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.


Now I have to admit that the first time I saw this in the trade press I thought something completely different than what it means.  Being a mathematician, I thought this had to do with conformance to a true circle … which would make an ellipse close in some cases, but define how close it was for sure.

Nope, we now have a new word in today’s energy lexicon to define what you and I probably referred to yesterday as sustainability.  Then, when you ask the open-ended question to understand what might be different, you find eloquence in the response.  For example, read this to see just how wrong we both would have been.

After reading this I might have just surmised that we just have one more eloquently unimportant differentiator that confuses the core issue of sustainability.  Perhaps, until I saw a request for papers and presentations from one of our more traditional energy publishers Greenbiz Media.  Please follow this link and look at the topics they are seeking:

And, if you don’t click the link, here are some key topics they want presented:

  • Circular Economy: Design and business strategy that create zero-waste products, processes, and value chains that are restorative and regenerative for both people and the planet.
  • Finance & ESG: How capital markets and mainstream investors are prioritizing sustainability, along with the growing array of sustainability-linked financial products.
  • Net Zero: Technologies, strategies, and business models to achieve ambitious reduction targets for energy, water, carbon, and waste.
  • Resilient Supply Chains: Responsibly and transparently managing sourcing, manufacturing, and labor practices.
  • Social Justice: How companies are responding to growing calls to address racial, criminal, climate, and economic justice, both within companies and society at large.

I was glad they want to also talk about how you finance all this because paying for it is not going to be that easy.  Of course, as an engineer, I applaud the holistic point of view embodied in all this, but I guess I am just reacting to what I heard from Greta about global warming and now others protesting and creating social unrest in the streets.

Are we in the midst of an environmental and energy revolution?  Some are applauding those words.

Huh … I thought we were doing pretty well without all this hysteria.  Maybe something good will come from it.  I certainly hope so.


COVID Math 2.0

OK, we are more than six months into this here in the US, and you would think people would do a better job of basic math.  The CDC just announced that 6% of the COVID deaths were from COVID alone, meaning that 94% of those who died had other complications.  Of course, their death gets counted as a COVID death even though they might have died a few months later from these “comorbidities.”  I do get the concerns here on all sides.  We started this journey not taking things as seriously as we should … thanks to China and the WHO who told us that everything was OK and this thing was not contagious.  Thanks a lot!

But, now we seem to be getting this under control here in the US, winding our way through the complex process of opening this and shuttering that to manage the time before we do have a vaccine.  We do need to keep the public from thinking we have an “all clear” and we can go back to our normal lives … whatever that means anymore.

But, I can’t help but react to a USA Today article that quotes CNBC predicting we will have over 400,000 deaths here in the US by year-end.  Read it for yourself.

Let’s do a little math together.  We have had about 10 million Americans infected so far with this disease (and yes, those are the ones who have been tested so who knows how many asymptomatic ones we have as well) and we have lost about 190,000 lives as well.  So, including the stupidity of the early days where we didn’t know what we were dealing with and were told we were nuts for thinking this was dangerous, we lost about 2% of the reported cases.  Let’s hold onto that 2% and say that it is probably a worst-case average.

The past few weeks have seen the daily cases continually decline from 70,000 mid-July to 60,000 by August 1st and then to under 40,000 by the end of August.  At this rate, we will be down to 20,000 new cases per day by the end of October, and then down to minimal levels by the end of November.  Assuming a triangle for this data we would estimate another 2.7 million infected … not good, but not a disaster either, and about another 54,000 deaths.  The last time I checked, 54 + 190 is not even close to 410,000.

By the way, even my math assumes we simply stay the course we are on … doing nothing worse, and wouldn’t it be nicer if the media gave us all praise for doing what we are doing to stem this pandemic?  Wouldn’t it be nice if the news media offered us the promise of a better future and getting back together again as we have done in the past?

Nope, that doesn’t sell papers or online views.


Protests or Mutiny?

It has become apparent to me that there is more going on than what we see on the surface with all these protests.  Yes, some police have exercised bad judgment and some may harbor racist bias … but I personally believe that most are good people and are dedicated to protecting all citizens from harm.

There is something else going on here.  This has taken on a tone that feels more uncivilized than anything I have seen here.  I remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and other non-violent leaders so well.  Why is today’s media so tolerant of people showing such disrespect for law and order?  Why is it that looters are somehow now justified in their behaviors?

