Complete Society

Ideas and strategies for a sustainable world

Smart Grid and ARRA Money

For those I haven’t talked to recently, I’m in the process of shifting my career towards government policy and regulation, targeting areas that are relevant to climate change and energy. (See my last post Ultimate Vision)

With my tech and business background in Internet, the most natural fit seems to be smart grid policy.  So, here are my notes from last Friday’s “workshop” at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) where the topic was how companies in California can get smart grid related funds from the Recovery Act  (aka Obama’s stimulus package).  The specific goal was for these companies to inform the PUC on what they think the PUC could do to help them get this money.

To set the stage, PUC Commissioner Rachelle Chong reviewed the Act and the relevant timelines. Two important dates:  The DOE is due to release details about the requirements for getting funding by April 17th.  And the funds from the Act need to be obligated by Sep 30th, 2010.  Also, most of the funding would be in the form of matching funds, where the companies would need to come up with half the cost of any proposed project.
In my mind, the themes for the day were

  • We don’t know the criteria that the DOE is going to set for these funds, but
  • The DOE is in a hurry to allocate this money (in govt time, 1.5 years is fast), so
  • We need to prepare “shovel ready” project proposals to compete with other states right now based on what we think the DOE is going to want to see

During the 2.5-hour workshop, we heard from each of the major Investor Owned Utilities (IOU) as well as several publicly owned utilities, the California ISO, a few technology companies, and a few groups representing ratepayers (i.e. electricity consumers).

Based on the first bullet above, it felt like maybe this event was a little early, as if it was difficult for any of these groups to really describe what they wanted to do when they were shooting at an uncertain target. But, as Jake Wise, my Presidio classmate and a PUC analyst, said, things move slowly enough that it was valuable to get the ball rolling and everyone at least talking about moving together.

Also, two of the commissioners are planning to go to DC on 3/31, gather as much information as they can and represent California as a united front in competing for these dollars.  So, this workshop was also asking for input they could take to DC.

Without detailing all the projects and technologies that were described, the major takeaways I heard:

  • CA utilities are national leaders in Smart Grid, are dedicated to rapid development and deployment and already have demo projects planned that could qualify for Recovery Act money
  • All the necessary technologies exist already.  They just need standards to be set for interoperability and those standards should not just be developed by a bunch of engineers in a room.  The standards should be worked out through demo setups and field tests
  • Projects need to look “shovel ready” so make sure that PUC approval process is expedited and synched with the DOE approval process.  There’s a real risk that the historical PUC slowness will be perceived as a barrier to deploying the money quickly.  To that end, consider applying for Recovery money for *already approved* projects
  • Ratepayer concerns and job creation are important but none of the companies directly addressed these topics in the workshop.

Based on this input, the main recommendations directly for the PUC seemed to be:

  • Continue to act as the convener.  The PUC seems to be the right place to hold the combined vision, coordinate amongst the players, and present a unified face to the DOE
  • Dedicate staff specifically to the Recovery Act
  • Create a unified definition and vision of Smart Grid for California and maintain a publicly accessible inventory of Smart Grid projects in the state
  • Streamline the PUC processes to approve ratepayer funding as matching funds for qualifying projects
  • Make it easy for existing, already approved Smart Grid projects to defray ratepayer costs with Recovery Act money
  • Help ensure that the ratepayers see some benefits of these funds, not just the market participants

Personally, I feel that we were missing concrete ideas on job creation, one of the Recovery Act’s major priorities.  The Smart Grid projects and technologies would mean additional business for these companies but the number of jobs created, especially for blue-collar workers, seems minimal.

So, my thought for the commissioners is to go to the DOE and float the idea of job creation by increasing support for distributed generation.  The basic thinking is that large scale distributed generation will require Smart Grid advances in protocols, control systems, interface standards and rate structures.  This piece of the Smart Grid could be developed in parallel with the rest of the pieces and so could be funded in distinct, well-defined chunks.

If the grid supports easy, cost effective installation of distributed generation that requires less specialized training (and fewer truck rolls by the utilities), California would see a big jump in demand for installers and related green collar jobs.   This would, in my opinion, be the quickest way to create a large number of jobs that blue-collar workers could qualify for.

