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Clean Energy Disconnect Between Say and Do

This article, Americans could pay more for clean energy.  But will they really?, from Utility Dive reminds me of my own life experiences with squirrelly people.  They talk a good game, but where is the action?  It also reminds me of the folly in precise net-to-gross, or attribution studies.

The article highlights findings of a University of Michigan study regarding consumer concerns over energy prices and the environment.  The findings include:

  • Ninety three percent say energy prices are affordable.
  • The threshold for unaffordable is a 140% increase!
  • Energy markets are inelastic (I said this a long time ago).
  • Self-reported willingness to pay more for clean energy rarely translates to action.

According to the survey, what are all you utility regulatory and pricing people waiting for?  You should be filing 50% rate increases!

There is a lot of truth in the smartest people having made the most mistakes.  They learn from mistakes and don’t repeat them.  One mistake I made was early in my managing career as I was screening and recruiting job candidates.  I’ll skip describing the mistake because the solution gives it away: “Don’t tell me what you know.  Show me.”  I have never seen this tip in the dozens of human resources and recruiting articles I’ve read.  It isn’t the only thing, but I would say it’s the biggest thing.

As an employer, the most fundamental need we have of our people is knowing, uh, the fundamentals of engineering or whatever we are hiring for.  The HR sages say something like, “hire for attitude; train for skills”.  Skills are something we learn outside the classroom.  Last week I discussed one such skill: critical thinking.  The bottom line is we don’t have time to teach people thermodynamics, heat transfer, and fluid dynamics.  Engineers: Understand the roots of these or don’t bother looking for employment with us.  We will make you show, and not tell.

This “show, don’t tell” phenomenon is precisely what is described in the Utility Dive article.  Talk is cheap and most of the time actions and results are not.  Circling back to surveys and results described in the article: Would you pay more for energy that has less impact on the environment?  Why not just ask if you will call or visit your mother for mother’s day?  The results of such surveys are worth very little, in my opinion.

This phenomenon spreads to things like evaluation of strategic energy management programs.  We have an ongoing joke/saying that many evaluators conclude that if energy bills contract, it was due to the program; take credit for it.  If energy bills increased, the customer did something to change production, or something.  Throw that one out.  Good grief; if the evaluator doesn’t know, even conceptually, what the customer did to reduce energy consumption / be more efficient, why are they being paid to do anything?  An undergrad intern with no skills could do that.  These are the sorts of things one learns when volunteering to review other peoples’/companies’ papers for scholarly conferences, by the way.  I am not making this up.

How about that last play of the Super Bowl?

I have always chosen my preferred professional teams by the players on their rosters.  If not, you’re cheering for a jersey.  I like Russell Wilson for the odds he beat in life and on the field – and he’s really good.  He’s too short and the scouting geniuses passed on the guy 74 times before Seattle finally drafted him at #75.  I also got tired of Pete Carroll when he was with USC.  I just didn’t like their pep-band, Roman-emperor sounding battle call thing blaring all time.  To my knowledge, Mr. Carroll lacks a track record of, ahem, cheating.  Therefore, I pull lightly for the Seahawks, and certainly I was as I watched the Super Bowl, er excuse me, “the big game”.

Seattle has one of the very best, each at head coach and quarterback, and one thing I like to see is letting the players make plays.  OMG, the scorn and hellfire that poured down after Seattle’s last play was off the chart.  My response: How about that fake field goal for a touchdown against the Packers to spark that rally?  How stupid was that play?

The moral of the story is the counterfactual Monday morning quarterbacking is cheap and easy.  What I would have done is always the right decision, depending on the outcome.  And the alternative, of course, would have worked for sure.  If it worked, I would have done that.  If not, Marshawn Lynch.

The same thing goes for attribution and net-to-gross studies.  Like Pete Carroll, these NTGers are smarter than I am, but I’d give this advice: rely more on what people do, rather than what they would have done.  To do this, surveying non-participants has more meaning.  Sure, this biases the sample to some degree, but goes back to the folks who say they’d pay 140% more for their energy bills before squealing.  If you believe that, boy have I got a stock for you.  Actions are 10x more valuable than words.

Call your mother.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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