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Mastering today’s math to prepare San Antonio for its energy future
By Monika Maeckle on September 16, 2015
Dr. Matthew Croucher, director of Demand Side Analytics, is a great example of San Antonio brain gain.
The Ph,D. in economics relocated here in January after 13 years in Arizona where he served as Chief Economist and Manager of Energy and Revenue Forecasting for Arizona Public Service. Prior, Croucher taught economics at Arizona State University.
He and his wife, Anne, relocated to San Antonio in January with their two rescued dogs – Gizmo, an eight-old English bulldog, and Missy, an 11-year-old beagle.
Croucher’s mandate is to tackle the newly created position of Demand Side Analytics Director at CPS Energy. In this capacity, he leads a team to use the immense amount of data collected by our smart meters and other technologies to anticipate future energy needs and trends.
We sat down with Croucher to find out how his esoteric field of data analytics will help CPS Energy keep customers happy by anticipating their needs.
What does it mean to be a Demand Side Analytics Director?
All my formal training is in economics, which really means that I have a fascination with human behavior.
This position gives me access to vast quantities of data that enables my group to examine how customers react to various factors. We try to leverage the data to answer questions like: How much energy will residential customers use during the hot summer versus the mild winter?; What products and services do our customers want?
We then use all this data to forecast the future… which really means what will “future San Antonio” look like? A sprawling single-family home oasis and/or a high-density, high-rise apartment mecca? More wealthy customers? IPad 47s in the home? In a nutshell, will the future look more like Star Wars or Star Trek? Will it be the best of times? Or the worst of times?
When you attended school for your doctorate in economics, did you ever anticipate the position you now hold?
Not really. I thought I would stay within the university system for my entire career. I loved teaching economics. I always found it fun and interesting to discuss the topics that economists investigate. Why is it irrational to vote? Why should countries engage in trade? Why do folks buy life insurance but then gamble in Vegas?
But then I got involved in energy and infrastructure-related topics and found that most of the questions that need answering in these fields begin and end with needing a good background in economics. I also felt that much of the analysis being undertaken was not being completed with as much rigor as it should. I felt I could improve on the current level of analytics within the industry.
What has been the biggest change for you in moving to San Antonio? The most pleasant surprise?
I can’t think of a wrenching change this time around. I moved to the States as a 21-year-old with two suitcases to complete my Ph.D. at Arizona State University, which was a big culture shock. Sunshine instead of rain, ice in drinks? Free re-fills? I am pleasantly surprised how green and hilly San Antonio is. I was half expecting the wide open flat spaces that nearly every terrible country singer sings about.
How did you come to your profession?
I came into economics through a high school teacher who was passionate about economics and wanted to debate and discuss everything and then show how a little mathematical rigor helped to formalize the problem.
What is the most challenging part of your job? What is the most fun/interesting?
Challenging part of the job and most fun and interesting are one and the same to me. Dealing with the change in the industry. How to deal with all the changing behavior of our customer base, how to incorporate all the new data we are collecting into meaningful results that can lead to better decision-making.