The Real Meaning of AI?

Your immediate reaction was to assume I was referring once again to Artificial Intelligence, right?  Some who know me well think I am referring to Arrogance and Ignorance, which describes all too many today who are telling us what to believe, say, and do.  Nope, wrong on both counts.  I have concluded that AI stands for Automated Imitation.

My blog a few weeks ago illustrated the problem with deep fakes, and it is going to be a very big problem for all of us.  This week I want to address how I believe AI will change the energy utility business, specifically as it relates to customer service and marketing.  That is where Automated Imitation can be implemented safely.  For example, if you have excellent CSRs and were to digitally capture the incoming conversations and questions and how your best CSRs answer them, you can automate excellence into operations.

Think about how dangerous it would be for someone outside your organization to claim to have a model that could do that for you, even if it was built on excellence at another energy utility?  Do they have the same programs, services, rate structures, policies, procedures, management objectives, etc.

Do you now see the clear difference between a “black box” model where public information is dumped into huge data lakes with the hope that a miracle will happen when you apply large language models to it.  Right!  Garbage in … garbage out!

This should be obvious if you go back to the basics of the Turing Test … can the computer become so like a human that you believe you are communicating with one?

I still remember one customer who responded to our online energy analysis with a comment in our Feedback link.  It was about 6:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday and I saw it come into my email because I monitor all customers’ questions as a way of improving our applications by knowing what confuses users.  I responded trying to be helpful.  The customer assumed it was an automated response and responded with a nasty comment.  I then typed that I was not a computer and was truly trying to help.  The interactions grew more intense but eventually the customer realized I was a real person trying to help her.  Realizing that, she gushed, “I am so impressed someone at my utility is trying to help me at this hour on Sunday morning, who is your supervisor I should thank?”  Of course, I don’t work at the utility, our company just provides the online tools designed to help customers understand and analyze their energy use, so I said, “I guess my wife who runs our company.”  We still laugh together about that one.

Many utilities have already been implementing chatbots as alternatives to a live call, and they do work for many situations where the question is a common one.  Just remember this one basic tenet of all good communication.  Don’t attempt to answer a question until and unless you have verified the intent of the question in the first place.  Let me illustrate this with an actual example.

A commercial rep with the local utility asks the pastor of a new church nearing completion when he’d like service is scheduled.   He assumed the pastor knew the intent was to schedule electric service to the building once they were ready to energize it.

Quite predictably, the pastor recited the service times as 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, and 6:00 Sunday and Wednesday evenings.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery if and when excellence is embedded in the automation.

The Right to be Comfortable

The inalienable rights in the United States are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Air conditioning and space heating are not in those rights unless they threaten life or liberty.  We know that extreme heat kills, especially our older citizens.  Power outages in the hot areas of the US have proven that point and similar gruesome results have been seen in Europe.

Yet, air conditioning is a relatively recent invention … barely more than 100 years old, and only available to the masses in the last 50 years at what we call affordable costs.  After all, we can all huddle in one room of our homes with one window air conditioner there.  But we want more than this.

I grew up without AC in our home in Brooklyn and remember sleeping with only a sheet over me and being quite uncomfortable.  Fortunately, that was only an occasional discomfort … most summer nights were acceptably cool.  We have been living aboard our boat in Mystic, Connecticut, this summer and have never really needed to run the AC.  We ran it occasionally in the late afternoon to cool the boat down so we could open the windows at night and be comfortable.

As we press on in modern times and other “less fortunate” countries in the world work towards our comforts, it has become blatantly clear that we can’t come up with acceptable power sources to make this possible.  If we continue the trend toward space comfort, we are certain to strip the gears out of all the wonderful promises and plans being touted about achieving carbon reductions.

My friend and professional colleague Dan Delurey penned a wonderful summary of all this in his latest blog post: “The Climate Conundrum of Air Conditioning.” (Linked and copied below.) It is a wonderful summary of the challenge the world faces, and that almost no one else is talking about.