If the commissioners find that this logic plays well at the DOE, then we could influence the criteria that are published in April and encourage the California utilities to develop projects on this specific area.


March 30, 2009 Posted by | Cleantech, Policy | | 1 Comment

Ultimate Vision

(I thought it appropriate to return to blogging with a post on my vision for professional self – originally posted in my Leadership class at the Presidio School of Management)

For my professional vision, picture a snapshot during a game of Ultimate.  Two players are fully horizontal, diving, striving for the disc.  The grass beneath them is lush and bright green.  The sun is beaming down from a clear blue sky, and there’s just enough breeze to ruffle the shirts of the excited fans and teammates on the sideline.

This is a moment in the perfect game I dream of creating for the world.  Ultimate requires great collaboration, excellent teamwork, but also highlights individual brilliance.  Competition is intense, but “Spirit of the Game” is so core that teams often strive to win the “Best Spirit” award as much as the game itself.  Even at the highest levels, the sport is self-refereed with players policing themselves and external observers only brought in if the players can’t resolve their conflicts with each other.

As outdoor athletes, Ultimate players need to be constantly in tune with nature – acknowledge and incorporate the wind, the sun, and the conditions of the earth.  And we can’t trash the playing field without destroying our ability, or losing permission, to play on it again.

My role in this picture is to design the rules and set up the field where the world economy operates like this perfect game.  By understanding the “physics” and relationships involved in sustainable business, I can help create a game where the score is kept on the integrated bottom line and winning is a victory for the global society.

March 5, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Last day of door knocking

Just a quick post on yesterday, Day 3.  It was slightly shorter since we didn’t get going until about noon (we don’t want to bother people Sunday morning and many of them would be away at church).

On the way in, I saw people standing on the grassy median in the road, waving McCain/Palin signs.  Like other people I talked to, my first thought on seeing them was, “What a waste of scarce volunteer resources”.  Why aren’t those people knocking on doors or at least making phone calls?  There’s no way that McCain has too many volunteers in the area.  Research shows that canvassing is at least 4 times more effective than phone calls which have got to be several times more effective than waving signs on the road.

Here’s a fun picture from the Ashburn office:

Favorite conversation of the day:  “It’s like a company re-org.  When your company’s failing, you don’t re-org with the same people who ran the company down”

Funny moment of the day:  Young woman answers the door.  I introduce myself and ask her if Fred and Mary are home (not the real names).  She closes the door to go get them.  Fred comes to the door, opens it, says “We’re watching football”, shuts the door.  I stand for a moment surprised in mid-sentence.  Then as I’m about to leave, a young boy (maybe 8 yrs old) opens the door to say hi.  I hand him some of my literature and ask him if he could give it to Fred.  He says ok and shuts the door.

Overall, the energy of the day was great.  I went out 3 times with different teams, probably totaling around 120 doors.  Each time I came back, the office was teeming with volunteers.  In the neighborhoods, didn’t see a single McCain/Palin canvasser.

This was the last day of door knocking.  Monday is just about dropping off literature and giving that last little nudge to go out and vote.

November 3, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Canvassing Day 2: Inspiration becomes action

The theme of day 2 for me was ‘inspiration’.  I’ve said all along that the President doesn’t need just the intelligence to make the tough decisions; he needs to inspire the country to come together and empower everyone to tackle the tough challenges facing us.  For a great contrast of the two campaigns’ ability to inspire volunteers, read this at  The Big Empty

Since there are so many little interesting tidbits today, this post is going to be more a stream of consciousness than my normal writing.
•    Arrived in Ashburn to find 40+ volunteers ready to hit the sidewalks – 90+% of them were from out of state.
•    Local campaign vice-chair confirmed that this is THE battleground county of this battleground state – says the McCain campaign doesn’t have people like us, he’s *paying* his small canvassing force here
•    Here’s our smallest supporter.  Her mother was singing the bit from SNL: “Solid…solid as Barack!”

