It is funny how the English language is picking up so many new meanings for words we grew up with in common use.  When I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal indicating stooping was now the rage, I thought they were referring to the new lows the media were racing towards in their perpetual political commentaries.  I had no idea that this word described the big city rush to leave for the wide-open spaces of rural society where people just put things they didn’t want to take on the front stoop of their apartments. If any of you are twitter fans or use Instagram you probably have seen this.

Susan and I have tried this here in Georgia by placing things we don’t need any longer on the curb.  But generally, no one will come and pick them up. That is until you place a price tag on them.  After a few days, we will write a large sign indicating you can buy the item for $50 … and it will be gone in minutes!

I grabbed the picture here from Instagram.  These are very nice pieces of furniture.  Sure, the blond wood is no longer in style, but someone in need could certainly value this.

Never the less, I am struck by the perceptions of value we are seeing today as we cope with COVID.  The trend to live in cluster communities … called mixed-use in architectural design … is now dead. Everyone wants to move out.  The inventory of homes for sale is at historic lows.

Maybe stooping is just part of downsizing.  Perhaps it is rightsizing.  Maybe it is more about deciding what is important and truly needed in your life.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Electricity Pricing

We had massive power outages recently here in Georgia, largely due to trees falling on power lines due to the tropical storm that came through. That shouldn’t have been a surprise to most of us because we have a lot of trees and the winds did seem pretty gusty.  But, what was different this time was the restoration time… it was much longer than normal. Some hypothesized it was due to local crews having been dispatched to the coast where damage was extreme.  Some came up with this or that other answers.

We in the power industry know the intent is to get the power back on as soon as possible for obvious business and customer satisfaction reasons.

So, I was a bit amused by a question we saw on one of our utility online calculators suggesting:  “How do you calculate a bill for the days the power is out due to these storms? Do we get a discount or credit?”

You can imagine my immediate impulse to write this person and tell them they did get a discount for the power they did not use, but the question of a credit for the incident struck me as timely.

After all, as we in this industry do move towards the future we will have to face questions like this more fully than we do now.  Might we charge a premium for perfect power reliability and build DC systems like the one TECO has proposed in Florida?  I think that is entirely possible and I for one would pay a premium for it.  I don’t want to have to go out and buy a generator … but I may after this last outage.

Perhaps we should rethink our position on pricing away from what things cost us to do and focus on what matters to customers.  What is important to them?  Do they really want to be prosumers or is that a result of us not thinking this through.

Maslow studied human behavior and created a way of thinking about what motivates us.  Food, shelter, and safety were so essential to those he studied he put that at the bottom of his famous triangle.  I have blogged before about two other factors that have now become even more important to the average American: battery and Wi-Fi.  No that is not just funny … it is true!

In like manner, I am starting to think our preoccupation with the engineering and financial elements of electricity may be the buggy whip of modern pricing strategies.  Sure, we can offer cost-aligned pricing for prosumers, giving them the benefit of potentially lower prices as they partner with us on the supply and demand challenges.  But, for most customers, I am beginning to think this is a fool’s errand for all the reasons we have seen.

We talk about the voice of the customer and customer journeys.  Maybe we really need to take a deeper dive into what matters to most of them.  I think we are going to be surprised.

Thank God for Unanswered Prayers

I have always enjoyed Garth Brooks.  I do have friends in low places.  And, I can attest to these words from his award winning song by the name of this blog:

Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

Yep, I could end the blog right there, but there is more to the story.

The flip side of this is you had better be careful to consider what would happen if your prayers were answered.

Here is the situation in the State of Vermont.  Read it for yourself:

It looks like they are going to get their prayers answered and the State can be sued if it fails to meet environmental goals.  Does that really make you happy?  Who is going to pay if it is sued?  Is there some kind of a money tree that can be grown to come up with the money?

I just don’t get it.


Utility Scale Solar kills 140,000 Birds

That is the conservative estimate and the reason eludes people.  So, enter the consultants to tap into fear, uncertainty, and doubt, their favorite formula which many of us call FUD.  Years ago Susan and I were traveling with a group of energy consultants doing regional daylong seminars on energy efficiency and one of them told me about WASTE … the Welfare Act for Scientists, Technologists, and Engineers.  This is what he called the endless studies conducted by the DOE after the second energy embargo.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe we need to study why birds are being killed by these large solar arrays.  As you read this article you will hear several very credible theories.

However, my Kepner and Tregoe training kicks in here and wants to know if we have any idea how birds see and comprehend what they think they see.  Our house is constantly being attacked by male cardinals who see their reflection in our windows and try to scare off the intruder … many of these dumb birds kill themselves in their efforts.  Perhaps that is eventually improving the gene pool for future generations, but I hate to see them kill themselves this way.

Our office is right next to a large pond which freezes over most winters.  It is hilarious to watch the geese attempt to land on it when it does because the black ice looks so much like open water.  Even the Keystone Cops would have thought this was funny.  You would think they would watch the first one or two make the landing attempt before all following along, but they don’t.  Every one of them skids and skates, rolling across the ice like bowling pins scattering.

Recent research has suggested that wind turbine blades should be black rather than white so birds can see them better.  Once again, are we sure we know what they are seeing?  I don’t think so … with their viewing angle they don’t see the blades coming from their side at speeds of 120-180 mph as they get close to them. The older, smaller wind turbines did not have these speeds and can be painted black to make them more visible.

Once again, where is the critical thinking?  Oh, I forgot … the key to consulting is to find FUD and capitalize on it.  That is pretty easy to do these days.  FUD is everywhere.

Is Hydrogen Green or Blue?

Funny.  I always thought hydrogen was colorless … who knew?  Yeah, I know, it’s a play on words.  Of course, hydrogen is colorless.  Methane is colorless too but it is the bad boy of environmental impacts with 20+ times the climate impact of another colorless gas, carbon dioxide.

The news media now around the world is abuzz over green hydrogen, made from excess solar and wind energy … that is why it is termed “green.”  Read this and other articles and see for yourself why everyone is so excited.

Sorry to be the Debbie Downer on this lovefest, but let me point out that the place where the hydrogen is made is likely not the place where it might be used … ergo you need to store and transport the hydrogen.  Oh.

And, also let me remind everyone that hydrogen is the smallest molecule possible, making it the least dense. So, to store it, you have to use an enormous amount of electricity to compress it after using an enormous amount of energy to separate it from the oxygen in the water it came from.  Oh … yeah … this is also in places where water is not just sitting on the surface of the ground asking to be used for electrolysis.

On the other hand, this is just one more example of the excitement about a future situation that overwhelms common sense.  For those of you who do know and care, watch how natural gas is being banned from new construction of homes and businesses because it has been deemed far from green.  What??  Yep!  They are using the same reasoning about some future state of renewables as being greener than natural gas.

Future states are great reading … just not yet a reality.

I spent 6 years working for the leading new technology company that spearheaded the development of fuel cells.  That was 45 years ago, and the catchphrase back then was they were “five years off” from commercialization.  They are still not commercially viable.  And, by the way, there is still no commercially viable hydrogen for them to use.  They have to start with natural gas and strip away the carbon.  Oh … and where did that carbon go?

Yeah.  Nice idea.  Great nighttime reading for energy zealots.