15 June 2018

EV's and the Future of Electric Utilities

My eastern Nebraska electric utility, Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), is stepping up to play a central role in the electric system of the future and they are dragging the larger state electric utility, Nebraska Public Power Diistrict (NPPD), along with them. The catalyst was the Sierra Club and Nebraskans for Solar relentlessly nagging and educating them; the smaller towns around Nebraska adopting community solar; and progressives being elected to the OPPD Board.

The key idea is that the energy future is not some quiche-eating, commie-pinko fag (Democratic) thing. It is inevitable, like gravity. Utilities can lead, follow or get the hell out of the way. Uilities have a major role to play, which the renewable energy crowd is waking up to and making an action priority. Nebraska's 100% public power is making it easier because we can mess with the BoD of all our utilities. Out-state they have municipal utilities.

This is so exciting! This is Big League poker and is happening right here, right now in Nebraska and not some nebulous thing out on the coast. Sometime in the last few years OPPD, NPPD and the municipal utilities reached a tipping point. Mostly it is pure economics,,with renewable advocates drumming the numbers for the next 20 years into the utility BoD's over and over again. Money and long-range risk management REALLY get a utility's attention.

Things that are happening:
  • Community solar: Fremont is leading this. They proposed building a solar farm and letting ratepayers "buy into it" instead of putting panels on their roof. It was over-subscribed in less than a week. So they went ahead with that and started planning a bigger second one. Results from the first project went just like planned and subscribers are getting their  power cheaper, with no siting issues, no installation and  no maintenance, and no financing issues. Now the second one is completely subscribed. There are about a half a dozen of these projects around the state. Every city of any size in Nebraska is now planning for one. They are shutting down their local generation plants. NPPD is scrambling to deal with it. NPPD fought  it in court over past 5 years and lost, including some key enabling legislation. OPPD is building one now for Omaha. Joan & I  plan to subscribe.
  • Wind generation: The Legislature passed some key legislation to enable private wind and fight off reactionary laws by the coal--industry. The result is fair and profitable private wind farms in an all public power state. There is a battle going on in the Sandhills between the NIMBY's and the wind entrepreneurs. OPPD is now getting 1/3 of its power from renewables, exceeding even the green mandates for California!
  • Coal: OPPD decommissioned two North Omaha generators last year and converted another one to natural gas. NPPD is fighting it but is sure to give in. Even as "stranded assets", the long term economics said "Shut 'em down!"
  • Nuclear: OPPD threw in the towel with the Fort Calhoun nuclear last year, even after spending over $100M bringing it back on line after the flood. Oops! But this shows the change in thinking at OPPD that has happened in the last five years.
  • EVs: And now we come to the big one. EV's are projected to take over in the next 5 to 10 years. The switch by consumers is expected to be sudden. Millions of gallons of gasoline with no longer be purchased in the OPPD region; billions of dollars in new kilowatts will. OPPD has to figure out how to put in infrastructure to support it, especially new heavy duty distribution infrastructure to include substations, line transformers and neighborhood wiring. OPPD has to figure out how to provide the supply from central generations, distributed renewables and purchases from the Southwest Power Pool. OPPD has to figure out how to put together a smart grid to control it all that now includes EVs, home storage systems, home smart controllers like Nest, community storage, alternative sources like industrial waste energy and smart buildings, microgrids to rationalize it all and offer improved reliability. Billions of  dollars in new revenue in the switch from gasoline, way more than the current revenue. Billions of dollars in new capital investment. Lots of jobs and new operational expense. A sh*tstorm is coming to sleepy, little ol' OPPD and NPPD. They finally ran the numbers and realized that they better get on the stick. Consumers are going to want to drive their shiny new EV home and plug it in the new charging station they installed in their garage. Many consumers will be willing to invest a Tesla PowerWall-like home battery system if OPPD will install it, maintain it and not charge them anything for it.
The replacement of the local distribution system is the most exciting part. It is a hard problem, and the electric utility industry in general and OPPD in particular are realizing they need to get all hands on deck. OPPD has got all the engineering departments and the finance department on board ramping up in a near state of panic to achieve this. Every single part of OPPD has to change, just to respond to EVs. I don't think it is lost on them that they are going to grow explosively in size.  The  future belongs to the bold. According to their public charter, they must not fail. And there are plenty of people and organizations to hold their feet to the fire. Oh, and by the way, the carbon footprint for eastern Nebraska will plummet. We will be back to levels not seen in 100 years. Yea! Save the planet! And have fun doing it. The Omaha World-Herald is already on this and will give me a front row seat. I might live long enough to see it happen.

The private utilities and the petro-chemical industries are just dinosaurs, thrashing their  tails. People will see what is happening in Nebraska and other states and wake up to fact that they are being prevented from realizing the  future, especially economically, by private franchisees of the public good. Electric utilities still have a role to play, it is just  radically different.

Btw, I own a small pile of First Solar in one of my high growth, high risk accounts. . They are past their initial phase and now are just in a steady state, printing money. the California mandate that  all new residential construction have solar doesn't hurt. You should check out the radical Tesla solar roofing tiles. Amazing. Plus maybe a Nest controller managed by the utility for demand management of your air-conditioning and EV charging. (OPPD already offers  a rebate to buy a Nest and a discount for  letting them manage the  demand. )

Wild times!

12 June 2018

Back from the Dead

No! No! Not the Grateful Dead, more's the pity.

I am resurrecting my blog.

I don't care if anybody reads it. I just want to write and share stories and thoughts in a socially-acceptable way. Usually I hog conversations. I bore people to death, kind of human "tl;dr". My friends and family have heard most of these stories a dozen times. And some of these thought are kind of far-out there, so they don't come up in conversation.

Maybe a great grandchild will stumble across these and think that they come from a strange family.

02 January 2016

The Big Short

Joan and I went to see the movie today, having read and enjoyed the book. 

My friend, Seth, expressed his reaction well: great, dark humor. Much darker than the book.
Even though I laughed out loud many times and even clapped, I walked out feeling very queasy. The whole topic is decidedly unfunny. Near the end of the movie the Mark Baum character (played extraordinarily by Steve Carrell) breaks into a rant about corruption during a debate with the CEO of Bear Stearns, even as BS stock is crashing to zero. The audience runs out of the room rather than listen to the next speaker, Alan Greenspan, so that they can try to close their positions.

In 2016 we will see the effect of money in politics and just how powerful it is in the Presidential race. But it is certainly effective for non-presidential races. We have a bought-off Congress, that's for sure. Hillary's plans to change Wall St are excellent, but how can she effect them with the current Congress, of idiots and crooks?

This stuff makes a difference I think. Somebody who should know pointed out about 10 years ago that 40% of our GDP was in the financial sector, primarily investment banking. 40%! What values does it bring to the US? How do all the people on Wall St. spend their money? Does it produce jobs and lasting economic value?  Warren Buffet says everybody is stuck in the casino at the back of Wall St. instead of making deals and investments that have lasting value for America. Do we have the money any more to spend on the fundamentals such as infrastructure, education, R & D, safety nets, and effective regulation? Can we ever bring down the deficit? Will we be a debtor nation for the rest of the 21st century?

Michael Lewis's whole arc of financial books started with Liar's Poker, which is fundamentally about how much Walt St would pay a 20-something like him, fresh out of college, to do simple, shady deals. And how it was endemic to Wall St., not just at Solomon Brothers. He walked away from the millions, because it was WRONG. He became a Tom Wolfe style journalist.

One of the big differences between the movie and book, one of the things that we liked so much, is it focused on the effect of all this stuff on the rest of us, on the world. Wall St., the SEC, the bond rating agencies, the insurers took down the world economy! And all the time, everybody, EVERYBODY, was saying it couldn't happen.

Are there parallels now with the US socio-economic-cultural structure? Dare I say that the US is fundamentally broken? Are we a nation broken into helpless, disenfranchised, illiterate blue collar workers; fat, weak, well-off white collar workers in denial; and greedy investors and brokers who see predation and sociopathic behavior as the norm? Do we have a broken federal government and a political system that has no way to produce leaders who can fix it? Do we have an economy fixated on looking backwards to the age of petroleum rather than ahead to sustainability and true globalism? Are we secretly a third world country in practice?

Britannia ruled the world during the age of coal, then the US took over for the age of petroleum 150 years ago. The U.K. continues, but adopted the US's unsustainable culture. Somebody will take over from the US, probably China. It will all equilibrate, but will it be violent? And will we stop the global climate change doomsday machine in time?

So when you go to watch The Big Short, keep this theme in mind. Not only can EVERYTHING go wrong, it DID go wrong. It could and should happen again. I have no idea how to prevent it. I don't really know how to prepare for it, except something like the Ben Rickert character (played nicely low-key by Brad Pitt) lifestyle but he seemed to lack effective home defenses. That is what made both Joan and I queasy and had us reaching for the Bourbon when we got home. We both plan to reread the book and then go watch it again. It is that good of a movie. 

And, Seth, checkout Lewis's follow-on book, Boomerang. It is a pretty quick read. More dark humor. It covers 5 countries, post crash responses: Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Germany and finally California. The last chapter about the US is very, very scary and very prescient. He just fucking lays out the inconvenient truths.

