Humble Pie - A dish best eaten fresh !

The following is verbatim an e-mail I sent today (only the names of the innocent are removed - you know who you are) !
Humble Pie - When Nothing else tastes good!

We all get it wrong - it seems I am a Master on occasion - enjoy the following painfully true story that follows from my failure to make a transatlantic conference call last night !

Dear ....

Sometimes a little humble pie is good for the soul... I hope you will see the "funny" side of my embarrassment in what follows:

To set the scene - and in my defence, since I married my wife I have overlooked her birthday only once. 

This happened of necessity in a leap year and on a leap day - so nobody could justly accuse me of having fallen into a habitual fault - but I suppose there is " room for improvement ! "  

Yesterday was not the 29th February - so "what gives ?" you might reasonably ask!

As you can imagine my dear and lovely wife is now sensitized to me putting work first and can even enjoy watching me squirm when I embarrass myself socially with an oversight. 

Who am I to deny her this pleasure ? 

So imagine her delight at the following ...

Last night my best man arrived from Germany with his two sons  (I had forgotten this was scheduled) - he completely failed to remind me it was my wedding anniversary. (Is that not the duty of a best man ?  )

Obviously my dear wife could not claim that an eighth anniversary is  a "particularly important one" -  but do you see the implication ?

Yes on the "remembering birthday" Key Performance Indicator dashboard that she uses as a management tool -  I enjoy a full 50% score - only in 2016 do I get the chance to lift up it to 66%.

These facts surfaced in my consciousness  (with a little judicial prompting by my wife over coffee -  I confess ) moments before I had scheduled to meet with you both on-line. 

I hope you understand that pleasure at seeing my best man (after three years) and getting to know his young sons together with a need for a sprightly re-alignment of plans  - led to me completely overlooking prior commitments to you both.

So I hope you can accept my sincere apologies, and allow me to re-schedule.

My wife says I owe you both !

friendly regards


To complete my humiliation do feel free to share this - if it entertained you.

 If it went viral my apology would be complete !  - And it at least brought a smile to Martine 

Eight years and counting - the shortest of my life !

Any comments or encouragement to Martine welcome below :)

Breast Cancer - Tour de Pink

This blog post is on a personal level.

Most of us know someone with breast cancer, or will.

Survival or not seems an unfair lottery and all sufferers are both victims and victors in their own way.

It is great when personal bravery inspires us to be better people.

A colleague of ours ( Kevin Marshall ) is supporting his wife Catherine who is cycling to raise funds and awareness.

It is tough for both of them - So ... We hope you will visit her site below, link to & promote her efforts in any way you can.

and be with the people you love on their great Journeys - :)

Good luck Catherine and Kevin
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Big Utility or Little Fish (you will be swallowed)

Barbecue fire
Barbecue fire (Photo credit: Julio Martinez)
Did you ever put fuel or gas on a barbecue to get it going ?

Yikes - That's what I felt like after my recent post

Energy co. wants me to use less - really ? !

Anyone would think I just stood on a nerve, pressed the right buttons, or dialled in a thermonuclear strike !

Some people thought my views absurd, but others agreed strongly.

Nuclear weapon test Mike (energy yield 10.4 Mt)
Nuclear weapon test Mike (yield 10.4 Mt) on Enewetak Atoll. The  first hydrogen bomb ever tested, an experimental device not appropriate for use as a weapon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As ever the truth lies somewhere between what you think you know and what others misguidedly believe !

The more visceral reactions I were mainly on LinkedIn - this correlates well to the fact that the American Utility industry is not what you might describe as a "mature free market".

(BTW why don't people comment ON the blog itself where everyone can see - it's like putting on a concert on the dark side of the moon ? )

The Dark Side of the Moon
The Dark Side of the Moon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The differences in views are geographically split - and depend on market circumstances and degrees of energy de-regulation.

In much of Europe you can choose your utility provider and mature commodity markets exist, whereas in the US there is very little utility competition - you buy from the local provider or you do without.

The idea that the US is a land of free markets is frankly naive when you look at electricity, gas, (even heat) , telecomms, waste disposal and indeed the essentials for life - water.

I have recently been invited to comment by on a related subject, regarding how limits to control technology expertise cause utilities to struggle with client services.

While it would not be appropriate to share what I have heard regarding their commercial research plans, I did write a response that I am free to share.  And it is worth noticing that they very much observe these trends by utility companies but acknowledge that are largely "invisible" as yet in the US.