My canvassing team is 3 people, so we take on some big packets.  These are clustered so one can coordinate and drive while the other 2 zip down a street, but even though I’m the driver I get out to do a fair amount of knocking myself.
•    On my 2nd house, a woman actually trips down the stairs coming to the door!  I see it happen through the clear storm door and open it to help, but her husband comes and helps her up.  Luckily, she’s not hurt.  Rough start to the day!
•    I see some McCain canvassers for the first time, driving by and I consider how little presence the McCain campaign has here even though we’re still seeing the dueling yard-signs everywhere.
•    Here’s a picture from the Democratic precinct captain’s house:

“Veterans for Obama” seems so powerful since McCain’s war “hero” status is supposed to gain him the military vote (and Virginia has a long military tradition).
•    We encounter two young women canvassing for Judy Feder, local Democratic candidate for Congress.  We’re amazed to find out they are Columbia University students, part of a group of 130 who came down from NYC to knock on doors for Democrats.
•    I actually talk to an undecided young voter (he’s 25).  The most interesting thing he said was that I was probably the 4th Obama supporter who’s visited him vs. zero McCain supporters.
•    My favorite quote from a voter today: “We’re voting the Democratic ticket.  He’s 65 years old and this is the first presidential election he’s voting in.  That tells you something.”

Before coming to VA, I’d heard that northern VA was full of minorities who’d moved out to the suburbs from DC.  This afternoon, we found these fascinating “pockets” – mini neighborhoods of a 1-2 dozen houses that were all Asian last names. This is common in CA but I wasn’t expecting it here. I tried to go for the East Asian houses and it was interesting to note that the Columbia students had assigned a young Indian-American to cover the neighborhood that was literally 75+% Indian.

The one “negative” part of the day was getting into an argument with an elderly woman who’d already voted for McCain.  She wouldn’t leave us alone and got progressively nastier, crossing the line when she told one of my partners that he must not love his 3 kids if he’s supporting Obama.   This is an extreme case, but one can connect a campaign’s attitude to the attitude of its supporters.  As with McCain/Palin, this woman had nothing positive to say, not even anything good to say about her candidate – just nasty attacks.

Ending tally for the day – approx 170 doors knocked.  Enough useful conversations to feel successful.  Back at it again tomorrow!

November 2, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Toto, we’re not in California anymore

Today was my first ever experience knocking on doors for a political campaign.

For those who haven’t heard, I’ve flown out from SF to Arlington, VA to make the biggest difference I can in a place where every single vote is critical.  Because Arlington is  close to DC  ( i.e. abundant with volunteers), the  campaign has assigned me to the Ashburn office in Loudoun County, about 40 minutes west near the Dulles Airport.

Loudoun County is not just another county in a major battleground state, its ground zero for the fight.  It’s a microcosm of the statewide drama and according to one of my canvassing partners today (a volunteer who drives 1 hr+ from DC every day), it’s THE swing county.  Take all the other counties in VA and they’ll split dead even.  As Loudoun County swings, so does the state apparently.

The “split county” profile was evident right away. Just on the drive over, the number and size of the McCain/Palin signs was a wake up call.  I think I’ve seen one of those in the whole Bay Area.
The Ashburn office is small and lightly staffed compared to the SF Obama office where I’ve spent many hours these last weeks.  Granted, it’s a Friday morning but Monday afternoon in SF was *packed*, requiring at least 3 phone bank captains to handle the load.

In a split county, note that there’s going to be a lot fewer volunteers available and many of the ones that were there were from out of state.  *But remember*, this is one of probably 6 Obama offices in Loudoun County.  And the suburban commuter demographics would mean far fewer people around during a weekday.

That’s why our canvassing today only targeted 65 and older  folks, people who might be home  in the middle of  a Friday.

To keep this reasonably short, let’s just say the area really represented the demographic forces and political divide in Virginia.  Just about every Obama/Biden yard sign was matched by a McCain/Palin sign.  Often “dueling” across the street from each other.  And in this surprising case, fighting on the same front lawn:

By demographic forces, I mean the newer, younger suburban communities vs the older, more “rural” areas.  Just in our small canvassing area we saw the range: McMansions with large yards, more “middle class” townhomes, and small ranch homes tucked away down a gravel road.  It’s the  huge growth in these suburbs in northern VA that’s cited as the reason VA may go blue this year.
Overall, the day went quickly and pleasantly – most people weren’t home but the ones who were home were always friendly.  I’ll cut this post short with the woman who really made my day:

