Creating Demand

Celebrating Fathers Day this month made me think.  What is wrong with creating a holiday to celebrate fathers? And, was it created by the greeting card people … which, frankly, is what I thought.

There are two stories of when the first Father’s Day was celebrated. According to some accounts, the first Father’s Day was celebrated in Washington state on June 19, 1910. A woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd came up with the idea of honoring and celebrating her father while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon at church in 1909. She felt as though mothers were getting all the acclaim while fathers were equally deserving of a day of praise (She would probably be displeased that Mother’s Day still gets the lion’s share of attention).

The other story of the first Father’s Day in America happened all the way on the other side of the country in Fairmont, West Virginia on July 5, 1908. Grace Golden Clayton suggested to the minister of the local Methodist church that they hold services to celebrate fathers after a deadly mine explosion killed 361 men.

While Father’s Day was celebrated locally in several communities across the country, unofficial support to make the celebration a national holiday began almost immediately. William Jennings Bryant was one of its staunchest proponents. In 1924, President Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge recommended that Father’s Day become a national holiday. But no official action was taken.

In 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson, through an executive order, designated the third Sunday in June as the official day to celebrate Father’s Day. However, it wasn’t until 1972, during the Nixon administration, that Father’s Day was officially recognized as a national holiday.

So, why did I think it was the greeting card companies?  The reason of course is because it would make sense for them to create a holiday and then cards to celebrate it.  Is that wrong?  Not really.  Unless you are in the energy business in most areas of the US.  It has been illegal for utilities to promote the use of their products.  The historical logic for this may have made sense when it seemed obvious that promotion was raising prices as more and more generating plants were being needed.  But, now that situation seems a distant memory.

So, is it time to think differently?  After all, it is entirely possible now that promotion might lower prices for all customers.  Who would have predicted that?  Go figure!

“Would you go to bed with me for $20?”

Most have heard the story of the beautiful woman who is asked whether she will go to bed for $1 million.  As the story goes, she says “Sure!”  The guy then asks, then how about $20?  She becomes indignant and says “What kind of girl do you think I am?”  The guy then quips “We have already established that … now we are simply dickering over the price!”

I think you will see the parallels when you consider the antics of this week’s special election here in Georgia.  It has certainly gotten in your local news.  It is the most expensive in history … by a wide margin … so, being the engineer that I am, I did the math.  The estimates are that $50 million was spent on advertising, not to mention the other campaign costs.  The number of votes cast were just over 250,000.  So, it cost $200 per vote.  And, given that most minds were made up long before any of this was battled out, the cost per vote changed was probably well north of $2,000 a vote.

I think a lot of those voters would have much rather received a check for the $2,000.  That would have circulated through the economy and who knows what good things might have emerged.  Instead, we Georgians have endured nonstop commercials for months now.   That is the one thing that now unites us all here: the ads will stop.  But, of course, now the media will go through a frenzy trying to figure out what went wrong for the Dems, whether the Russians interfered with the election, or whether the intense rain kept turnout low.

Thank goodness this is now over!

PSA by PSE About Downed Power Lines

Courtesy Puget Sound Energy

You never know what you are going to see online, especially on Facebook.  One of my friends at church posted his link and I was surprised to see it was from a utility (Puget Sound Energy).

Click here to view this important message from Puget Sound Energy.

It is interesting to see that Public Service Announcements (PSAs) are moving to video to get consumers engaged.  I thought this one was really well done.  But, the costs to script, staff, film, edit and produce this kind of video are high.  The result in this case is excellent, but it is overkill for all too many communication tasks … like explaining why a bill is higher than normal or as a PSA for an upcoming storm.

What we found through careful research is that production values (the excellence in producing the video) really does not matter and can actually backfire in some cases.  Customers can be resentful that you spent so much money trying to communicate a simple message.

In fact, what we found is that the message method (video), especially on phones, can be pretty low resolution and crude … just keep it relevant and interesting.  Use customer-friendly language … stop talking to customers like they understand the technical details.

My hat does go off to PSE in any event … who knew what to do if you hit a power pole?  I didn’t.  And, I am a veteran of the industry.


There goes another rubber tree plant

Maybe you remember that phrase from the song High Hopes.  It was made famous by several actors way back around 1960.   Well, the low wholesale electricity prices seem to have created a new worry for the nuclear fleet.

Read more here.

This is going to be very telling.  Is wholesale price the right metric for all power sources?  How can that price capture any value for carbon when carbon is not traded?  Or, does this fear of closing nuclear plants now make it clear that we must price carbon into the market?

Who knew that power once thought too cheap to even meter would now be declared uneconomic?

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “too cheap to meter”  is attributed to Walter Marshall, a pioneer of nuclear power in the United Kingdom.  The phrase was coined by Lewis Strauss, then Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, who in a 1954 speech to the National Association of Science Writers said:

“Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter… It is not too much to expect that our children will know of great periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history, will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds, and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours, as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age.”



A Blinding Flash of the Obvious

Just when the pundits declared coal companies dead in the water, along comes another idea.  Why not use the vast underground network as a pumped storage system?

Read about it here.

Stay tuned to see what the real issues prove to be.  The questions that will emerge are the realities that coal mines are not located near load centers.  The actual power flows on the distribution system as this storage is used must be considered to be sure the source/sink nature to this does not create an overload.  Also, I am sure someone will find a critter in these mines that will now lose their habitat and tie this up in the courts for years.

Things like this never seem to bother the Germans.  I love German engineers.  They get things done when they know they are good ideas.