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Green Energy, Schmeen Energy - Nobody Cares!

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If you have seen the movie "Jurassic Park" (and who hasn't?) you might remember the scene where Dennis Nedry, the would-be thief of InGen's dinosaur embryos is having lunch with Lewis Dodgson, the potential purchaser of said embryos. After his loud declaration that "We got Dodgson here" received no reaction or interest from the other restaurant patrons Nedry mocks Dodgson's secretive behavior with the comment "Nobody Cares!".  

That's how I am starting to feel about green energy. 

As someone that reads postings on this blog site and probably other similar sites as well you might take great offence at that statement.  You care about renewable energy, you care about our need to stop burning hydro-carbons, you care about conservation.  So do I.  

Opinion polls tell us that a majority of people want to reduce their impact on the planet and are even willing to pay a bit more for electricity and probably even manufactured goods that are more earth-friendly.  Millions of people turn off lights and appliances on "Earth Day".  

So what am I talking about? 

I recently traveled to Chicago and while on a stop-over at SEA-TAC I thought I would grab a magazine with some earth-friendly articles to read while I was waiting for my next flight.  I walked into the closest newsstand and viewed the racks of glossy magazines. 

There were dozens of magazines about lifestyles - houses, hair, happiness, hardship;  not a single article on solar panels, energy conservation, living with less "conspicuous consumption" or anything like that - quite the opposite really.

There were dozens of  magazines about the great outdoors - hiking, biking, hunting, fishing;  not a single article about deforestation/reforestation, urban bicycle commuting, or even climate change for that matter. 

There were dozens of magazines about cars - old cars, new cars, hot rods, and motorcycles; not a single article about electric cars (not even the Tesla!), electric bikes, fleet fuel consumption, or hydrid technology.

I am not lying when I tell you that amongst the hundreds of magazines in that shop there was not a single earth-friendly article to read.

What does that tell me?  It tells me that as much as most people have a vague intention to treat the earth better when it comes right down to it they are just not that interested in how that intention could be translated into action; i.e. "nobody cares".  And by "nobody" I mean the large majority of the inhabitants of spaceship earth.

As someone that I suspect is pretty well informed about these topics I bet that you cannot answer the most basic of questions about your personal impact on the environment. 

  1. What has been the actual fuel consumption of the car you drive over the past few months? (if you don't drive an automobile bully for you!)  Has it been trending up or down?
  2. If you drive by yourself to work (I do and I'm not proud to say that) have you investigated car pooling in the last year? (I have good intentions about car-pooling with a neighbor but haven't got it done yet - I do bicycle to work about 1 day every two weeks).
  3. Do you know how much electricity your house consumes in a month?  Has the consumption been going up or down over the past year?  How does your house consumption compare to similar houses in your neighborhood?
  4. On hot summer days and cold winter nights do you know what is going on with demand vs. supply in your city or region?  Have you ever been alerted to try and reduce your consumption of electricity (i.e. participated in a Demand Response event)? 
  5. Do you know the rough breakdown of electricity generation sources that provide power to your home? (hydro, coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, solar)

I confess that my answer to most of these questions is either "no" or "I don't know".  Pathetic.  But there you have it.

At it's core the problem is one of psychology and awareness.  I discussed this at length in a previous blog posting.  Now a start-up out of Arlington, Virginia is proving that getting electricity consumers to "buy in" to the concept of Demand Response can produce real results. Alex Laskey of Opower sums it up like this.

"Most of these interventions are about translating intentions into behavior. They can appear to an outsider as if it's about changing behavior, but it's perhaps better thought of as realizing intentions."

So we can be successful in changing the way consumers view energy usage.  Given that we really only have a problem for a few hours a day for a few weeks per year that is pretty encouraging.  By way of example, a record heatwave on the eastern seaboard recently required the largest Demand Response in the history of the utility (PJM) to keep the lights on and the air conditioners humming.

But memories are short and old habits die hard. We all need to be reminded on a regular basis that these issues won't go away and need our regular attention. That's why I keep writing posts for The Black Swan Blog.

Davis Swan's picture

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Recent Comments

Ferdinand E. Banks's picture
Ferdinand E. Banks on October 9, 2013
I published an article on the site Seeking Alpha a few years ago and looked at it yesterday. There were 125 comments published, to include my 15 or 20. Most of them could be described as nutnouse or fruitcake, and in my comments I mentioned a large meeting that I had attended at the Stockholm School of Economics, and most of the talks given there were - from the standpoint of economic logic - even more nuthouse and fruitcake. Etc, etc.

The bottom line here is that people in both the expensive and the cheap seats cannot deal with energy economics topics. A few months ago Professor John Hassler from the University of Stockholm gave a talk at my University in Uppsala, in which he presented a paper that he had written with an insider in Germany about energy and food. The paper was nuthouse and fruitcake because the mathematics in it - which impressed every person in the room except me was nuthouse and fruitcake multiplied by ten. And so on and so forth.

When I buy Magazines in an Airport I usually buy American football and boxing, and sometimes Fortune and Bloomberg Newsweek. If I see one on energy I wont buy it, because if I can sit through a 4 hour abomination in the elite Stockholm School of Economics without a ray of logic shining through, then I dont want what they are serving up at the news stand in my local Airport.

Harry Valentine's picture
Harry Valentine on October 10, 2013
People want electric power at low cost . . . . . providing the choice of technology does not scare them. Otherwise you have people protesting nuclear power, protesting destruction of valleys for power dams, protesting wind farms etc. Perhaps importing low-cost electric power such as occurs in the NE USA may be an option to consider . . . it solves the N.I.M.B.Y problem.
Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on October 10, 2013
Perhaps the folks realize the "emperor-has-no-cloths"; the dire warnings of Armageddon caused by the ubiquitous trace gas CO2 are pure nonsense.

If renewable energy can help reduce power bills, fine. Otherwise send it to the dung heap of bad ideas.

Richard Vesel's picture
Richard Vesel on October 21, 2013
The fastest way to make greener practices more prevalent is to make them "cool". Companies that manufacture green don't get that. They advertise them as "responsible", but being "responsible" isn't "cool", now is it?

The one company that has the right idea is Tesla. Still in its infancy, they proved out their initial technology with the VERY COOL Tesla Roadster. Since it is now out of production, I have some advice to the serious car collectors out there - buy one or two Roadsters. They will be worth a fortune in the not too distant future...

So here's a conversation that could be done, as an ad for an energy efficient car: A bunch of twenty somethings sitting around the table in a bar, and one-upping each other with the mileage their cars get (rather than blathering about useless hundreds of horsepower). Young people en masse are not terribly interested in being able to get from 0 to 60 in five seconds any more - they are interested in using their limited funds for something more fun than feeding hundreds of bucks a month into their gas tank.

The same will hold true for their homes - they have less interest in McMansions, and more in keeping their power and gas bills down to manageable levels, so again, they have money available for fun (or for helping to pay down those horrific student loans!).

My advice - skip most of the logic and responsibility arguments, and go right to the economic and coolness. Coolness can be manufactured, believe it or not...

And making it cool to flaunt green in the face of the non-green old-folks-club is just one more incentive.

Ad Agencies - are you listening!?!

Malcolm Rawlingson's picture
Malcolm Rawlingson on October 23, 2013
This will probably offend many here but the problem is that energy is too cheap - that is why we waste it.

If it cost $1000 to fill your tank do you think we would jam your foot to the floor at every traffic light to beat the next idiot to the next traffic light. Or drive at 140 km/hour to get to the next traffic jam 20 seconds before the lunatic in the other car that is only doing 130 when driving at 80 cuts the fuel bill in half. Of course we would not. Relative to income, electricity, gas and oil are dirt cheap. We waste it simply because it is so cheap it can be wasted.

Of all the bills I pay every month the two LOWEST are my gas bill and my electricity bill. My cell phone bill is higher than them both combined. All the advertising in the world is NOT going to change attitudes towards energy. Only price will do that.

When natural gas service became available to my neighbourhood I replaced my electric furnace with a gas one operating at 97% efficiency....a condensing furnace. Most of my neighbours opted for much lower efficiency models that were about $1000 cheaper. Their gas bills are about the same as mine. While I like to think I have done a good turn for the environment by burning less gas to do the same job the savings (especially at such low low gas prices) are hardly measurable. For a while I was kidding myself that it was paying for itself but I think that was more of an environmentalists delusion.... akin to buying mini florescent light bulbs at 10 times the price of regular bulbs and expecting any pay back in electrical energy savings - another of my delusions.

During the summer months the actual cost of all the gas (that is the product itself) that I used for hot water heating and cooking and BBQ was $8. It cost more to deliver it to my house. I spent more on coffee in a day than it cost me for gas for the whole month. Summer months are different to winter of course but it serves to illustrate my point that energy is dirt cheap.

Energy engineers of all stripes have made the bulk delivery of energy so cheap and so reliable that we waste it without much thought. I am not in the least bit surprised that Fashion Magazines, and car periodicals are front and centre in the mag racks at airports and Davis you ARE absolutely correct. The general public just doesn't know and it doesn't care.

Until it is no longer there of course....then all hell breaks loose.

Energy engineers in many respects are prisoners of our own success.


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