Atmospheric Extraction Using the Wagner Method

177422218Seeing opportunities clearly is always a challenge when convention, tradition, and consensus discourage innovation. We hear that utilities are seeking new ideas, yet they vet them against people who do not like change, only want silver bullets, and who are not really all that excited about the future.

I remember one very large utility facing deregulation asking me for projects that were bigger than $10 million, would yield better than 20% return on equity, and had no completion risk. Yeah … right!

Of course, there is always the rightful need for someone to prepare a business case for any new idea, yet the fact that it is a new idea will almost always require the person preparing that business case to make some pretty wild and crazy assumptions. If these pass the sniff test for the senior executives, they might buy into it and give it a try.

I understand you want the proof to the business case. I get that. Yet how can you prove a business case for a business that has not yet built? My personal favorite innovator is Steve Jobs who also said, “For something this complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

One of our friends who ran a state energy office has a phrase for this that I love. She calls the process atmospheric extraction – making something appear reasonable out of thin air. Then, she refers the underlying mathematical rigors as methods using the Wagner approach. When she presented plans and their justification, she would have a footnote that said something like, estimates of this or that were provided by John Smith via telecom on such and so a date. He indicated his source was the Wagner research method.

So, you ask, what is this WAGNER approach? It stands for Wild Ass Guess … Not Easily Refuted. I love that.

What more can I say this week. I am ready to move forward on just that.

Life is Not Fair.

fair_000I am sure you have said it. We all have heard it. Let’s just face it, it is true. I have been told all my life that there are only two types of fair: State Fair and County Fair. Everything else is unfair. This week has been a lesson in fairness to me. Everywhere I turned, I saw things that were just unfair. It was tempting to shrink from doing what I know needs to be done and simply cry foul, but I knew that would only frustrate me further. Plus I also know people who have committed mistakes do not change behaviors when you point them out.

I guess my patience is running thin these days. Patience may be a virtue, but as I get older, I find I simply have less of this vital human dynamic. Scripture admonishes us to be patient and to love one another. I am finding that very hard to do that when others cheat, lie and steal, especially when they get away with all this because they have money and the majority of the others who should object are willing to look past their misdeeds. Yep, it is just like the NFL problem … when the flow of money is high enough, people seem to want to look the other way, even the victims.

Why hasn’t the news media covered the changes in Australia’s carbon policy? You did see that they killed the carbon tax legislation completely. Why won’t more scientists cry foul on climate change? Of course there are some who do. This is probably not going to help their careers much, but I do admire it. With all the hoopla over the global warming protesters this week, I thought this article was very interesting.

Climate Science Is Not Settled, Steven E. Koonin, Wall Street Journal.

Climate change is real enough, but the question that remains is how much you and I can do about it. We have halted the load growth in the US through codes, standards and energy efficient technologies. We have done our part. It is now up to the rest of the world to shoulder their responsibilities as well. Not quite true of course. The rest of the world is jealous and wants us to do more since we have so many good things here and they don’t. They need to get over it and get on with their own responsibilities.

We have so many incentives in place to encourage wind and solar energy right now that need to be re-evaluated in light of the fact that loads are no longer growing. Even the incentives for energy efficiency will need to be rethought. After all, the cost effectiveness tests we use are predicated on avoiding the building of or operation of a power plant. We need to rethink the way we perform energy planning if we are only going to replace old inefficient plants with new, lower carbon footprint plants. Hmmm. These are very different questions. Why is no one asking them but me? Take a wild guess.

And, it is time to take a fresh look at the climate change narrative and stop pointing to things that are not a result of climate change at all.
Here is just one example. We all hear that the water levels in the City of Venice Italy are rising and we are being told that it is due to sea level rise, yet that is not the truth. The City of Venice is sinking and for many reasons … none of which are due to global warming. We visited Venice last June. It is indeed sinking and it is also now more vulnerable to tides than it was when it was originally built … they opened up access to the sea out of fears they wouldn’t be able to escape if attacked … gee … the city was never built high enough to accommodate high tides when it was built. Do you ever hear any of that? Nope, it is all about global warming. We could stop all global warming and even reverse it and the City of Venice would continue to go further under water.

The earth’s crust is moving as you all know. We get continually further away from Africa. Not by much, but it adds up over millions of years. The sea floor moves. Have we been keeping track of that? We visited the area around Naples where the sea level is falling relative to the land because the land in that area is being pushed up by geological forces. I think you get my point.

Why have the arguments raised by been ignored? Money! Big money … the people who raise animals for human consumption want this to go away. Follow the money and you will see just how unfair life is these days to you and me.

But, we can’t let that stop us from being true to ourselves. So, keep up the good fight. Dream the impossible dream. Go where few have dared to go before. As Winston Churchill commanded us: “Never, never, never give up!”

Thanks … I needed that.

The Cost of Raising Customer Satisfaction

elecmanRecent news coverage from around the world certainly points out how good we have it here in this country. Yet, despite that, people are getting less and less tolerant of even the smallest inconveniences. For example, take a look at this recent article on mobile applications in the US by .

