News these days looks bad. Disasters, wars, floods-fires-and-tick-infestations, pandemics, inflation, recession, stagflation, you name it. Any one of these crises is such a shock to the mind, like a punch in the face, it’s hard to know what to do next.
In this news update, we’ll touch on the big events defining the decade, but will focus on lifting out key themes, trends, and connections between different fields, that you can use to position your offering and grow your business through these challenging times.
But first, a rant.
One news item I’d be happy to never see again is this one: “Climate change: It’s even worse than we thought”, or “Climate change already worse than expected”, or any of the rest along those lines. The greenhouse effect was described in 1824—about 200 years ago—and scientifically verified in 1859.
Since then, our mathematical models of large weather patterns, and our computers, have gotten very good. We’re well within the predicted range; we’re closely tracking what was projected in 1972. The computer models from 1972 were compared to the past 50 years of measured data, and the models that fit “most closely with observed data indicate a halt in welfare, food, and industrial production over the next decade or so…” [emphasis added].
That’s a strong statement.
How could it get so hot so fast? Feedback loops.
Take water. It was shown in 1859 that water vapor is a greenhouse gas, but it gets little attention. Nonetheless, water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas and is responsible for about half of global warming, with CO2, methane, NOX, SOX, soot, and all the rest combined making up the other half.
Water vapor is causing half the heating, and warmer air…? Holds exponentially more water. Which holds more heat. These relationships are as predictable as sunrise. Like pointing a microphone at its own amplifier, we know what comes next.
If climate change is really “worse than we thought”, we need to recalibrate our thinking. Climate science seems to have the curse of Kassandra, the Greek tragic character doomed to speak true prophesies no one would believe.
To make a good plan, we need a good map of reality; the climate models have proven scary accurate for 50 years and they show extremes in the next 50 that make our record-breaking, “once in a thousand years” storms of today look laughable. So, let’s say it aloud: It’s getting hotter, faster.
And we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
Ok, end of rant.
Perhaps one reason people keep saying they are surprised by extreme weather is that we feel the need to express our shock at everything breaking down at once. It’s unsettling to have rails, roads, and runways buckle and start to melt. Or both hydro and nuclear plants forced to cut power.
On the downside, a sudden sense of insecurity triggers the amygdala to shut down our higher thinking; studies have shown a state of fear can take 13% off your IQ score. While all this is going on and we need to think through it, unfortunately, we’re less smart.
But on the upside, our imperfect brains open priceless moments around crises, when we can radically re-order our priorities. This happens because humans are much more risk-averse than gain-seeking, and because anything that is close in distance and time weighs far more heavily in peoples’ judgement than things further off.
How to beat the heat
First, respect that fact that we’re all stressed and frazzled, so go easy on yourself and others. Genuinely care for the person. Help them think about what they need for their business to be energy secure while meeting ESG standards.
Along the way, use the latest flash-bulb memory of infrastructure breakdown to activate risk aversion and openness to shift when what has always been reliable has suddenly failed. Point out that mitigation is necessary but not sufficient. Reinforce the understanding that “adaptation is priority number one”.
Help customers understand that buying carbon offsets does nothing to increase their energy resilience or energy sovereignty. Elevate their awareness that energy insecurity can cost a business everything.
In comparison, an onsite energy system that both reduces their carbon emissions and keeps power on during emergencies is very affordable. Especially when it comes with optional financing, available through the VECKTA platform.
With international tensions running high, companies are having to pick sides. It’s a step back from the globalization era of removing tariffs and building interdependence in our economies. Now we’re seeing trade barriers go up, protectionism, and alarming examples of misplaced reliance on international gas, electricity, and other trade. We’re hearing “de-globalization,” and some are even saying the “end of globalization” has arrived.
Along with extreme weather and the pandemic, the actions of governments have sharply cut supply chains and disrupted business activity, driving companies and countries to look for more direct control, and more trusted counterparties. There is a shift from “just in time” to “just in case” thinking.
Personally, I’m not predicting the end of globalization. But I do expect a more bi-polar global world. As that happens and supply chains break, we see re-shoring, near-shoring, and “friend-shoring” to restructure the economy. We should expect build out of plant, grid, and transport capacity that reduce reliance on critical resources between conflicted states.
With the need for adaptation to extreme heat, the pain of Western Europe relying on gas from Russia spotlights the need for both energy security and energy sovereignty. Onsite energy systems can address both, as well as helping with a third issue:
Worldwide, we haven’t cracked the decarbonized grid yet. In most places, our grids have fallen behind even routine upkeep and are operating beyond the end of intended useful life.
Yet we talk about electrifying everything and decarbonizing the grid. As anyone in the industry knows, with the grid of today, that isn’t possible. Energy is expected to be safe, reliable, zero carbon, affordable, secure, and always available 24×7 by sometime between 2030 and 2050. In most population centers, that would require upgrading and doubling or tripling grid capacity.
We can bet: The frequent weather extremes will get more frequent and more extreme. Certain international relations will grow cold while others grow warmer. Most power grids will continue to break down, and/or have wild price swings, as they struggle to keep up with electrification and decarbonization in increasingly high heat, high winds, and high international tensions.
Therefore: Those who supply equipment, services, and/or capital to the onsite energy systems market have a tremendous responsibility in the public interest to deploy as many onsite energy systems as possible, as fast as possible. We must help our customers, policy makers and regulators understand the critical role onsite energy plays in increasing reliability and resilience, energy security and energy sovereignty, decarbonization and adaptation to new heat and weather extremes.
As fractures show in the global economy, we’ll need to work closely with trusted allies to develop as much onsite energy as possible, and to make up the rest with long distance transmission and grid scale generation on domestic or friendly soil.
Onsite energy is uniquely able to serve business, social, and national interests, making supply chains more robust (in particular cold storage), supporting a revamped manufacturing sector, adapting to new heat and weather extremes, reducing CO2 emissions, and increasing energy security and sovereignty.
We see an advanced grid of microgrids, with onsite energy systems literally covering the landscape, and large transmission lines bringing in big wind, big solar, hydro, geothermal and nuclear power.
Heat, war, and an aging grid, with energy central in all three, have exposed unacceptable vulnerabilities in our critical systems. They must be upgraded. Literally millions of lives are at risk right now over energy and supply chain insecurity.
We need to see an advanced grid where these vulnerabilities are eliminated: Climate-ready infrastructure, no dependence on misaligned states, a modernized, decarbonized grid built out for full electrification. We need to see that and tell everyone about it. There may be a lot riding on whether they see it too.
As US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said at GCEAF in September of 2022, the war in Ukraine has “shown autocrats everywhere that reliance on fossil fuels can be weaponized; but, the energy transition can “de-fang villains like Vladimir Putin”. That’s an urgent cause we can all get behind. Let’s use the focus of the moment to accelerate the transition, and build the energy systems and businesses of the future.