These are chaotic times, reader. Some states are switching to zero-carbon electricity, some aren’t. Wholesale prices are plummeting, but peak prices are rising. Power plants are shutting down while customers install their own solar, batteries and smart thermostats.
On top of all that, you’re expected to host a raucous extended family and prepare a massive Thanksgiving feast. All the trends are pointing toward a future that’s decentralized, decarbonized — and delicious.
But it’s early days, friend, and the path through market volatility is anything but clear. Keep yourself on schedule with this helpful guide from GTM.
9 A.M. Check your doorstep for delivery of the highly anticipated Tesla Turkey, which you dedicated a tidy sum to reserve months ago. It should arrive any minute now, and it will just be so cool.
9:15 A.M. Run through checklist for your inaugural Off-Grid Thanksgiving. Some relatives, you know, harbor doubts about the efficacy of distributed rather than centralized energy infrastructure. Today’s the day to prove them wrong. Instead of a lamestream grid connection, you enlisted:
- Solar driveway. Like a driveway, but so much more.
- Alcohol-based thermal energy storage.
- Gravity-based energy storage. A custom-built crane uses excess renewable generation to lift cars onto your roof, storing the electricity as potential energy. While fully charged, you can happily fit three extra cars in your solar driveway, provided your roof holds.
- A talking thermostat.
10 A.M. Place bottles of Champagne and bourbon in freezer to initiate charging of alcohol-based thermal energy storage. By cooling the bottled solutions now, you will reduce your load during moments of peak demand (and blood pressure!) that are soon to come.
10:30 A.M. Check in with talking thermostat. It’s the sensitive thing to do.
You: How are you feeling, Talking Thermostat?
TT: Eh, not too hot, not too cold. Meanwhile, the world’s on fire. But what can I do? I’m stuck on this wall listening to you babble.
You: I’m sorry you feel that way. Would you like to play some music or something?
TT: I’m a talking thermostat. Do I look like I can play some music?
12:30 P.M. Receive word from trusted and witty industry news source that Tesla Turkey, still delayed, now costs $400 more. Check your watch and your bank account. There’s still time to get that bird in the oven. It’ll look so much slicker than your neighbor’s clunky old bird.
1 P.M. Console your solar developer cousin, Mike, who descended into boozy melancholy ever since Solar Power International left Las Vegas for the faded motels and suburban blight of Anaheim. He wants to know that his industry can still throw real parties, that his installer colleagues have matured beyond the grown adults walking around in full Disney attire. It will be hard to match the outrageous highs and lows of Sin City, but assure him the industry will reunite in bacchanalian excess next September, when SPI moves to … double-check that real quick … oh, it’s Salt Lake City.
As they say there, nothing cures a hangover like abstinence.
2 P.M. You notice the lights flickering, and rush outside to find your relatives have parked all over your solar driveway. Who could have seen that coming?
Fire up the gravity-based storage device, which uses off-the-shelf components and basic physics to time-shift electricity. Hoist up those gas-guzzling SUVs, because they’ll turn into more potential energy on your roof than a compact economy sedan. But now you’re tight on electrical supply, so run and tell the talking thermostat to take it easy for a few minutes.
3 P.M. Somebody invited an energy storage developer, and he switched the football game to the FERC Channel to see who was winning in the Order 841 responses. His team’s doing well, but it still can’t beat Texas.
3:45 P.M. Don’t ignore those phone notifications! Apple shares are down, and those trusty cleantech beat reporters are back with a grim update. Your favorite world-saving startup hiked its price for the Turkey by another $800, “to best reflect what we’re offering to customers and the value of our products." Lest you fear for your investment, the company reminds you the product still delivers the same "unmatched capabilities," just for a higher price.
4:15 P.M. Check in with Niece Jean. She’s been feeling a little low since the cleantech startup she works for got acquired by a large multinational seeking to diversify its energy holdings.
“I’m trying to help clean energy scale to unprecedented heights, and all they care about is that I fill out my timesheet.”
“Don’t dwell on it, Jean, timesheets build character. I met some of my dearest friends while filling out timesheets.”
Walk away before she notices the sweat beading on your brow and realizes you’re lying.