So, in full knowledge that I probably pouring fuel on a fire that is already lit - here we are...

With a few notes for clarity as {edit}

Dear (anonymous) at Pike Research

It seems you have dropped in on one of my absolute pet subjects for a good rant ! :)

Let me outline my first thoughts below - if these sound interesting I would love my thoughts to be considered (especially because any exposure is direct to utilities who are for us a key route to market).

Let me also offer the caveat that my exposure is mainly to European markets (which vary from totally deregulated to the local monopoly model that is more common in the US).

So the context  - Utilities like control system providers all sell largely unbranded commodities.
The floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, a maj...
The floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, a major commodities exchange in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
{NOTE - this is where a competitive market is assumed - Your Mileage May Vary !}

Explanation - a kWH gas or electricity is better if cheaper  - A thermostat is not "better" if it says Honeywell, Siemens or Johnsons on the casing 0 - it either does its job or not - cheaper is better.

Even facility managers when contracts are replaced for big buildings will leave the staff in situ  to the new incumbent.  They sell numbers of people (security guards / cleaners - not "People").

{BTW this is mindless compliance to tender processes rather than "best practice" - much of the public tendering eg under OJEC / OJEU is at best a complete whitewashing façade to pay lip-service to competitive tenders - If the same people end up doing the job regardless of who wins the tender what is the point ? - This introduces bureaucratic middlemen and solves nothing from a corruption perspective}

Awareness of the actions of these commodities {what the people actually do} is 100% obscured at the point of sale:
English: Cotton candy Ελληνικά: Μαλλί της γριάς
US Cotton candy - English Candy Floss
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At the meter energy is sold, 
- the utility does not know if it is used to blow leaves or make cotton candy.

At the wholesaler control systems are distributed,
- the manufacturer has no idea if the relay will switch on a compressor, a fountain or a furnace.

The FM provider has no idea where the restrooms are in the building
 - this is for the cleaning staff to know.

This is possible because each provides "non-core" services to its client.  Hotels use all three of these "commodities", as do prisons, and schools, offices, Starbucks or  Mom and Pop stores and glass blowing factories.

So the true commodity supplier has no concept of the business model or operation of his client - it does not serve to know this


However, look at the energy data and in the patterns these can reliably be recognised (Bakers burn gas at weird times of day in summer and winter, schools have holidays and offices have open hours).  

So given pattern recognition "meta-data" about the demand side exists. Demand side management from a utility perspective is about re-scheduling rather than avoidance and relies on pricing motivation, rather than pragmatism.  This is why there are numerous companies selling "more efficient XYZ or consultancy services "guaranteed to save".

Now consider this...

{The bizarre case of non-competitive communism promoting capitalism}

Unlimited heating was considered {theoretically - just as much as food} a human right in the old Soviet Union (and in Moscow gas still costs a few dollars for as much as you can use) - So there is NO motive to save energy (at first sight).

However, Gas not sold to Moscovites can be sold to the Ukraine, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France AND it is.  So if you can get someone to use less for the same service fee (and be as happy), you have more to sell to someone else.
Major Russian gas basins
Major Russian gas basins
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The implication is that where supply-side demand management co-operation and interchangeability exists (as is planned for the US but is a bit vulnerable) a preference for efficient clients exists (you can make more money from them - because they will pay more for less of the commodity if you provide attractive services  that help their efficiency ). 

These added value services differentiate and are more profitable, assist client retention and reduce client acquisition cost.

The implication is that Utility companies want to save clients energy (or increasingly will do so) but wish to be paid to do so (otherwise they face a price race to the bottom of the market).
English: Protests against shale gas drilling i...
Protests against shale gas drilling in Bulgaria (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However even more interesting is that this need to control energy use better is one that even the big controls companies cannot manage, because they focus on hardware and not on selling relationships.

The key must be to gain insight regarding purpose - WHY energy is used.  This can be seen through correlation to time of day and week and weather conditions, but not by studying the control systems because implicit in adoption of the control system as an efficiency yardstick is the assumption that control is as necessary rather than merely sufficient to achieve past political objectives (like those boilers in Moscow ) "!

Utilities will achieve effective demand side management not through the introduction of gadgetry, but by understanding how why and what their clients use energy {for}.  - This is not their current focus - bar some more progressive exceptions.



So - as markets mature (and competition takes place) commodity markets force profitability out of client bases. The inevitable response options to free-market demands of the utility provider are:
  • To maintain monopoly power at any cost
  • To develop anti-trust cartel practices (I make no accusations here - but others do)
  • To explore market differentiation and segmentation (fight the commodity labelling)
  • To diversify (funding capital projects etc)
  • To add service layers.
Now if you are a Utility and you still don't "get" this - look over your shoulder - you are a little bitty bit-player fish in the biggest global marketplace - You WILL be swallowed !


PS - If on the other hand you do "get" this - drop us a line - we can help !

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Prospecting for Gold or other stuff - HOWTO

English: A man leans over a wooden sluice in C...
A man leans over a wooden sluice in California between 1890 and 1915. Rocks line the outside of the wood boards that create the sluice. A metal pipe rests on the wood. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where not to look !

OK when you look for something, it is always in the last place you look.

Does this change where you should look first ?  - no ! 

Or at least, not usually !!!

Does it makes sense to start with good prospects, eliminate them and move on ?
- yes it does, (that is unless you actually enjoy the searching)

My wife can find my stuff when I can't - WHY ? 

it's a fraught question that is safer not to ask - but here goes nothing...

Perhaps she is looking for something someone stupid has over-looked before ?

English: Crystaline Gold
English: Crystaline Gold (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This changes the nature of a "prospect", it means you need to look where others would not bother (or are to lazy to have looked thoroughly). 

Note that when it comes to gold laziness, motivation and value are strongly related to commodity prices

It makes for a completely different story.

So say you are searching for gold - What's the best strategy ? 

When you search for gold, you can:

View of gold miners excavating an eroded bluff...
View of gold miners excavating an eroded bluff with jets of water at a placer mine in Dutch Flat, California, between 1857 and 1870. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Try to stake a rich seam,
- hard work, big rewards - might need 
guns and security to stake that claim.

Go on a quest for life-changing nuggets
- grubbing around for massive potential rewards but risk living on fresh air.

Or you can pan in the stream (almost definite winnings, but hardly worth the effort) - 

unless ...

Unless, the value of what you are looking for is going up fast!

For this leg's detour, teams took part in pann...
Panning for gold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I argue that energy savings are already worth prospecting for, using the grubbing in the dirt method and any other that may work !

Here's why ...

Most everyone knows it is stupid to waste energy - it's like walking around with a hole in your pocket.

English: Protest against fossil fuels April
Protest against fossil fuels April (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Most everyone walks around with a hole in their pocket sometime. (especially if they  have nothing of value in their pockets).

But if I told you we were going to talk a walk to the bank, having filled your pockets before you go - with gold-dust.

if we were going next week, would you make the effort to carefully line your pockets with something very, very sticky this week

 - yes of course you would !

So if energy has been undervalued (I am not arguing this but hey you can run with the power of forty horses over fifty miles for the cost of a can of coke - if you use fossil fuels)

And if energy use (or worse energy waste) is perceived to be like walking around with holes in pockets - AKA - Stupid and short-sighted.

Then -  I would argue we need to review our search strategy.

People are starting to turn over every stone and look in every nook and cranny.

They are renewing their search strategy - by looking where people have rejected options in the past.

Technologies, values, accessibility and motivation have changed.

The day of wild-catting oil wells is over (largely) - this was the oil boom and looked very much like a gold rush.

Coal Shale, shale oil, wind, solar, nuclear deep offshore, arctic are all now being examined in depth (literally ;) - it sounds like prospecting doesn't it!

Well there is a wise adage - 

The guy who gets rich of a gold rush, is the guy who sells the tools. Picks, filters, explosives, beans, pit-props, money bags and prospecting know-how (the treasure map).

So my suggestion to energy managers is that instead of competing with the dreaming fools - you should..
Scene from the movie The Gold Rush. 1925.
Scene from the movie The Gold Rush. 1925. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Stitch up the holes in their pockets, get out your maps (energy consumption charts), and check over your equipment. 

Because the winners are going to be the ones that are well-equipped, well-educated, and don't mind looking carefully through the dirt and spoils of the idiots that rushed through on the first wave.

Its time to prospect for savings, because waste is all over the place - its the rich seam of leavings that nobody else can bother with.

And the world can be yours !

Feel free to leave a comment, particularly on where you have found the worst sources of waste, or on cool ways of finding stuff like my article on the Princess and the pea !
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