Play to win, don’t play not to lose. Big difference.

I first heard that phrase from a terrific book called, SWAY: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. It was one of the early books about the psychology of choice – why people make the decisions they make, sometimes for good, sometimes not. Other ways to look at this concept:

  • Have a backbone
  • Don’t panic and make a bad choice
  • Look beyond yourself
  • Help others look beyond themselves

I think of that philosophy as I look at energy debates in the U.S. and especially in the Carolinas. The idea behind SWAY is especially important for energy users now because electric customers have more “sway” than ever before, I believe.

An article from way back, ’15, notes the power of the electric consumer well: “Today’s consumers have grown to expect the personalization they receive from Amazon, Netflix, Google and others within every aspect of their lives-even from their utility providers. … personalization and higher engagement works. This translates into major gains for businesses across many industries. …86 percent of customers say they would pay more for a better customer service experience.”

Coffee, anyone?

Customers have, however, exercised conservation. “Consumers devoted a smaller share of their spending towards electricity than at any time ever recorded,” says a Bloomberg Energy Finance report.  Demand for electricity has decreased as customers have become more energy wise. Technology and information empowers customers. (Nearly half of all U.S. customers have smart meters now, a source of electric energy insight.)

That is the purest of the consumer side, the home and business place. However, I feel the idea of consumers playing to win is growing on the power generation front. Take note of the way input and opinion have changed the ways electricity is being made:

  • Renewable generation (including hydropower) soared 14% to an estimated 717TWh in 2017, from 628TWh in 2016. The expansion brought renewables to 18% of total U.S. generation – double their contribution a decade ago.”
  • In 2016, gas surpassed coal for annual generation for the first time. Gas is likely to widen that gap in 2018. The Energy Information Administration expects gas to generate 33.1% of U.S. electricity this year to coal’s 29.6%. In 2019, gas’s share grows to 34.3% as coal falls to nearly 28%.”

It’s a good thing to have diverse sources of energy, including conservation, and including those that are quickly responsive and those that spin in long-term operations. So perhaps we need a good look at one generation source the Carolinas have tapped in the past, but has challenges. Nuclear power.

There’s this, too: “Today about 20 percent of U.S. electric power, and 60 percent of our zero-carbon electricity, comes from nuclear generation. Nearly half of U.S. nuclear plants are at or near the end of their 40-year licensed operating lives. These units have received 20-year license extensions, but starting around 2030 they will reach their 60-year limits. At this point, they must receive a second license extension or retire.” That is from the  Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University.  It was in a column about nuclear energy, climate change and costs. Immensely important when electric supply and the environment are discussed together.

Diverse energy resources are smart. So are varied voices that thoughtfully explore energy issues. A wisdom of crowds thing. Cutting through noise can take some effort and a careful check of facts. There are obstacles . Framing energy debates as “either/or” instead of “and” fails to appreciate options and nuances of differing energy sources. I recall this statement, “Media outlets have reported the schism between nuclear and renewables as if it’s a sporting contest, play by play,” said science writer Dawn Stover in a piece called, Nuclear Versus Renewables: Divided They Fall. All energy debate deserves better, she is right.

My comment about “the long game” is about a thoughtful look at nuclear in the Carolinas as it fits in the energy framework … smart generation and the climate combined. Short-term arguments aside. Play to win with diverse sources and voices in the discussion.