I ended up catching a spry, 81 years young woman as she was heading to her car.  (slight paraphrasing) “Our whole family is voting for Obama.  That’s 16 votes for him!   My granddaughter is volunteering for Obama over in Fairfax.  We tried to go to his rally in Leesburg but never even got to security.  So we sat up on the lawn.  When we hear him speak, it sounds like what FDR wanted to do for the country.  We remember FDR.  You’re too young to know FDR.”  (emphasis mine)

November 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A leader that inspires millions

This message from an Obama Regional Field Director is powerful and inspiring.  This country (and the world) needs nothing less than a leader that can inspire this kind of emotion and energy from millions of people.

(Thanks to for posting this)


Stay calm – and BE RELENTLESS today. Get everyone motivated, educated, and into the field as quickly and as often as possible…

GET THEM COMFORTABLE WITH A BREAK-NECK PACE. They need to be the cool heads by the time GOTV rolls around…

Report your numbers like clock-work. Call me if you need me. Don’t stop until your last shift is confirmed for Sunday…

Barack really is expecting a lot out us – and there isn’t much else for him to do. He has placed this election in our hands at this point. It’s up to us now. We may never again have our hands on history quite like this again for as long as we live. That makes each hour so so precious. We can slack off, sleep in, and make excuses for the rest of our lives. But today – and for the next 3 weeks… whether we knew what we were getting into or not… we have ended up with people’s lives, livelihoods, and dreams for their children – all dependent on our performance day in and day out. This is our one chance at history… our one chance at perfection. Our one chance to live forever. So today – breathe this in… realize that your grandkids will be reading about you… realize that you will miss this feeling very very soon… and win every single hour.

Proud of you in advance for a big day…

October 22, 2008 Posted by | Politics and Governance, Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

The leader we need: Intelligence, Integrity, Inspiration

Over the last several weeks, the combination of all the economic and political events with my (sometimes frightening) readings on peak oil and climate change has crystallized the connection between this election and our sustainable future.

The person who we want/need as President is the same one the world needs to avert societal collapse caused by hitting the limits of our natural resources. The most important criteria we use to choose this person is the same for both roles.

Broadly, I feel like these criteria fall into three areas:  Intelligence, Integrity, and Inspiration.  I’ll go into more detail on these in upcoming posts but for a quick summary:

  • Intelligence:  The problems and decisions for a President and for sustainability are complex.  These aren’t yes/no questions or simple preferences like white car vs silver car.  The leader we need has to have the sheer brianpower to handle complex questions, balance dozens of competing factors, weigh multiple interlocking tradeoffs, weave subtle nuances together.
  • Integrity: Our country and the world needs someone who is fundamentally dedicated to the common good and sticks to that principle with honesty and transparency.  With the power this person wields comes great responsibility and our only hope is for this leader to have equally great integrity.
  • Inspiration:  The issues facing America and the world aren’t going to be solved top down.  The issues are too big for prescriptive measures from a chosen few.  We need large scale participation in the solution and the only way we get that is if our leader can inspire millions to engage.

Obviously, going into this election year, I was already biased towards the Democratic Party.  But learning what I have about the candidates in the last 6 months and evaluating against these three I’s has really convinced me that Obama is the leader we need.

Notice that the 4th ‘I’ isn’t there: Issues.  More on this later, but first ask yourself, does one or several specific issues matter in the overall global scheme, or is it more important what a candidate’s position on issues says about their character, the other I’s ?

October 11, 2008 Posted by | Politics and Governance, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

What does natural capitalism have to do with politics?

(We’re currently reading Natural Capitalism in one of my Presidio classes)

Natural Capitalism makes a great, rational case for what’s possible. With example after example, it shows that sustainable society can exist if the world system is designed and encouraged to thrive based on some fundamental principles.

As I read each chapter, I keep coming back to the idea that we can’t achieve what’s possible without the government providing the right ground for it to grow.   And that ground needs to rest on systems thinking founded in reason, fact, and science.

