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The barrier to having a decent energy policy is very similar to the barriers of solving illegal immigration.  Both the left and the right have their own vested interests in not fixing the problem.  I see the political spectrum as a circle, not a line from far left to far right.  It is a circle because when views get so extreme, they are supported by both the far left (e.g. Dennis Kucinich) and far right (e.g. Ron Paul).  Personally, I respect both of these guys and I have no doubt they are sincere in their beliefs and want the best for the country.  An example on which they agree is pulling out of Afghanistan, yesterday.  Very few on the right agree and few on the left, including the President, agree.

The same dynamic is at work blocking decent energy policy.  The left wants to stop the use of any fuel with a “C” in the molecular makeup but they also object to all realistic alternatives, including nukes and hydro.  The right opposes any sort of standards whatsoever on the demand side – mileage standards, CFLs for a couple examples.  The good folks in western Minnesota and Iowa are fine with building massive wind farms but neither left nor right want a transmission line from the La Crosse area to Madison to improve reliability by having more access to generation AND getting the renewable energy to where it can be used.

The Afghanistan equivalent in EE: smart meters.  The far left doesn’t want them because they cause cancer.  But then again, this is coming from California where organic vegan mother’s breast milk causes cancer.  Everything causes cancer in CA.  On the far right are the Glen Becks who think the government is going to spy to find out when you leave for work and commandoes will swoop in and secretly log the contents of your underwear drawer for blackmail material.

Nough said.

Last week I attended the Association of Energy Service Professionals (AESP) conference in Dallas that featured an overarching theme of consumer behavior and smart grid.  First off, what is smart grid?  If I polled 1,000 people I’d get 997 different answers.  It is entirely nebulous.  The other three wouldn’t have any idea.

I took a pre-conference class on evaluating programs that include elements of smart grid and behavior and my definition of a smart grid is two way communication with customers via the electric meter.  That is the bare bones definition I think – but there is also grid design for reliability, so like if the Christmas, er I mean holiday light burns out they don’t all go out.  But I know little about the grid reliability stuff.

As I was sitting there in the class, I developed my own framework for the energy future.

WHEREAS, consumers want reliable power at negligible cost.

WHEREAS, the hard left abhors any form of reasonable energy supply.

WHEREAS, the hard right abhors any form of restraint on consumption.

NOW, THEREFORE, A SOLUTION is offered by Jeff Ihnen that delivers the framework for the genius grid that everyone must agree with.

Electricity prices can skyrocket during peak periods as shown in the chart in this article, which is actual quasi-deregulated Texas pricing.  Prices rise sharply the minute supply starts eating into the required spinning reserves, but it is capped at $3 per kWh right now – thus quasi deregulated in my book.  They are talking about raising that to maybe $6 per kWh.

Genius grid solutions should be developed on both demand and supply for power.  On the demand side, the genius grid would include a home area network with amperage meters and relays (cutout switches) on major appliances – central air conditioning, clothes dryer, maybe refrigerators and freezers, and water heaters.  Over a year’s time the genius grid logs and builds a model for energy consumption based on time of day, weather conditions and day of the week for each meter.  Now the utility has something to work with because they know exactly how much power the AC unit is pulling on Tuesday afternoon at 2:00 PM just before July 4 when it’s 96 degrees outside.

The genius grid, rather than giving price signals to consumers, e.g., it is going to cost you $26,000 to keep your house at 68 degrees the rest of the day, it would instead BUY your agreement to shut down your AC.  This would come on your i-Phone/Android/Blackberry.  “Shut down your AC for $20 this afternoon?”  Accept?  Decline?  Hit accept and you get $20 credited to your bank account instantly.  And so on.  Homes become a source for increasing power available on the grid.

BTW, I see residential end users as the best applications for genius grid.  Homes have many unneeded loads that can be shed during the day and loads that can easily be shifted to eight from six o’clock.  I don’t mind my house at 80F but I couldn’t stand working with full garb in the office at 80F.

On the supply side, customers can put power on the grid for some of these high peak costs from renewable and other sources.  Take photo-voltaic panels installed on houses.  The panels are generating peak electricity while powering a number of things in the home and maybe selling the excess back to the grid at some ridiculously low price.  (But I really don’t know how the current pricing works.)  Why not have the utility send a buy message to your iPhone to shut down all major appliances for the afternoon and buy the 2kW from the PV for four hours at $3 per kWh?  That’s $24 in the bank account for doing practically nothing.  And you could do this while you are daydreaming in a sensitivity training session.

Readers of this blog know I’ve bashed all-electric vehicles numerous times because it is a plain stupendously idiotic idea.  However – hybrids and plug-in hybrids even are great ideas.  You drive to work and park your plug-in hybrid in the preferred spots next to the handicapped section and plug it into the charging station installed by General Electric with the assistance of obscene federal subsidies.  Now the iPhone buzzes while you are nodding off in the sensitivity session and says, “Hey Bozo.  We will buy from your car’s generator for $2 per kWh for three hours.”  Let’s see… say 50 hp motor can generate 25 kW for three hours, that’s a $150! – enough for five fills of gasoline, or better yet, 20 fills of natural gas.  It can start remotely.  It can automatically shut down so you don’t go to leave work with a dead battery and empty tank.

Making money, I believe, is sexier and more attractive to consumers (versus saving) and everyone likes to mess with their phones 200 times a day.  Just watch people when their hands aren’t on a computer keyboard.  They are fiddling with their phones.


Everyone has a bad story or 20 about air travel but there are some things that are really bizarre to me.  Have you ever seen passengers sit in an airplane after most everyone else has deplaned?  I haven’t either.  Yet it is a “privilege” to board first, as in first class.  If I had my druthers, I’d like to sit in a recliner sipping a martini in the skyhigh club until the last second before entering the aluminum tube.  The only reason I want to get in the tube as soon as I can is so I can fit my carry-on in the overhead compartment in cattle class – and get the hell out of the airport as fast as I can when it lands.  If I were in first class, there’d be all kinds of space for my carry on, so what’s the rush?

Can first class customers not swill enough booze in three hours?  Are they trying to get their money’s worth of “free stuff” in exchange for the $1,000 extra they paid?  I almost forgot, first class customers get to board on the left aisle in the terminal past the ticket counter.  They get a special blue rug to walk on – like the red carpet at the Oscars I guess.  Oooooh.  (I stepped on it once myself)  A fellow passenger was snickering and throwing barbs at the blue carpet and staff as we boarded.

It seems my flights are served by smaller and smaller planes.  On three hour rides I always had at least a six-across Airbus A-320 or a Boeing 757.  Then it was crappy little MD-80s and DC-9s, and more recently four-across jets made by companies with names I forget or cannot pronounce.  On these little planes, those in cattle class get to stumble over the first class passengers who had the privilege of sitting in the plane as long as possible.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have 80 people running over my toes, spilling my drink and watching what I’m doing, thinking, “What does that guy do?  He must be the CEO’s nephew.  He doesn’t look smart enough to manage a hotdog cart.”  First class passengers never look at second class passengers (at all for that matter) and wonder, “What does that serf do for a living?  That may have been the guy trying to wash my windshield when I was trapped by the red light.  That one looks like a day-laborer.  That one looks like a cab driver and that one probably washes dishes at a diner.”

Jeff Ihnen

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