Life Cycle vs Front End Loading

Veterans of the energy business love lifecycle analysis because it moves past the simple idea of payback period for an investment and makes it much easier to compare choices where the asset has very different effective useful lives.  This analysis always points out the fallacy of the incandescent lamp which otherwise might be an impulsive choice when compared to an LED when you see it on the store shelf.  Otherwise the sticker shock tends to make you keep buying the cheaper lamps.

We are now in a world where there is something else at work in this comparison: embedded carbon.  Choosing an EV, embeds about 8 years of what would otherwise be a car fuel in carbon and places it in the battery of the EV when it is made.  Similar math occurs with solar panels.

Plus, the grid now is more carbon-intensive than it will be in a few more years, so the energy used to produce these devices is putting more carbon into the environment in the near term. Essentially pulling the carbon emissions forward from a future time.

So, if you are following me … the decision to accelerate the adoption of solar and EVs is going to dump one whole hell of a lot of carbon into the environment in the near-term and it is going to take essentially a decade to see net positive carbon impacts … decades!

The news media has caught on to this.  The August 2nd front page of the Wall Street Journal carried this announcement: Behind the Rise of U.S. Solar Power, a Mountain of Chinese Coal.  The article states, “Concerns are mounting in the U.S. and Europe that the solar industry’s reliance on Chinese coal will create a big increase in emissions in the coming years as manufacturers rapidly scale up production of solar panels to meet demand. That would make the solar industry one of the world’s most prolific polluters, analysts say, undermining some of the emissions reductions achieved from widespread adoption.”

Gee … aren’t all the promises to be carbon free by 2030 or so based upon our past energy sources?  So, isn’t it going to be like chasing your tail to try to be carbon free in the near term?  Might there be a more deliberate and balanced choice to consider gradually ramping up solar and EVs on some “least cumulative carbon” transition rather than trying to do this so quickly?

Am I going too fast?  These decisions to ramp up solar and EVs right now are going to INCREASE the total carbon into the environment in the near term.

Oh well, what will probably save us all from this is the simple fact that we can’t build solar panels or EVs fast enough to satisfy the political pundits or their forecasts anyway.

A Matter of Perspective

We are being bombarded by messages … some even creep into our overnight sleeping hours.  Everyone seems to want us to either agree with or learn something they think we currently “don’t get” as fully s they do.  Part of me at my age just wants to shut them out as whiny brats, but I know that will not help.  The feisty side of me wants to try to offer them another perspective so they can see that their perspective may be coloring their views.  Something we should all be more aware of.

This graphic has been circulating on the internet for a while and probably suffices in and of itself to convey the message.  Depending upon how you shine a light on an idea, you can get quite different images of truth.  As I have gotten older I have seen popular opinions of truths change.  At one time in my past it was a sign of failure for a husband to have his wife working.  He clearly was an inadequate provider if that was true.

Attitudes toward women have been in dramatic transition with work still needed today to be sure they are safe and offered the best in opportunities for their futures.  Similar arguments for progress extend of course to numerous others in our society.  And, I am proud to be an American where we can freely work towards these goals … but we should also recognize that transitions like this are not easy nor quick.  Frankly, you have to let generations pass so that some of the bad attitudes of the past can purge themselves naturally from society.

There are some who have no sense of history here and want to mandate this or that.  I would hope they have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic that there are portions of society who will use the possibly rightful attempt to control others as a perfect reason to reject their authority and fight their ideas.

We all agree that we need to heal some of the polarities in our society but few seem to have the grace and temerity to be healing agents.  Rather, we seem to be in a war within our own country to win at our specific agendas rather than to truly understand each other and find higher … not common ground.

This graphic illustrates that principle.  I don’t know who to thank for it, but I do thank whomever.

Is it all about Me?

Perhaps this recent post by a motivational speaker is just one more illustration of how differently younger generations think than our older generation.  The key question in the title to this blog says it all in my opinion.  I saw this image posted on LinkedIn with an invitation for anyone to comment.

Needless to say, I did with the question: is this really all about me, or shouldn’t it be more about the people around us and the communities in which we live, serve, and love?  No one agreed with the graphic which was encouraging to me.  Maybe there is some sanity in the masses?

I thought one clever way to flip this paradigm around is to simply flip the letter “M” to a “W” making it  Is it all about We?  Work with me, you and I both know that doesn’t work precisely, but it is a good shortcut to a much larger mental state change.

The graphic clearly shows how views in the workplace have shifted over the past 60 some years.  I remember my father’s generation complaining that work was not personally satisfying … but it was necessary to provide for their families.  Boy, has that changed!  Now all I hear is people change jobs almost as often as they change their underwear … seeking experiences, not experience.

What is at the root of all this?  We can all detect a number of underlying challenges: disintegration of the sense of community brought about by social media and a digital workplace.  People no longer feel connected to each other in their workplaces, communities and even in their own homes … they just don’t form communities like we did, dysfunctional as they might have been.  Friends no longer hang out the same way watching football games and then going out in the yard to throw one themselves. Perhaps too this long period of peace and prosperity in this country has given people the sense they don’t need to work together or work hard at anything.  Nothing like a world war to pull people together.

Perhaps the deepest cut is the loss of a sense of purpose.  It is no longer about “leaving your mark on society” by doing something that makes a difference.  It is all too much about my experience and my free time.  Most have lost any sense of loyalty to an employer … employers are nothing more than a financial source to fuel these other areas.

Obviously, these are generalizations, and we can all point to exceptions.  But it does seem that striving for excellence is becoming the exception in many people’s lives, and one that is being ridiculed today along with capitalism.

Technology Can Backfire

Susan and I have learned the hard way that today’s technologies can get so smart that we no longer even know what they are doing.  I remember when I flew sitting next to a pilot and I asked about how complex things were in the modern cockpits.  He told me that he and his copilot often look at each other on long flights with autopilot asking each other: “What is it doing now?  … Why did it do that?” This of course reflects the interface to the weather forecasts to adjust the course for cross winds, etc.

Perhaps you have noticed that technology is creeping into everyday life.  Traffic light cameras are almost everywhere that can automatically issue you a ticket for traffic violations.  Self driving cars and trucks (called autonomous vehicles) are no longer the realm of futurist predictions.  I have one but it freaks Susan out whenever I engage it to show how it works.

Online help is rapidly moving to “chat bot” models where the first round of questions you ask are managed using artificial intelligence, kind of like what happens when you talk to today’s smart speakers like Alexa.  Most of us find these comfortable and acceptable, except that lately Alexa has been engaging me with follow up suggestions after I ask a question.  This brings do mind some of the online spoofs where Alexa reminds the person they shouldn’t be buying that item given their health status.

We are clearly moving into the realm of electronic assistants pervading our world.  However, the cartoon above illustrates a key point: we really need to also educate people about what we are doing and what is going on.

Is Honesty the Best Policy?

Of course it is, you say!  It is implied in the Ten Commandments … thou shalt not bear false witness.

Perhaps not.  Here are two illustrations.  One you may have seen that is circulating on the internet where an obviously blind man with a white cane is seated alone on a park bench.  A young man in sunglasses sits down next to him and he asks this perfect stranger to describe what he sees going on in the park.

Off-put for just a few moments, the stranger seems to realize the blind man wants to know what a seeing person can see in the park.  So he begins describing the children playing with their friends, the little boy flying a kite with his parents, still another celebrating a birthday party, and a young couple sitting on a blanket enjoying some food and wine together.  The blind man beams with happiness through this, thoroughly enjoying the joyful scenes being described to him in colorful detail.  When a friend calls to the younger man to join them, the stranger says his goodbyes and walks away.

The scene then shifts to show where the stranger had been looking, and nothing was going on in the park.  No children playing, no kites, no people picnicking on a blanket. Then they show the young man in sunglasses walking toward his friends, with his white cane for he too was blind.  When asked to simply honor the request of another person, why not use it as an opportunity to make and share joy?  Nothing was to be gained by just telling the first blind person that he was blind as well.  Why not enter into a conversation with the vision of what is possible and create and share some enjoyment with another human being?

The second illustration is something that happened in my family.  We were visiting one of our elderly parents in the nursing home to celebrate a birthday and reading her cards from each of her children.  Unfortunately, one of her sons had passed away that year and of course could not have possibly sent the card. The siblings had decided to not share with her the loss knowing it would only bring heartbreak.  So, they wrote one from him and read it to her along with the others. She beamed in appreciation.

What was funny about that was something her niece commented after the gathering, “I am going to need therapy for this someday!”

Loving one another does not require us to be brutally honest in every situation.  There are times when simply not answering the question is the best answer.  There are other times when we should tell a white lie.  And, there are still other times when we should enter a make-believe world where everything is better.  Operating from a motivation of love is the best guidepost to your answer.