Does this mean we shouldn’t be permitting mass migration from the Northeast to the South?  We stopped residential development in areas of Georgia when it became clear that we didn’t have the water to support it.  One only need look at the history books searching for the reasons people abandoned cities to see proof that water and the food sources permitted by the presence of water drove most of it.

Perhaps the underlying word that should replace “Right” is “Expectation” or “Entitlement.”  If these ideas are going to wipe out civilization as the alarmists predict, why aren’t we talking about changing that along with our delusional bans on internal combustion engines and natural gas for heating and cooking in our homes.

Let’s talk these issues through before it is too late.


The Climate Conundrum of Air Conditioning

Dan Dulurey

During one of the UN COPs of the last decade, I was an invitee to a formal dinner put on by a major NGO. I found myself sitting next to the Chief Climate Negotiator for India. During what was for me a fascinating discussion, I commented that I had seen data that showed low penetration of air conditioning in his country, but rising sales of A/C units. I asked him how the country was going to deal with that in terms of India’s climate plans given that a rising electricity demand driven by A/C could be fueled by fossil-based electricity generation. He replied by saying that the combination of rising temperatures and rising desire for air conditioning would indeed be a challenge.

And there you have it, as evidenced across the globe this summer: hotter temperatures lead to more air conditioning use, which leads to more electricity consumption, which is supplied by grids and systems that are still largely fossil-based. A/C currently causes 4% of global emissions and in 2022 nearly 1/5 of the increase in global CO2 emissions came from increased electricity demand during extreme weather.

Let’s for a moment go back prior to electricity, and therefore before A/C. After all, A/C was only invented in 1902 (by a guy named Carrier).

I am not an anthropologist, but my view is that from the time humans appeared on the scene, they had the ability to warm themselves against cold. They could add covering, use structures and materials, and use fire. They could also migrate (something I will write more about in a future post). But cooling was a different story. There was only so much one could do short of not living in places that were too hot to live.

I grew up on the NY/Southern Vermont Border in a house built in 1880 that did not have air conditioning. Many people don’t realize that while the New England winter is famous for its snow and low temperatures, the summer has always been a hot and humid one. To cope with this, my mother (and eventually my siblings and I) took care to leave the windows open during the cool nights and then to shut them in the morning to hoard the cool air trapped in the sealed-off house during the day. That was our A/C. Oh…and we also had a porch, which functioned (and helped cause) a breezeway that we spent a lot of time on in summer.

I could pause here and go on one of my rants about the decline of the porch, not only for combatting heat but also as a contributor to a decline in getting to know your neighbors and those who walk by. But I won’t – this is about A/C.

Thanks to A/C, people today are living anywhere they want regardless of the heat. Witness Phoenix, the number one destination for American to move to according to the 2020 U.S. Census. The penetration of A/C in the U.S. is 89%. It is 19% and growing in the EU. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that only 10% of the 2.8 billion people who live in the hottest areas of the world have A/C. (Also, it is notable that there are roughly 800 million households that don’t have electricity – yet)

In the U.S. the story of air-conditioning is also the story of peak electricity demand. Prior to A/C, the electricity system did not have the kind of dynamic peak demand it has had for the past few decades and today. This has changed the way the electricity has been planned and operated (e.g., the rise of Peaker Plants, load management and demand response).

With an electricity system that is totally zero-emissions-based I suppose it doesn’t matter how much A/C is used or when it is used. But that is not the system we have. One of the sleeper issues with global warming and climate change is that it is leading not only to higher daytime temperatures but higher nighttime temperatures as well (i.e., higher daily “lows”). That means higher use of A/C for during more hours where fossil generation will likely be used. That is obviously not good.

And before I leave the topic of peak demand, it has to be pointed out that heat-driven strain on the power system can mean the threat of brownouts and blackouts rises – at time when A/C is most needed.

In 2023, heat waves in Europe were responsible for over 61,000 deaths. Senior Citizens are particularly at risk. By 2034, it is expected that there will be more Americans over 65 than under 18. It is also estimated that exposure to extreme heat for the 70+ cohort could more than double by 2050.

Cities have already warmed twice as fast as the global average due to heat islands. I have seen numbers for deaths from extended blackouts during periods of extreme heat and I don’t even want to think about them.


The first title I chose for this Post was “The Right to Be Cool” and I was going to concentrate on the question of whether people have a right to be cool no matter where they choose to live but I am not going there – at least not right now.

But there is a different right to consider when it comes to air conditioning, and it involves people for whom A/C can be a challenging thing to include in their budget. For example, in a recent in a recent piece aired on PBS, a citizen was interviewed that had a monthly fixed income of $882. Her window A/C unit was costing her $240/month.

The U.S. has had in place for years a program called LIHEAP, which stands for Low-Income Heating Assistance Program. It was created based on what I will call the right to be warm (or the right to not freeze). It provides financial assistance to qualifying households to make sure that they do not forgo heat in their dwelling and risk the dangerous consequences of that. But now there is increasing risk from heat.

Thus, among the many new situations we are going to have to grapple with due to global warming and the climate change it is causing is the creation of a new right – the right to be cool, or conversely put – the right not to die of extreme heat. LIHEAP is set up to do that, although this is widely unknown by both low-income customers as well as policymakers and assistance providers. And most states do not offer it. According to the Associated Press, nearly 30 million households struggle to pay their heating bills but at least get a subsidy to help them do that. But only 3% get a subsidy for cooling costs during the hot months of summer.

Providing financial assistance to low-income households may only be one of the aspects of extreme heat we need to consider and deal with going forward. Major changes may be necessary in multiple polices, ranging from efficiency of A/C units to building design to building codes to operation of cooling centers to design of electricity systems. According to DOE A/C accounts for 6% of electricity consumption).

For example, there are local ordinances that can be put in place. As I am fond of pointing out, both Washington, DC and New York City have rules that prohibit commercial establishments to use A/C while their windows and/or doors are open. In my experience in both cities, this rule is not widely known by the general public or the establishments themselves. Unfortunately, nor is it widely enforced, even given hotlines in each city for public reporting on violations. But it would not be hard to increase enforcement.

The world is going to have more A/C. The International Energy Agency reports that 10 A/C units will be sold every second between now and the year 2050. Anyone in any country with enough disposable income to afford A/C is going to have it. People in the U.S. and elsewhere are going to use A/C more often than before. This is particularly the case in urban areas, where the “heat Island” effect can lead to 8 degree higher temperatures than other areas of the same city with more trees and less cement.

Even I now (unintentionally) have A/C.

I do not live in the house I grew up in. But my recently purchased house is not dissimilar. It was built in 1870 and it has a porch. For the first few years I lived in it I did not have air conditioning and it was fine. But earlier this year, I electrified my heating by having heat pumps installed. In doing so, I also was having air conditioning installed. I have not used that part of the system yet, but it makes me wonder how many people are using their first ever A/C which they got as part of a heat pump purchase.

At least if (when?) I eventually use it; it will be a new efficient A/C unit. The number of old inefficient units in place and being used, however, is huge. We can only replace them so fast. And we can only increase the efficiency of new units so much. And no matter what unit is being used, it will be generating emissions for some time to come.

A/C cannot be the only answer to the question of “how do we deal with extreme heat under climate change”. It may not even be the best answer. We as a country and the world at large need to take an “all of the above” approach to plans and strategies to cope with extreme heat.

Oh …. And given the negative spiral of more A/C/ meaning more emissions meaning more heat, meaning more emissions……. we need to do that soon.

We don’t have that much time.


A Clean Energy Transition?

I hope you all downloaded the just released DNV annual report covering worldwide energy emissions. A key question it addresses is “at what point will renewable energy begin to replace fossil energy in actual terms?”

Drum roll please … and in Johnny Carson Karnak style, the envelope says: “Renewables are still not replacing fossil fuels in the global energy mix, barely meeting growing energy demand. CO2 emissions will be only 4% lower than today in 2030 and 46% lower by mid-century.”

