by Julian Spector

Oh, what trying times in which to gather for frothy merriment!

A nation of contrasts, we gather once a year to feast and set aside our squabbles over which model of electricity delivery will triumph, or whether blockchain will be the end to all problems.

Fear not as you navigate the treacherous waters of division and misunderstanding. The good editors of Greentech Media saw fit, in this year of 2017, to publish another guide of etiquette and manners for giving thanks with those who may not speak of all things grid-related.

As the mighty seafarer Odysseus piloted his vessel between the monstrous Scylla and the all-engulfing Charybdis, we shall shepherd your conversational sloop between the perils of SCADA and comprehensive tax reform.

Break the ice

Some dinner guests will greet others with a hearty “What ho!” and inquire warmly about their lives with palpable sincerity. For those among us who don’t work in sales, employ a little parlor game we like to call the “icebreaker” (named after a form of thermal storage that forges new bonds between utilities and behind-the-meter commercial customers).

Summon your finest calligraphy to inscribe the following queries on a slip of parchment, and hand them out to guests to read aloud and discuss.

  • Residential solar “would you rather”: profits or growth?
  • Which ARPA-E program would you bring to a desert island to save it from congressional budget cuts?
  • Regulatory odd couples: One guest picks a state or federal regulatory body, and each attempts to nominate a leader with the record most laughably antithetical to the mission of the organization.
  • If you could re-run the RFO for a natural gas peaker plant right now, what grid assets would you cost-effectively replace it with?
  • If you had taken your Model 3 deposit and invested it, how much money will you have made by the time the car actually arrives?

Eschew ambiguous diction

Your compatriots in the industry may tell you that avoiding acronyms enhances one’s communicative success. Not all, alas, have bitten from this apple of knowledge.

Take heed, for a historical accident this year vastly increased the potential for misunderstandings among well-meaning interlocutors. Consider the following statements:

  • “Long live the ITC.”
  • “The ITC's support for domestic solar professionals is simply grand!”

Suffice it to say, such declarations could lead to a round of cheers or glasses of wine spilled on open-collared white shirts under blue blazers.

Do you speak of the Investment Tax Credit? Or are you referring to the International Trade Commission?

Your guests have every reason to approach fisticuffs over such a delicate topic, but be sure they initiate the hullabaloo for the correct reason. They needn’t quarrel over the imposition of deleterious tariffs on imported solar cells when a fellow diner simply wishes to suggest that Congress ought to preserve a tax credit it approved merely two years prior. 

The whiz-bang method of avoiding such misunderstandings is also the most daunting: Leave your acronyms tucked away in the frunk of your Model S. This will work wonders for a clean energy professional's conversational aptitude.

One mustn’t assume

When crafting a seating chart, one can be forgiven for arranging guests based on their stated preferences and philosophies. “Uncle Roderick’s an investment banker, better keep him away from the Marxist cousin!” and the like.

This past year has proven that one must never assume intentions based on their stated principles.

Your Deep Ecologist cousin Dominic, after years advocating for government support of solar energy and fighting to end global consumer culture, almost certainly stood up for the purity of global capitalism this year by opposing protectionist tariffs on foreign-made cells and modules.

Meanwhile, your ardent free-marketer relatives may be giddy about Secretary Perry’s proposal to upend competitive wholesale markets by paying coal plants for the arbitrary distinction of holding 90 days of fuel.

Instead of assuming, engage with neutral, non-judgmental terms, like so: “I’m so tickled to hear you explain how paying for a larger coal pile would have kept Puerto Rico’s grid intact.”

Pick one’s battles

If you yearn for a world where solar and wind provide every last bit of electricity on the grid, you will need to exercise great delicacy at the dinner table.

When kindly Aunt Frederica asks if you like renewable energy, you may respond, “Absolutely, and I mean ‘absolute’ in a literal sense.” 

Or, when a relative offers to pass you some stuffing and cranberry sauce to join the steaming slice of turkey breast on your plate, you may decline by intoning, “Turkey, like renewable energy, does the job on its own. Why would I ever need any other type of resource?”

Such an approach is socially acceptable, albeit somewhat veiled and obscure. But the relatives won’t look kindly on you shouting down your uncle, who manages a nuclear power plant.

Should you go down the route of engaging your fellow diners on this issue, just remember: You can’t block people like you do on Twitter when they’re sitting across the table, and nothing sours a round of digestifs like threatening libel lawsuits against people who disagree with you.

May the future of happiness be distributed

If you learn one thing from this amuse-bouche of social wisdom, it is that one must never ask a guest to explain blockchain without sufficient warning. There is nothing more shameful than revealing a friend’s ignorance of this most blessed innovation.

Regrettably, I must lay down the pen and return to my place settings and flower arrangements. Please join us next time for "How to break up with a coal plant and keep a friend," and "My EV can go this long: A sensitive conversation on range anxiety and cycle life."

Until then, may the grid's hard edges soften and bring all your assets into speedy interconnection.