07 June 2015

HP's The Machine v.2.0 - It's all about the people, silly


I don't care a whit about this development technically. What I would like to read is a study of how this happened. Hopefully, BusinessWeek will have something. Heads should role among the senior business and technology people, not because they are bad, but to preserve their honor and bushido. Junior people should ask themselves why they didn't see this coming, or feel vindicated if they did. Probably 50% of the staff should turn over, but probably won't because that is the problem w/ HP. If they'd have hired me at the beginning as the Project Curmudgeon, I could have told them it was gonna go this way. Maybe. :O)

We live in an age of miracles, but when it comes to corporate effectiveness it, is SSDD. Just like the platform for the Singularity will be available long before we know what it means to be and to  build a human, we will have all these cool pieces to build a company without much idea how to do it. Fortunately, the survival-of-the-fittest approach for companies works pretty well for investors, employees, customers and society. There are some current candidates for a survivable companies but it takes a long time to tell. My daughter, Diane, is trying to stake her design career on it, which kinda brings tears to my eyes.

Should companies have term limits for executives? It seems to be working wonders in politics. 

At Ping Identity, I learned from the young engineers that they expected to only work 3 to 5 years at any company. They expected then to update their LinkedIn with a link to a demonstrable project, hopefully in the Wikipedia, building a bread trail of increasing relevance and coolness.They looked on it like going to graduate school. I have now realized that one aspect of my career is that I changed jobs relatively often for someone in my cohort. Five to ten years seemed to be about my range. Doing it a little more often might have been a good idea. I worked with all these amazing people at ACIW who had been there 20+ years. None of them could understand why the company had gone off the rails. I just shook my head. Fortunately some of the best have escaped and found a new job.

07 March 2012

Should I buy an iPad 2 or an iPad 3?

First, iPad basics:
  • 3 memory sizes: 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB
  • 3 network options: WiFi, WiFi+AT&T, WiFi+Verizon
  • 2 colors: Black, White

Memory size: It used to be that you had to buy a big enough one to hold your whole music & video collection.  But with the iCloud service, this is no longer true.  For $25/year, you can store all your music up in Apple's servers and either stream it or selectively download it (and maybe delete it from the device later).  You can have as many devices as you want on the same account!  All your iPods, iPhones and iPads. Recommendation: 16 GB w/ an iCloud subscription.

Network options:  The mobile network options are cool if you are traveling and want to use your iPad somewhere that doesn't have WiFi - like in your car.  But it takes a wireless account w/ data.  These are not cheap, although I think you can turn them on and off. So maybe you can turn it on for a trip.  You'd have to check w/ AT&T and Verizon.  If you use either of these mobile providers now, you would probably want to stick with them and try to get a good price.  An alternative is a mobile hotspot.  These are little hockey puck sized units that run on battery (or a power supply in a hotel room) that connect to the cellular network and allow up to 4 devices to access it via WiFi.  This means that you have to carry another gadget around, but then you can use other devices that do WiFi, like laptops and iPods/iPads. Search for "AT&T Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G" in Google (AT&T doesn't support deep linking.)  Verizon Jetpack™ 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MiFi® 4510L  Recommendation: WiFi  w/ a Verizon MiFi if you want cellular connectivity.

Now on to iPad2 vs. iPad3:

The only difference I can see is that the iPad3 is great for watching HiDef movies, costs $100, and will have a 4 to 6 week wait to get one.  I'm sure it has some other cool features but they weren't part of the announcement. Recommendation: iPad 2.  If you want it quicker, cheaper, buy one off eBay or from a local Apple store (Village Pointe) or Best Buy. Otherwise, order if from the Apple store.

08 December 2010

Augmented Reality = the Cloud + Devices

Recently my good friend, Roy Kimbrell, wrote me about Google's latest Chrome announcement:
I was able to watch a few minutes of Google's live webcast of their announcement of their newest version of Chrome.  I am very impressed.  The biggest deal is the app store - apps that run in Chrome.  You may need to log-in to Google first (don't know, I use Gmail, so login is kinda automatic).  
During Google's presentation, they demo'd some of the apps.  Some are free, others are cheap.  The NPR app is free - and very nice.  Install it (just a few seconds) and click on the NPR app.  At the bottom you can click on the buttons to listen to the hourly news or their programs.

The Poppit game is fun - like popping bubble wrap, very addictive.

This is the future of the Web, I think.  This is Android and will be the netbooks when ChromOS is done - in beta now.
And another old fiend, Steve McIlree, responded
I was reading an announcement of Chrome 8 when it occurred to me to wonder if I had it yet. So I checked "About" and found I was using version 8.0.552.215. That's the way updates should be done. No muss, no fuss, no download notices, no restarting the app, no reboot; just, "Oh, I'm running the latest version"!

I have hopes that Apple and Google will basically become two flavors of this new world of augmented cloud computing.  (And maybe MSFT which is showing signs of life)  Eric Schmidt has said that where they disagree w/ Apple, is the idea of running any apps on the device.   Personally, I see a world where most of the apps run in the cloud, with device caching and stashing (optimistic pre-provisioning of data) available for speed and off-line usefullness.  However, in about 10 years, wide area wireless (WiMax et al) is going to be pretty assumable.  So net based apps are a very reasonable thing.  Running apps in the cloud in nice, comfy, powerful, secure servers makes everything a whole lot easier.  Plus then you can move from device to device and room to room or house to house and your context is maintained. I think this is what some people call "presence".

To the point of wireless everywhere, I am sitting in a condo in WinterPark.  The condo is nice, but old, and the lamers haven't put broadband everywhere.  This is unusual, since most people come equiped with WiFi devices to help them check out the weather, and the food, and maps and stuff.  Fortunately, my company had given me a Verizon modem that sticks in a USB port on my laptop.   It's pretty decent, up to 1 mb at times.  This device is actually obsolete.  For the serious road warriors, the company now just gives them Verizon hotspots.  These are little hockey puck like things that magically connect into the Verizon network and give up to four people WiFi access.  That means they work great with not only laptops but iPhones, iPods, IPads, Android phones, gameboys, Rokus - whatever.  Sprint/Clearwire offers the same thing w/ WiMax where availabe; Sprint 3G everywhere else.  I think Verizon is going to offer a similar hotspot next year.

Regarding the future, David Siegel's Pull is lots of fun to read about the future of pull data and cloud computing.  He has about a dozen interesting ideas per page.  It reads like science fiction.

And finally, I am reading Kevin Kelly's much hyped What Technology Wants  It is very good to read, especially if you are into evolution.  He has some Very Big Ideas that seem pretty well reasoned to me.  This book is sort of the next step beyond Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near.  Kelley tackles head on the effect of humans on evolution, and the difference between information and biology.  He makes me feel a little more comfortable with the Brave New World.  I believe in the silicon future of evolution, but Kelly explains how and why we'll get there from a cultural point of view, rather than Kurzweil's mechanistic view.

In a recent interview, the famous sci-fi writer William Gibson says that their is no such thing as cyberspace anymore. 
"Cyberspace is colonising what we used to think of as the real world," he said. "I think that our grandchildren will probably regard the distinction we make between what we call the real world and what they think of as simply the world as the quaintest and most incomprehensible thing about us."
"The prefix cyber is going the way of the prefix electro," he said.
I think they used to call it augmented reality.   Well, boy, we are sure living in an augmented reality.

23 November 2010

Facebook IS Real ID

Psst! Wanna make a million billion dollars?

What if Facebook had slots for real world identitiers, like DMV name or bank name?  What if you built a Facebook app and a meatspace organization that would vet people, linking their Facebook ID to some real world ID?  You could charge them.  And you could offer insurance to relying parties through your Facebook app.

Vetting would have to be serious, because the fraudsters would be on to you like stink on manure.  But you could charge real money for this to recover your costs, because it would be for a significant period, like 5 years, and the better quality, the more value to the user.

Facebook themselves could offer support for self-asserted links to professional organizations, like IEEE or ASCAP or LinkedIn.  But it would take a real-world registration organization to vet the person with face-to-face meetings and breeder documents. (Check out this article in the Keesing Journal of Documents & Identity, by John Mercer, a U.S. State Department guru on documents.  He managed the development of the chip-enabled U.S. passport.  This article is just a terrific introduction to the topic of breeder documents, with lots of examples and concrete advice: Breeder Documents - the keys to identity.)

Before you rush out and start-up your new company, check out this free research from Gartner (the Burton Group) by Bob Blakley A Relationship Layer for the Web . . . and for Enterprises, Too. Bob is one of the savviest people in identity and this is a tour-de-force.  Read this and look for the term relationship service.  That would be you!

Have you ever thought about building a phony Facebook ID?  Besides being illegal, think about how really hard it is.  A fake home town, fake birthday, fake friends, fake pictures?  Each in and of themselves is not big proofing document, but taken together, they are a very compelling reality.  I am sure that there are people who can do it, but it is not easy.  It is not unreasonable to think about the person behind a Facebook as real.  What if that identity was reliably linked to other valuable identities, that have money and legacy and the law associated with them?

And this reality is what will make a Facebook ID so valuable in the future.  It is a true Real ID, way better than what the average state DMV can put together.

I heard Luke Shepard, a twenty-something Facebook engineer and evangelist talk at the 2010 Burton Catalyst conference.  Right there in front of God and everybody, he stressed that a real identity is the whole point of Facebook's design metaphor.

Nothing like basing an idea on reality to ensure long-term success.

(As an aside, if you did this for all personal data services, not just Facebook, it would get even more valuable.)