What is in a name?

Source: jessstryker.com / Money Talks News

Susan and I wanted to take our son Stephen to see Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  It was a bit off the beaten path and on the way to it we passed a cemetery in the town of Little Hope.  The sign just made me laugh since it was obviously truthful but the name itself contradicted what was expected from the loved ones buried there and the ones left behind.

That reminded me of a simple fact.  It does matter what you call something.  Life insurance is something almost all of us have.  We are comfortable with the concepts.  But, the name is an outright lie: it is NOT life insurance … it is insurance about your death!  And, that is what it was originally called … but they found that no one wanted to buy it because it had such a negative connotation.

I think we are struggling with another series of labels and concepts today: smart grid, smart homes, wired homes, etc.  Perhaps we are once again on the wrong side of the customer engagement formula.  Maybe we should seek names that indicate what the customer gets with this technology: affordable control, comfort, and convenience.

We are getting closer with service offerings like “ComfortGuard” available through your local HVAC dealers.  They got the name right, but then blew it when it comes to the product offering.  The expensive system offers virtually nothing that makes sense to consumers.  You would expect it to focus on comfort … but it does not.

We at Apogee have been testing many of the supposedly smart home power monitors, like Sense.  The name is better than most, but once again, virtually nothing “under the hood” that would cause the homeowner to care about what it said over time.

These ideas are simply headed to the kitchen drawer … today’s cemetery for home technology … with little hope.

The formula for success is clear and we are hopefully going to show the world how it is done next Spring.  Stay tuned!


Where are the Source Energy Standards when you need them?

Courtesy Hygen

I am amazed at the religious zeal for certain energy concepts that seems all too eager to look past the incentives necessary to make things acceptably economic to you and me.

When I started my career in energy more than 40 years ago, fuel cells were declared to be “about 5 years off.”  Now, it seems they are just a bit closer.  But, the key to fuel cells has always been the same: a source of hydrogen.  If you start with natural gas, you have the obvious problem of where did the carbon go.

Now, we have a crowdsourcing site making claims that are just as absurd … but harder for the average person to understand.  As you play the video on this site, pay special attention to where the hydrogen is going to come from.  Some of you probably already get this from the title of the blog.  Their answer is water.  They are going to split water into hydrogen and oxygen … perhaps from hydroelectric production so they can maintain the claim of zero emissions.

But, that hydro is already in the market producing valuable goods and services directly.  Now, you are converting it back into primary fuels … with an associated loss.  And, how can the hydrogen compete with gasoline?  And, how can a fuel cell compete with a simple electric motor or an internal combustion engine.  Remember, if you have a source of hydrogen, you can run the engine in your gasoline car with that by changing the carburetor setup.

Oh, Joel, stop being so negative …

I am going to follow this to see if people take the bait.  Sad commentary on the ethics of those making this offer.  Anyone with reasonable knowledge knows this is a bad idea economically.


We’re Keeping the Lights On

Courtesy NASA

I fondly remember Tom Bodett as spokesman for Motel 6 commercials saying:  “and we’ll leave the light on for you” implying that they wanted to warmly welcome you when you stay with them.

Well, evidently, the concept has caught on worldwide, brought out, ironically, in part by the efficiency of lighting itself according to this article in USA TodayFarewell to night? Light pollution reducing darkness worldwide.

So, now we are seeing a growing series of problems and issues due to efficiency itself!  Scientists are worried that the brightness at night is going to create a whole family of health problems.

Interesting on many levels, and possibly a canary in the mine for other unexpected consequences of our focus on efficiency.  Some of you who are observant will remember my prior blog on the efficiency of transportation creating a similar problem.


Thanksgiving Again

It is time to say thanks again to all our loyal friends, clients, colleagues, and business partners.  Life is so much more meaningful with these relationships.  And, we want at this time to step back, reflect, and say thanks.

Thanks to each one of you for giving us the opportunities this year as we have journeyed together through the energy industries’ twists and turns.  I am constantly reminded that sitting still on this journey is the riskiest position to take.  You are very likely to get run over and pushed aside.

So much has changed over the past thirty-three years of working with you on energy issues.  It seems hard to believe that we have quelled electricity growth.  That seemed an inconceivable idea three decades ago … but it has been accomplished through increases in efficiency and control.

Some things are still elusive, but I do believe we are homing in on them.  Engaging the average American in an energy dialogue now seems within reach.  Our new generations of Americans are keenly interested in energy sustainability and are so tech savvy that ideas we deemed unrealistic a decade ago are becoming common.

So, as you eat your Thanksgiving turkey, remember the branding message of Boar’s Head, but think of it in reverse.  They boast about real turkey … not making turkey through technology.  The idea was to not cut corners where others are more technology than turkey.

As we face the future, think technology first.

Freedom is Costly

Courtesy USA Today

USA Today had an article on China that most Americans will find chilling. View the story here.

It is an Orwellian thought that, on many levels, seems to make sense.  That is, until you look at the dark side of how it could be used by government to control and punish those with whom it disagrees.  We Americans cherish these freedoms and call the approach an invasion of privacy.  And well we should.

Anyone in the power industry will see clear parallels as we embrace the smart grid and business analytics.  We have already seen some refuse to have these meters on their homes on that basis.  My wife Susan has spoken repeatedly on the fine line retailers and grocers face as they use your purchase behaviors and online browsing to position offers to you.  She uses the phrase “creepy or caring” to define that balance.

Now China drew a line in the sand that gets even more profound: Trust.  How much does the government trust you?  Well, given the bad behaviors on the part of some citizens, that seems to make some sense on the surface here in the US as well.  But, we cherish our invasion of privacy.

So, now that China has done this, what happens?  That question will be answered shortly as we watch them react, even more overtly and violently than the events in Tiananmen Square.  We all remember the picture of the citizen standing in the path of the tank.  This will also be a telling test of the new President of China.  It may make the protests here look like child’s play.