Friday, July 11, 2008

The Elusive Blueprint

Acorn CEO John Moore sent me an email a few days ago telling me he loves Tom Konrad and pretty much wants to marry him. He asked me if I would sprinkle some magic blogging powder, make friends, and get a conversation going.

Whether or not I have the necessary online social networking skills to make the connection remains to be seen, but, who knows, maybe this post is the first step.

(Tom, if your investigations into the blogs that mention your work have led you here, and you're reading this, I'll warn you now that pretty soon you'll have a few Acorn-connected internet personalities following your every move. You'll find us in your comment threads, and you'll find us responding to your thoughts on the blog we're about to launch. Hopefully you won't think less of us because of our explicit intention to make friends. We're doing it because we dig what you write, value your thoughts and opinions, and want to hear more of them.)

Anyway, John's email led me back into Tom's recent work, and rereading his thoughts reminded me how much I appreciate his point of view and the way he writes about the energy industry. He doesn't speak in soundbytes. He doesn't just drop isolated statistics. He explores.

I'm new to the energy space, so I've had only limited and thus not necessarily representative exposure to the commentary landscape, but I get the feeling that there's a lot of writing out there that's looking only to bang prescriptive mantra-stats into my head.

We need 50 more nuclear power plants by 2050.

Coal fired power producers need to squeeze three times the electrons out of half the coal.

Without tapping the natural gas reserves off the Atlantic, we'll be living in a state of heatless blackout for the rest of our lives.

If we don't invest USD 100 billion in geothermal generation immediately, we've lost our a civilization.

Tom doesn't do that. He explains. He works through problems. He teaches.

I admit that I have both the ignorance and the curiosity to NEED a teacher, and I'm sure that's part of what's drawn me to Tom as opposed to other energy commentators. But I think there's something about the daunting complexity of our current energy situation and the frightening unpredictability of our energy future that leads to a lot of unproductive and unactionable shock and awe statistical communication, and I appreciate that Tom keeps his distance from that.

What I think we could all use, and what I sense that Tom's thoughts on investing in the industry are helping to create, is a holistic vision of a clean, intelligent energy infrastructure. A blueprint. Something that looks at every piece of the system we have in place now (the whole mess: fuels, generation, transmission, distribution, and end use), identifies problems and solutions, and draws a picture of a sustainable future.

I suspect that something of a blueprint exists in Tom's head, and, as he writes (and teaches), he's sharing it with us piece by piece.

One of the pieces he shared these past few days was an especially big one, one of the reasons I feel compelled to write this post. He told us to imagine a one-house grid, and he used the illustration to help explain the relationships between baseload power, intermittent renewables, dispatchable generation, and electricity storage.

It's not the whole picture. It's only one look at one piece of the electricity segment of the energy industry. And it doesn't claim to have anywhere close to all the answers. But I think it's a good entry point to Tom's writing, and it just might be a good point from which we can start drawing that blueprint.

Note: This notion of blueprint comes partly from my experience this past spring out at the Milken Global Conference. Lots of discussion out there about investing in infrastructure, energy and otherwise, and one of the things on which it seemed everyone (by everyone I mean a couple of panels of economists and CA governor Arnold Schwarzenegger) agreed was that no radical infrastructural improvement can be made without a detailed, coherent vision of the radically improved future. Infrastructure is by nature unsexy. It's mostly invisible and taken for granted. Mustering the will to get things done requires a lot of explanation, a lot of storytelling, and a holistically conceived vision that makes those things possible.


Anonymous said...

dat giant gorilla wit da teddy is funny


Jake de Grazia said...

Thanks dude. He might get upset if he found out you called him a gorilla, though. Orangutans don't like people mixing them up with other apes.