Chap. 10 – Agriculture – showed how critical a scientific approach is to growing sustainability
Chap. 11 – Water – could be summed up with the inescapable logic of the bathtub analogy
Chap. 12 – Climate – declared this theme as a section title “In God we Trust; All others bring Data”

So, essentially, we can’t hope to achieve the next Industrial Revolution without a government that makes intelligent, rational decisions for the overall, long term good of the system.

As I’ve said elsewhere, this then becomes a major criterion for choosing who leads the government.  Has a candidate for President shown himself to be a pragmatic, reasonable man who carefully examines the science/facts of a decision and can handle complex, nuanced issues?

The fact that we haven’t had such a leader for 8 years may go a long way in explaining why much of what Natural Capitalism said was possible hasn’t been achieved.

September 24, 2008 Posted by | Politics and Governance, Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

43 Day Blog shift

43 Days.

That’s how much time we have to make sure the US makes one of the most important decisions ever for the future of not just our country, but also for the world.  My passion is in helping humanity achieve the complete society and right here, right now, there’s nothing that’ll make a bigger difference than who we elect for the next President.

Some may say this is exaggeration or melodrama.  That the President by himself doesn’t determine whether the whole world is living sustainably.  But in fact, the leader of the country responsible for the most climate change and wielding the most influence around the world has more power to determine our future than any other human being on the planet.

Financial crisis notwithstanding, the US economy and its endless consumption mentality determines much of the world’s economic activity and thus conducts or drives most of the world’s global warming activity.

So, while this is a blog about a sustainable green future, for the next 43 days, I’ll be focusing on the immediate present reality: the imperative to put Obama in the White House.

I haven’t dug into the candidates respective energy or climate change plans and I likely won’t for two reasons. The first, most obvious, reason is that these plans likely won’t survive past the first 100 days of either candidate’s Presidency.  The second is that its not plans that matter – its the mental approach.

Does the candidate approach decisions with rational, logic/science based facts and choose what’s best for the country?  This has been fundamentally missing for the last 8 years.  I trust Obama to bring that back in to the White House and trust McCain not one bit in this regard.

So, for the next 6 weeks, this’ll be the topic.  I’ll return to the primary focus for the Complete Society after November 4th.

September 22, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Complete Politics – Beneath the noise, look at character

While anyone who knows me knows I’m a liberal voter and a strong supporter of Obama, I’ve mostly tried to resist mixing politics in to the Complete Society blog.  But with the importance of this presidential election and the pivotal role government plays in our hopes for a sustainable future, it seems that separating out politics means I’m not discussing the whole picture that I tell everyone to look at.

So, from now on, you’ll see politics, govt policy and related topics discussed here, but, as with all my posts, I’m going to try a different take, going either bigger picture or deeper dive into the meanings and implications behind the rhetoric and issue positions.

Let’s start with character.  Step past all the surface stuff: race, gender, upbringing, age, religion.  Then step past even the issues: stated positions, experience in specific topics such as foreign policy, years at different levels of government, etc.

Then the first question that goes to the heart of whether this candidate will move our country towards a complete society is: “Will this candidate act for the greater good of our nation and the world?”

To quote Michael Douglas from “The American President”, “It’s entirely about character”.

Wherever they are on whatever issue your care so passionately about, it comes down to whether they authentically put humanity ahead of themselves.  This, fundamentally, is what we need in a President and is a given for anyone working for a sustainable future.

That’s why I came to dislike Hillary Clinton.  Before the primaries, I was neutral on her.  Respected her valiant attempt to fix healthcare in the early 90’s.  Hadn’t tracked her record as a Senator.   But the 2008 primaries showed she would say anything and take whatever position she needed in order to get elected, whether or not it would be good for the country.  The gas tax holiday idiocy was probably the most visible example of this.

This is also at the core of why I hate G W Bush.  I don’t use the word “hate” lightly since there’s almost nobody in the world I hate.  In 2000, I mostly disliked him because he stood for almost everything I was against in govt and I cringed in pain every time I heard him speak.  But over the last 8 years, he made decision after decision that was about him, his religious faith, and his interests instead of what would clearly be the greater good.

Think about this core idea when looking at the current candidates.  My opinions on Obama vs McCain will fill up some upcoming posts.

September 10, 2008 Posted by | Politics and Governance, Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment