Posts from hacking energy

A Resilient Grid

During Hurricane Sandy, all of lower Manhattan lost power for several days when a transformer blew at a ConEd plant on 14th Street.

Driving around lower Manhattan at night in the aftermath of Sandy was one of the strangest moments I’ve experienced as a NY’er. The traffic lights didn’t work and everything was pitch black.

Except NYU. As you approached Washington Square the city lit up again. That is because NYU has its own power plant, a cogeneration facility next to NYU’s Courant Institute.

Similarly, when the west side of Manhattan went dark a few weeks ago in what is turning into a summer of blackouts, everything was pitch black except the new Hudson Yards development. That’s because on the top of the Hudson Yards Shopping Mall, there is a massive cogeneration facility that powers all of buildings in that development.

So when I heard Mayor de Blasio ruminating over the weekend about a government takeover of ConEd, I thought to myself “he’s got it all wrong.”

We don’t need more centralized control of our power grid, we need a more decentralized power grid.

NY State has been pushing in this direction for years now under the leadership of Richard Kauffman, Chairman of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The state has deregulated the energy markets, they have created substantial incentives for property owners to build out renewable (solar/battery/etc) capacity in their buildings, and they have put forth a vision of an energy grid that is not reliant on any one entity to stay up.

Back in the 1960s when the Department of Defense designed ARPANET, the precursor to the modern Internet, they designed a network that was entirely decentralized and therefore massively resilient (anti-fragile in Nassim Taleb speak).

That should be our goal with our energy grid as well. We should want energy production and consumption to happen at the edges of the network and we should want redundancy in the cables that connect everything together.

We aren’t there today and it will take a lot of work over many years to get there. But that should be our goal.

And we certainly should not be putting our energy system into the hands of a centralized and bureaucratic government. That would lead to more blackouts, not less.

Smart Thermostats

My colleague Dani sent me this chart last week:

I believe this is more or less a proxy for smart wifi-enabled thermostats in the US.

Those would be Nest, Honeywell Lyric, Hive thermostats and a lot of others too.

Those are pretty big jumps from 6.5% to 8.9% to 11.4% given that people don’t generally swap out thermostats unless they are doing a renovation or building a new home. Maybe there is more thermostat swapping going on outside of those “construction” moments than I would expect.

In a few years, more than 20% of homes will have heating and cooling systems that can be “managed” by software, either on-premises or, more likely, in the cloud.

That is pretty exciting.

I wonder what level of adoption is “critical mass” or “escape velocity” ?

Certainly 50% would be, maybe 25% will be.

I really like the area of networks, platforms, and protocols that will allow us to efficiently manage our energy consumption. It has been hindered to date by a closed “last mile”, but that is changing and I think the opportunity is approaching.

New York’s Climate and Community Protection Act

The lawmakers in Albany have passed legislation known as the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) and it is sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature.

There is plenty of debate on whether CCPA is good policy or bad policy. All you need to do is Google “New York’s Climate and Community Protection Act” and read the NY Post (against) and the NY Daily News (for) and you will see the various sides of the debate.

What this bill does is commit New York State to some of the most agressive goals of any city, state, or region:

This is a legally binding legislative act to achieve an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a goal of net zero.

My view is that we need ambitious goals like this and penalties for not reaching them (the stick).

But we also need new policies and new funding/investment to allow us to reach them (the carrot).

Most of the “green new deal” style legislation that is getting passed in NYC, NYS, and elsewhere, and being proposed in many other places, is long on sticks and short on carrots.

I believe CCPA is a good first step for NYS and I hope the Governor signs it into law.

But legislators and activists and the business community should not stop there. We need to follow these goal setting/penalty setting laws with more work around how we get there and there are many good ideas floating around on how to do that.

As hard as if has been to get CCPA done, I think the hard work is just starting because reaching these goals will require creativity, innovation, new technology, and a massive amount of investment and the willpower to see it through.

We really don’t have a choice. So let’s go.

Funding Friday: A Window Pane Solar Panel

I saw this project earlier this week and backed it immediately. Solar energy is not easy to adopt. But I have found that once you start, you get into it and keep going.

This might make it easier for some to start down that path.

Video Of The Week: Solar Roof vs Solar Panels

We have had an order in for Tesla Solar Roof Tiles for almost two years, since they were announced back in 2017. Production delays and other issues have meant that we still don’t have them on our roof.

And they are more expensive than a regular roof plus traditional solar panels on the roof. But they look a lot better in my view.

This video explains all of that, and more, along with some helpful cost comparisons.

Audio Of The Week: Turning Buildings Into Power Plants

The Gotham Gal and I are investors in Blueprint Power, a company that helps landlords turn their buildings into mini power plants.

Robyn Beavers, the CEO of Blueprint, was on the Gotham Gal’s podcast this past week. They talked about how Robyn spent fifteen years working in the tech, energy, and real estate industries and took all of those work experiences and combined them into the idea for Blueprint. They also talk about how the changing supply and demand for energy is opening up new revenue streams for property owners and how Blueprint enables that. 

Video Of The Week: Tesla Powerwall

I am obsessed with the Tesla power wall product. We are getting them for the properties we own where we have solar.

This video below explains how the power wall works in combination with solar panels, the grid, and your electrical usage.

I particularly like this screen shot from the Tesla app that shows the power flows between the four systems:

Anyway, if you are as into this stuff as I am, you will enjoy this video.

Feature Friday: A Solar Roof

I think the product that blew me away the most this year is the Tesla Solar Roof. The idea that a regular looking roof tile could generate the solar power you need for your home and car is just great. And though I haven’t seen them in person, they look great on the web.

tesla-solar-roofs

We own Tesla’s cars. We are in line to buy their Powerwalls. And I hope to build our next roof out of their roof tiles.

I love the entire vision. It’s great.