Nope, there has to be more going on and one movie keeps playing in my head over and over again: The Caine Mutiny.  You can google it and see the plot and fabulous actors in it.  If you remember, the ship’s captain was not operating with full faculty.  However, the act of mutiny in the Navy of that day and even now carries such stiff penalties that almost no excuse is good enough.  It doesn’t matter if the commander shows bad judgment… mutiny here and around the world is punished with the death sentence.

Hmmm.  Why might that be?  Shouldn’t people on board a ship have the right to object to what they are ordered to do?  This is too big a subject to handle in a blog, but think about it this way: there are times and places for debate.  There are processes for expressing counter points of view and filing grievances.  But, when a ship is underway and in a battle or serious situation, there are rare exceptions to following orders.

When I was 16 years old our family had taken our 16-foot runabout for a beautiful 20-mile cruise on Gardner’s Bay to Montauk Point.  It was a picture-perfect day and the four of us and our dog enjoyed the perfect weather going there.  I had been trained by the Coast Guard in small boat handling, we all had life preservers, and everything seemed perfect.  As we were enjoying lunch I looked up and saw storm clouds coming from the direction we would have to go to get home.  They were so ominous we all were in perfect agreement to leave and head back … a big mistake.

By the time we had pulled out of Montauk harbor, the waves were between 10 and 16 feet high.  My father was at the helm and he had no idea what to do in such big seas.  I had never experienced them, but I did know … I was trained to know exactly what to do, how to do it, and how to adjust to be sure we didn’t pitchpole into the oncoming seas.  My father however was not and decided to try to head to shore which would have placed us sideways to these big waves and resulted in us capsizing for sure.  I warned him but he wouldn’t listen.  Sensing no time to waste I insisted that I take the helm and he relented but was furious.  I brought the boat back safely and I believe he never forgave me … he was a military vet and I had committed mutiny.

I did the right thing.  There was no time for discussion.  But, to this day I wish things were different.  Mutiny is wrong.  Leaders should be allowed to lead.  Most of us are not privileged to know what they know as they make tough choices.

I don’t think we are witnessing protests any longer.



Failing Fast

For those of you who might find this interesting, my Master’s in Management from RPI was in new product introduction.  As you might expect, the professors would constantly remind me of how few ideas make it through the product development cycle.  Recent statistics from companies that try to advise others on this process all have elaborate procedures, ostensibly to improve the odds of getting something to the market.

It is going to sound immodest but it is a fact that Apogee has lead the energy utility industry in software product innovation … so much so that the major conference organizers stopped issuing the innovation of the year award because we always won it.  Therefore, I think it might be interesting for you to learn why we are so good at this process and continue to lead the world in energy analytics while up against companies 100s of times our size?

The answer lies in our ability to do two things very quickly: partner with our clients on new product ideas and then kill them quickly when they fail to work as planned.  Perhaps it is our study of the failures that is most helpful here.  Failure actually is good, if you can learn something from it that helps you avoid making the same mistake in the future.

A sober analysis of failure is very hard to do.  It is painful and our human nature quickly intercedes to justify it.  You all know the stories of the three letters given to a new executive by the one they are replacing.  He says to open them in the order noted as he finds himself in trouble.  The first letter suggests he blame his predecessors.  The second indicates he should blame his subordinates.  And the third indicates he should write three letters.

Part of the problem is how we define failure.  I really like part of that as suggested by Thomas Edison:  “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found thousands of ways that don’t work.”  That gets past some of the negative.  However, it misses the deeper implications of failure which should teach us about things that can work.  Think about it, 3M researchers found a glue that wouldn’t stick … and rather than declare that a failure defined a product set that could usefully use one called post-it notes.  You can google the story for details.

We are living with some individuals who defy all odds of failure because they fail fast and learn from mistakes:  Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and my favorite of course is Steve Jobs.  None of these folks are “nice corporate style” individuals.  They all break molds and in the case of Elon come frightening close to going to jail with his open microphone sloppiness.  Stop evaluating people on their corporate look and feel.  Think about the ones who fail fast and can always see how something that didn’t work can be the basis for something else that will work.

And, just because I feel Steve Jobs summed it up so well, here is his famous advice about all those crazy people we run into in life:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

If you are trying to innovate, perhaps you are expecting this from the wrong people in your organization.