4:45 P.M. Glancing at your neighbor’s yard, you spy her thermostat in pleasant conversation with her electric car charger, coordinating schedules. Your solar driveway isn’t speaking with your talking thermostat, ever since the latter impertinently asked what its efficiency rating looked like. Since the fallout, you’ve had to manually sync up your heating and cooling with peak driveway electricity production.
5 P.M. As you take the stuffing out of the oven, you hear charitable Aunt Sally passing around the hat again. This time she’s going to Fortune 500 tech companies and asking them to donate to some needy West Texas wind farm developers. If they give money, they get a sticker that says “100 Percent Renewable.”
5:30 P.M. The Turkey still hasn’t arrived, but Congress is finally talking about a Green New Deal, so why not bust out the Champagne? It’s chilling in the fridge, right? Wait, you put that in the freezer as alcohol-based thermal energy storage? Don’t you know anything about freezing points?
6 P.M. Wildcat Joe, the fracking-millionaire uncle, has arrived, and he’s definitely going to make you play Count the Kilowatt-Hours. He doesn’t care that your beloved renewables set another personal best last year. He doesn’t listen when you say intermittent resources may be small, but they’re irrevocably altering power markets as we speak. Consider playing the game as nuclear this time so that, if you hold on tight, you may at least beat coal in the next decade or so.
6:30 P.M. Your phone buzzes. Tesla says it shipped your Turkey to Puerto Rico, maybe as a donation; it’s not totally clear. You can’t really be mad, the email suggests consolingly, because while the island territory is still recovering from a catastrophic hurricane, you’re just trying to buy a fancy turkey.
On the other hand, you can put down $1,000 to be among the first to install a Tesla Solar Driveway. It’s so durable, it has an infinity warranty; if it doesn’t outlast the imminent demise of human civilization, you’ll get your money back via direct deposit to Mars.
Meanwhile, the guests are staring at you hungrily like they're solar BD guys and you're the utility exec at the coffee break. You need to think of something.
7 P.M. You rally the assorted relatives, apologizing to Wildcat Joe for interrupting his 10th annual exaltation of the efficiencies of hydraulic fracturing, which still feels really new and exciting from his perch in the oil and gas industry. “Where’s the bird?” someone cries out.
“Beloved family, generally endurable family, I have to tell you something,” you begin, sipping bourbon-based thermal energy storage to increase your instantaneous power. “For over a century, the electrical grid has depended on large central power plants to send electrons radially outward into the world, producing just enough to satisfy demand at every second of the day. Well, I’m here to tell you, that world is changing. Wind and solar may deliver just 6.3 percent and 1.3 percent of our nation’s annual generation, but the trend lines are clear. These resources dominate capacity additions, not just in California, but in Texas, in the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest.”
“With these tools, and digital controls, we’re producing and storing more power in homes and businesses and substations. We’re avoiding large capital expenses with creative alternatives, saving you money and improving resilience. To symbolize this sea change in our vital electrical infrastructure, our Thanksgiving feast will dispense with baseload entrees in favor of distributed side-dish resources. If you aggregate enough small dishes, you get the same amount of food as one large dish. You could call it a virtual power plant of food.”
“What’s that buzzword even mean? How can you rely on virtual food?” Jean exclaims. “And I thought we were moving away from the whole power plant concept. Why frame your new alternative as just a virtual (i.e., less real) version of the system you’re trying to replace?”
“OK, forget the virtual power plant nomenclature; it's confusing. The takeaway is, this energy transition is eminently nascent and we don’t know exactly where it will end up, but the turkey didn’t arrive so we’re all eating sides for dinner.”
11:30 P.M. Well, nobody left after your speech. Wildcat Joe tried, but you’d lifted his car onto the roof to charge the gravity-based energy storage device, so he shook his fist in the air and shuffled back in to frack for gravy. Your talking thermostat kept the temperature close to comfortable, although it did tell the kiddos how to combine everyday pantry items for psychotropic effect, which caused a bit of a tiff with your sister.
More importantly, your microgrid kept the lights on, and you’re actually decently full thanks to your third and fourth rounds of Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes. Simultaneously managing a distributed grid and a horde of decentralized family members sure is hard work. You feel some relief as you reconnect your home to the grid, letting the experts resume responsibility for power supply and voltage.
You’ll have to look inward, though, for the energy to patch things up with your turkey-deprived family. Always remember, the most important islanded microgrid is you.
For previous Thanksgiving etiquette coverage, see: