The Business of The Energy Conversation

Conversations about energy have fully saturated our society.  We talk about it at lunch, we write about it for class, we think about it while turning the lights off and slowly but surely everyone has been touched by the energy conversation.  It’s gotten to the point that consumers are now basing their decisions, large and small, on whether or not their action will affect the world’s energy consumption.  That is the tipping point.  It’s what society needs.  We need engineers, investors, politicians, and educators all talking together and in the end we will find viable long-term energy solutions.

So, are there any intriguing affects from this propagating energy conversation?  Does it, for instance, change consumers purchasing behavior and consequently change how companies operate? 

Here’s an example of how this interaction has begun to change:  Jason’s Deli recently began installing solar panels on their roof-tops in order to offset some of their electricity demand.  In the long run this could save Jason’s Deli some money and reduce their emissions.  But who cares?  We’ve known for decades that solar panels can create electricity so why is this interesting?  It’s interesting because Jason’s Deli installed a TV to tell you about it.  This TV tells you how much energy is being consumed and generated on the premises at that very moment.  It plots the trends with respect to the hour of that very day.  It tells you how much energy it’s supplied over the course of the last week, month, year, and lifetime of the system.  It even translates the data to something we can understand: how many equivalent trees were planted or how many cars were removed from the road or how many pounds of CO2 emissions were avoided.  It just makes you feel good and that’s the point.

TV displaying solar panel data that was recently installed at a Jason's Deli in Austin, TX

Jason’s Deli installed that TV to attract more customers, not save the world.  It’s true that they may reduce CO2 emissions but their real concern is in making their customers feel good.  If you’re customers think of happy thoughts when they consider coming to your store you will make more money.  It’s quite simple: Make them happy and they’ll buy your stuff.  This is what companies have been doing since the advent of advertising so I can’t blame them.  Yet, we now walk an intriguing line in which advertisement and energy are becoming almost inextricably linked.  Companies must in the modern market portray themselves as forward thinking when it comes to energy even if their actions create little to no change in the amount of energy that is consumed.  That is not necessarily the case with Jason’s Deli.  Their system may be as much function as it is form but if the real goal is to reduce electricity consumption then lose the TV.  The average 46” TV consumes greater than 130 watts of power or 1.56 kWh of energy for the course of a 12 hour day.  To offset this consumption Jason’s Deli will have to devote one or more solar panels solely to the operation of the TV.  This assumes that Jason’s Deli has installed 200 watt solar panels and that they operate at 100% capacity for 7+ hours per day.  This could be a noticeable drain on the useable energy generated if Jason’s Deli has only installed a small number of panels.  Consequently, the consumer must wonder whether the installation of this green power is an effort to work towards an energy solution or is it primarily a public relations move to make more money?

With that said, I’m excited that Jason’s Deli is taking such a step and I do not fault them for wanting to run an effective business.  We need actions such as this even if a company is leveraging the recent green movement in order to promote their own product.  In the end, it continues to advance the concept of using energy wisely because it reminds consumers to continue the energy conversation and for that Jason’s Deli should be applauded.

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