Utilities Enter the 21st Century with Mobile Apps

Sarah Battaglia | Aug 05, 2014
Picture this: you’re in the kitchen assembling a tasty sandwich. You pull out the turkey, unscrew the mayo jar, and start to slice the tomato. Just as you begin to un-twist the bag of bread, your electricity goes out, leaving you utterly ravenous and perhaps a bit frightened. You should be making your way to check the fuse box, but all you can think is, “Damn you, power companies. I didn’t toast my bread!”

We have become an entitled society. We don’t want to wait, work, or even earn our rewards. We now expect them in real time and for free. The brief Facebook interruption recently had people calling 911!

Watch how intolerant people around you have become when the Internet is slow. See how long you can go without the electronic feedback in your life. Try to put your phone down and avoid being on your computerized devices for a day … all of them. You probably will feel like you are in withdrawal from a drug like caffeine or something. If you think you are strong, stop watching TV as well. Just sit somewhere without the electronic bombardment. Hard, isn’t it!?

All of this reminded me of a comment I heard about 20 years ago from a senior electric utility executive at a national utility conference who pleaded with the audience that we really needed to teach customers to expect less. Otherwise, we were going to get on a steep upward costing slope. Perhaps he was right. We are locked onto that path for sure.

Do we dare to confront this entitled generation or are we going to continue a hands off role? Do we think the next generation is going to get better or that any of these trends will reverse? I am beginning to think we are happy about all this … yet will we be happy when the bill arrives?

Maybe it’s time for a bit of tough love on customer satisfaction … to keep future costs in line.

Does Strategic Alliance Matter?

appliancesRaising children teaches you things about life that few other experiences can convey. One of my daughters has followed pretty closely in my footsteps … kind of always been a techy person. We always seemed to have techy discussions, so the following will probably not surprise you … especially when I tell you when it happened.

It was during the ozone depletion scare days when all kinds of fuss was being made over Styrofoam because the blowing agent was a CFC and therefore was destroying the ozone layer. It was during those days that McDonalds branded their packaging as McRecycle. They have changed the name but the agenda persists.

I was out with my daughter and suggested we stop at Burger King because I kind of like their Whopper. She blurted out, “No. They are environmentally irresponsible! I would rather eat at McDonalds.” As any dutiful father would, we found a McDonalds. But, I was struck by the visceral reaction about the sense that a fast food company should be supported or shunned based on their environmental messaging.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. General Electric started out in the power business providing large generating equipment and soon realized that utilities needed smaller things for customers to own that used the electricity their turbines created. So, under the banner of “live better electrically” and the TV personality Ronald Reagan they proceeded to drive new products into the market. It worked, and in fact, many electric utilities bought GE power producing equipment in part because they felt the strategic alliance.

Similarly, DuPont used to publish huge amounts of information about refrigerant properties and the performance with lubricants, etc. because they knew refrigerant equipment designers needed this information. Sure, DuPont had patents on many refrigerants so choice wasn’t evident quite yet, but customers felt confident using their refrigerants because they knew what to expect.

GE just sold off their appliance business. The patents on DuPont’s refrigerants have run out. Is this a sign that differentiation is gone or that the sense of strategic alliance doesn’t matter anymore?

I wonder. No, I don’t. I believe it still does. It’s something worth watching. Time will tell.

“Weird Joel” Gilbert?

almast_main_000Our son loves “Weird Al” Yankovic’s songs and videos. He memorizes them and performs them for us and our friends. They are always funny … that is, if you are a bit of an intellectual and don’t mind the derision of potentially sacred things. Al’s latest hit, according to our son, is a play on grammar called Word Crimes.

If you haven’t seen and heard it, click here: Word Crimes

At the time I wrote this blog, there were more than 16 million views of this video. Think about that. There is a lot to be learned here about what people are paying attention to. I guess the real question is whether we learn from these. As I watched this, I realized how many of these mistakes are made. But, really, why do we watch? What are the outcomes and value for doing so?

Do we learn? Are we getting better? Or, are we simply amused by our fallibilities? I am not sure.

I also like the one Mission Statements. It sounds way too close to what I hear today.

Do we have a sense of humor when things cut this close to home?

I guess my favorite has always been Dilbert, written and illustrated by Scott Adams. That inspired me to write tongue-in- cheek pieces like this blog. For a while, we created illustrated cartoons for our Apogee newsletter. I penned it under the name “Gilbert,” harkening back to Adam’s brilliant work. It was always the most viewed section of our newsletter.

So, let me ask you … are we learning from anything from all this or are we simply being amused?

F220px-dragonconlogo_000.jpginally, Susan just walked in and told me that Dragon Con was this weekend. Stephen loves that. So, she saw there was a pocket guide just covering the highlights written in 8 point type to keep it compact. It is 127 pages long.

I am sure some don’t think this is very funny … or interesting … or relevant. Yep, but this is the stuff that seems to interest way more people than our stuff. That is not funny, but, terribly interesting to me, and I believe it is relevant to all of you to ponder.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.