Balance of Power

By Eddie Solar

China_TrafficFinishing a summer internship at the McDonnell Group, it’s now time for me to head back to school.   I’ve been fortunate to gain valuable exposure to the everyday activities of a strategic marketing firm and to have learned a great deal about smart grid.  Before leaving, I’ve decided to take a crack at posting my first blog.

In the months prior to arriving at McDonnell Group, I was fortunate to pursue international studies in China this past term and got to see one of the country’s many enigmas first-hand.  Having prepared myself to experience a dynamic, emerging superpower, a few peculiarities stood out.

The first thing I noticed about Beijing was how long it took to move about the city in a car.  I remember vividly an evening out to dinner with my host family that ended at seven p.m.   The traffic was so thick that we did not get back home until ten o’clock and I still needed to study.  This family is part of China’s upper-middle class and they were able to afford two cars, as did most of their friends.  They loved their cars so much that they drove a couple of hours to work each day as opposed to taking a forty-five-minute ride on the subway.  My host mother told me it was because she “needed her space” and it made her feel good; like an individual rather than just a number.  I found this a bit funny because the huge volume of cars leaves little space on the roads.

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Reversing Reverse Impacts (Part II of II)

by Peter Manos
Principal Strategy Consultant

statue-of-liberty-pictureUnder-marketing is to blame not only for the broad, general under-appreciation of our industry’s accomplishments, but also for program-specific reverse impacts and for negative views about smart grid initiatives in general.

If you want perspective on the reality of our industry’s level of under-marketing, note that a consumer products company like P&G spent nine percent of its revenue on advertising last year, while the average utility spends less than one tenth of one percent on advertising.

Let’s review key examples of reverse impacts and suggest some best practices tips to address them.

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Reversing Reverse Impacts (Part I of II)

You put anti-lock brakes and air bags in cars, and what happens?   The results are mostly good, of course, but some people will tend to drive more recklessly.  Similarly, some smart grid initiatives can have reverse impacts.

For example, in the areas of energy efficiency (EE) and distributed energy resources (DER), reverse impacts due to “contrary” behaviors can reduce the expected benefits:

•    EE:  A percentage of users of “tankless” on-demand hot water heaters use more rather than less hot water because they no longer experience a water temperature drop when taking a long shower;
•    DER:  A utility’s expected reduction in peak demand is not realized after completion of a large rebate program for residential solar photovoltaics because a percentage of participants now leave more lights on and put their air conditioners on colder settings.  Subsequent research shows that the PVs make a subset of customers feel they now have “free” electric power;

hotwatersystems

Sound market research and communications strategies are needed to deal with these issues, because there are larger principles at work here.

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Reversing the Smart Grid Brain Drain

By Marc Marton

apprenticeship2Throughout the Great Recession and ongoing sluggish recovery, we’ve heard more about job loss and the ugly straights of the unemployed than we have heard about the many thousands of available jobs going unfilled because candidates lack necessary skills. For utilities in the smart grid era, this is a matter of concern as many experienced, skilled professionals are expected to retire in the coming years or be poached by vendors.  Further complicating matters is the gradual shift away from degreed studies in power engineering.

It’s a core problem of the energy economy that is brought up on a regular basis but there never seems to be a real solution to address it.

Here’s one.

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Plumbing the Depths: Water Utilities Enter the Consumer Engagement Era


By Peter Manos

Peter1_62712A few years ago, I visited the ruins in Pompeii, Italy, shortly after visiting the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of New York. I learned that in the 1870s to 1900’s typhoid was common in our country’s largest city. Before central water supply service, tenements on Manhattan’s lower east side had outhouses and drinking water wells in the same backyard. In contrast, I learned that people in Pompeii 2,000 years ago had clean drinking water service and separate sewer service to their homes. I wondered: why had our infrastructure advanced so little between Italy circa 70 AD and New York City, 18 centuries later?

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