A while ago I read this Smart Grid News article and upon finishing realized that I had no recollection of what I’d just read. The experience reminded of a Far Side cartoon someone once showed me (which, as a dog lover, I thought was very funny). The illustration featured two identical panels of a man scolding his dog. The following provides the copy for each panel:
What we say to dogs: “OK Ginger! Ive had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!”
What they hear: “blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah…
I thought of this cartoon because, like Ginger, I locked onto frequently repeated concepts at the beginning of the article that had preexisting associations so strong they overwhelmed the new information. For Ginger, it was the mention of her name which she associated with her own identity. For me, it was the obligatory reference to the smart grid’s cost, timing and need for regulatory reform that I, and many C&I energy customers, have come to associate with project irrelevance.
With a hat tip to Gary Larson and Ginger, the following illustrates my point using the first sentence of the above referenced article:
What smart grid articles say: U.S. electricity regulators face historic challenges over the next 20 years in helping to guide an estimated $2 trillion in investment to renew or replace aging infrastructure, ensure industry compliance with increasingly stringent environmental regulations, and adopt smart-grid technologies, according to a new report from the sustainability think-tank Ceres
What energy managers hear: “blah blah blah REGULATOR CHALLENGES blah blah blah 20 YEARS blah blah blah $2 TRILLION blah blah blah.
I dont mean to pick on this article because it has become standard practice to include these concepts almost as boilerplate copy. The unspoken agreement with the reader is intended to be “….let’s hold these unsolved issues aside for now to better address new ideas that can be implemented once the issues are solved.” This suspension of disbelief may be okay for abstract discussions about the smart grid but it prevents pragmatic C&I energy managers from seriously engaging in the content. Here are some reasons why:
- C&I mangers do not see regulators as an impediment to the smart grid. On the contrary, they like the fact that regulators require utilities to make solid business cases before passing smart grid costs through to customers in the form of rate increases. Whereas tank articles justify the smart grid as a rising tide that floats all boats, energy customers will engage only when they understand how it translates into competitive advantage.
- Also, 20 years is a totally impractical time horizon for a workforce that as a group skews closer to the glide path of retirement age than the moving and shaking that occurs in mid-career. Not to mention the fact that, two decades is also 4 times longer than the standard 5-year planning horizon that most operating managers focus on.
- Finally, $2 Trillion is an unfathomable number under any circumstances and in the current political/economic climate it borders on absurd. Merely stating that that the estimate is “accepted” is not acceptable. On the customer side, no project is taken seriously until it has an approved budget.
Im not saying that C&I energy managers are so focused on the here and now that they only read articles that directly relate to their day to day jobs. I am saying that, like anyone else, they are confronted with a barrage of information every day and need to make split second decisions on what to engage with and what to gloss over. I believe that think tank articles that almost go out of their way to be irrelevant to energy managers fall into the latter category.