urban policy and planning when I realized the impact you can make in your own community through deliberate design and policy work.
Q: What is your role at Stem?
Since joining Stem my role has expanded, so now I serve all of our customers and partners and not just the ones that came in with me. I manage a team of five, and basically our job is to ensure that all Stem customers and partners have an advocate, and that we’re always working towards meeting or exceeding the expectations we’ve set.
For enterprises and commercial and industrial customers, that means getting the most value out of their energy storage systems and understanding how they operate. For the solar developers, EPCs, and distributors in Stem’s Partner Network, it means setting them up for success with training and resources to support their projects and help them expand their businesses.
We’re the “solutions provider” team, so we’re always thinking about how to make the pieces of the puzzle work together, and we’ll call on experts from other teams if needed. Whatever issue may crop up – whether it has to do with metering and data quality, or hardware, software, contracts, you name it – there’s a team and an expert available to troubleshoot and ensure a positive customer experience.
Q: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve worked on lately?
Being on the inside of Stem’s emergency response to support California through the blackouts last year was really exciting. What impressed me most was how everyone worked together in real time – Stem, the utility, our customers and other stakeholders – to come up with a plan that truly helped California avoid rolling blackouts in the area near two of our largest customers.
For me, it showed what could be accomplished if we all worked better together and if storage were allowed to provide more value under non-emergency conditions. During the emergency, relaxing some of our operating constraints on the battery simultaneously delivered more bill savings to customers and more resilience to the grid.
Q: What kinds of challenges do customers and partners typically face, and do those change over the life of a project?
The main challenge is a lack of education about what Stem does. Battery energy storage is still a new technology to many customers. So my team plays an “expert consultant” role to make sure business customers understand energy storage and how it provides value to them, and to help solar developers explain to their customers how storage adds value and enable them to operate more autonomously.
Because energy storage is new, there can be unknowns in customers’ minds, and that’s why there are contractual levers and guarantees in place to protect them. Stem has been at this longer than anyone else, our algorithms are always learning and improving, and our performance guarantees are structured annually to make sure we translate the value of that learning to our customers.
Q: What recent energy industry trends have made a big impression on you?
The main one is the issue of grid resilience, not just because of my experience in California or seeing the East Coast power outages last summer, but also because of the massive outage that just hit Texas. There’s a lot more that distributed energy resources (DERs) like solar and storage could do to build a more resilient grid, but we have a ways to go in terms of properly valuing those resources and compensating them for that value. Ultimately this gets at the longer-term issue of electricity industry transformation, and there’s resistance to that idea from certain quarters, but I can’t help but think about what could be accomplished if we just thought more creatively about leveraging energy storage and other DERs.
Q: Any advice for younger professionals interested in this space?
The main thing is that there is so much work to be done here, and so much opportunity, that we need all types of people from all types of backgrounds. Even if you’re not a technical person or an engineer, if you’re passionate about clean energy, there is definitely a place where you can find your fit. On my team, for example, the human element and the ability to understand and convey information to customers is absolutely key to a project’s success. And when I started my company, which was only four years out of college, I knew a fair bit about solar but I also knew I was a strong writer, and I was able to translate that into millions of dollars of successful grant funding for us and our clients.
It’s also really important to volunteer, get experience, make connections, and let people know you’re available and interested.
Q: What about Stem would you want our customers and partners to know?
That we are committed to success, delivering on expectations, and continuously improving. My team is an open resource for customers, and we want close relationships with them so they know we’re not robots on the other end of an email.
Stem recently hired a major consulting firm to survey our customers, and the main thing we heard back was that customers really love the service we give them. I want to honor that and improve upon it, because I think it’s as important as our products and performance in enabling us to deliver value to our customers.