Dan Fredman (continued)

After graduation he continued working for UVM admissions as a full-time rep, travelling across the country while taking courses in preparation for graduate school. Travel fed his fascination about the relationship between people and place. Then he took an ecological design course from John Todd (now professor emeritus in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources) which opened his eyes to sustainability and ecological thinking.

He moved to Chicago to earn a master’s degree in urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois. At UIC he also worked as campus sustainability coordinator, managing outreach and education programs relating to energy efficiency, recycling, sustainable food, and active transportation.

“It was weaving my communication and persuasion skills into my growing awareness of climate change and sustainability,” he said.

He and his wife, also a New York state native, were looking for a way to get back to the northeast when Fredman discovered that UVM had National Science Foundation funding to study the smart grid through the lenses of technology, behavior and policy. Community Development and Applied Economics professor
Chris Koliba, who became Fredman’s advisor, suggested he pursue his PhD in the Rubenstein School.

This route would require Fredman to up his game in computer science and engineering, but he had already been enhancing his technical tool kit through coursework in GIS, complex systems, and agent-based modelling.

“My career has really become the intersection of technology and behavior to help the planet,” he says. “It’s not just the landscape that affects behavior, but how we perceive what’s around us, and that’s so much more influenced by computer screens today than it was 20 years ago”

His PhD work at UVM eventually led him to working at the energy and social justice non-profit, VEIC, as a national expert on how behavioral science can be used in the energy utility industry. He’s now principal product manager at Opower, a startup acquired by Oracle in 2016. Opower’s flagship product is the Home Energy Report (HER), designed to help millions of households save money and reduce their carbon footprint.

“The HER uses a lot of behavioral science tactics to motivate personal energy efficiency. It triggers behavior change by comparing your usage to similar homes, and provides customized tips for you to save on your bills and, at scale, this leads to lower energy demand on the grid.”

Fredman works closely with user experience researchers, designers, and software engineers who build the HER; he leads the R&D, including the overall vision and strategy for the latest evolution of HER, which leverages artificial intelligence to customize experiences for each individual recipient. To date, Opower has worked with over 100 utility companies worldwide, and counting.

“I feel like my subject matter expertise and skill set are being fully deployed,” Fredman says. “I heard some technical-minded folks referring to themselves as ‘recovering engineers.’ I’m kind of the opposite of that—not that I’ve rejected the humanities, but I’ve learned to infuse the social sciences in with the technical piece. We have to use the best of both these worlds.”