A 4% impact in the next 7 years? That is two Presidential election cycles! Then the answer is we are not going to get to heaven with anything we are doing. Worse yet, even though we will eventually start bending the carbon dioxide curve to stop rising, we are a century away from meaningful change … a century!!

Don’t get me wrong. I am still buying green bananas, but this kind of timeline makes no sense.

We must deal with the politics of life, which are also in transition. People look for easy answers and most often those where they have no accountability to change their personal lives. We are certainly not going to see politicians elected who elicit personal sacrifice as part of their national citizenship.

Politicians follow predictable tricks: Tax the rich, ban the problem areas, and villainize opponents. They know you don’t win elections attempting to educate the masses to understand the issue at a deeper level so we can begin to think about real changes that will work.

Please do read this excellent report but note that nobody is talking about the consequences and futility of all this because they all want to tap into the flow of money attempting to solve it. Meanwhile we are witnessing China wipe out the world’s fish populations … after all, they are fishing in international waters where rules are almost impossible to police. And we in this country are consuming more and more per household living in the largest houses in history.

Yes, guilt and shame are rising here around our personal carbon footprints and that tactic is gaining traction on one level. One of our friends who does not own a car laments how big his footprint is attending opera concerts all across the country … flying around to see and hear operas he has heard dozens of times before. And, why not … doesn’t he deserve to live out his retirement any way he wants?

Plus, we in the US are no longer the problem children on this stage. China, India, Pakistan and others will emerge to join the list of countries trying to catch up to our lifestyles. They will rise out of poverty to mimic our glorious standard of living, and isn’t that only fair?

Watch how that backfires in the hands of our politicians. After all, why should I pay to reduce a problem when others are responsible and are not paying?

The success scorecard has been global carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. No one has the courage to show the graphs besides me.

If they did, they prove we have not bent the curve over in the near term. And, if we believe the answer is to dial up the renewables even further, we will keep pushing out that inflection point further because of the embedded carbon in their fabrication.

There I go again … assuming the right people are reading my blogs, or if they are, are willing to do something to truly make a difference other than to feather their own nests.

The Real Impacts of AI

The recent strike in Hollywood ending seems to have assured everyone that they can keep artificial intelligence under control.  Everyone seems to be celebrating that the strike is over.  While financial compensation for work to date may have increased, these same people have no idea how quickly they and their jobs will be eliminated.

The problem of course is that they are talking among themselves to their friends and colleagues and all celebrating a newfound confidence that they are all in it together.  They have failed to recognize the world at large will consume them and spit them out just like we do watermelon seeds.

Have you noticed who is already producing the animations for Pixar?  It is not Hollywood.  It is a cadre of people from countries where labor is much cheaper.  The world economy does this so efficiently in almost every dimension of life.  Now, with AI producing images that are indistinguishable from original photographs and animations that produce deep fakes.

We are entering a digital world of virtually unlimited copycats and anyone whose job can be defined precisely will shortly lose that job.  You are already seeing the retail world shaken to the ground with the likes of Amazon eyeing almost everything and everyone.

Digital media will soon marry game-like applications that will immerse you into your favorite virtual world of people you admire who will appear to interact with you like their live counterparts.  The movie The Matrix will seem a bit too close and cause you to wonder whether someone is pulling your strings … and you would be right.

For proof this is happening right now, please read this article from the Washington Post which covers how celebrities are being used to promote things:

Can we put this genie back in the bottle?  No, unfortunately we can’t.  Can we regulate it?  No, and we should look back over time to see that we have only one choice … educate everyone.

We are already bombarded with electronic media.  Your inbox already overflows with junk mail plus countless phishing attempts.  If you are aware, you are constantly worrying about whether you should click that link sent supposedly to help, which might go somewhere nefarious people wait in lair.

Be afraid … be very afraid … keep your guard up, and if you are doing something “mindless” for much of your day, plan to find a job that uses your full mental faculties.  Someone is going to have to “watch over” all this AI to be sure it is doing what it should.  That should be you.