Why Wacky Watts?
Did you know that every time you turn on a lamp or a TV, an additional power plant has to switch on, or the one that is already operating has to increase its output to match your demand? Guess what happens when you turn that TV off. The power plants need to reduce how much electricity they produce because we can’t yet store AC (alternating current) cost-effectively using batteries and other technologies. (By the way this is all changing as you read this, thanks to people like South Africa’s Elon Musk and companies like Tesla). Why is this important you might ask? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requires that the Independent System Operators (ISO), Balancing Authorities (BA) and Regional Transmission Operators (RTO) operate the U.S. electrical grids safely, efficiently and reliably. That means keeping the electricity on with something like a 99.9% availability rate! The ISOs and RTOs have to be able to determine how much power is needed every five minutes or so and where it will be needed, not just for today but tomorrow as well. Also, these grid operators must plan for the annual system peak power requirements (the U.S. still uses more electricity during the summer months), which means the experts must really forecast for the next few years. They forecast for about sixty-nine power areas across the U.S. and have to schedule the thousands of generating plants to meet our electricity needs. So, the next time you meet a power plant or grid operator, give him or her a hug!
Okay, we still haven’t answered the question "Why Wacky Watts?" yet, have we? There are two reasons why we decided to create Wacky Watts. The first has to do with inspiring the authorities and electricity end users like you to provide a more efficient electrical system. Our current electrical system relies on locating our power plants far from the areas where a majority of the electricity will be used because of the NIMBY (not in my backyard) movement. This makes sense to most of us. The problem with this model is that moving the electricity is very expensive! My estimate is that we have to generate 6 to 7% more energy than what we use due to electrical losses (essentially heating of the wires, transformers, etc.). So, we thought our data and forecasting might help create a more efficient electrical system by providing a more refined picture of where and how electricity is being used. Remember that the grid operators have about sixty-nine forecasts? Well, we create about 38,000 forecasts, one for each zip code and we can break down how the electricity is used in the zip code by up to twenty-nine ways. (Check out your own zip code in our Data Search section!) We believe this is a better way to make our electrical system more efficient by data-mining and taking advantage of more advanced information.
The second response to the question of "why" is to reduce the amount of electricity we use in the U.S. If we tell you that the U.S. was required to generate 640,000 megawatts (or 640 gigawatts) of electricity to meet the electrical demand on August 10th, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, you might say "Wow!", but what can we do with that data? If, however, we said the residents and businesses in Bolton, Massachusetts (zip code 01740) used 4.3 megawatts of electricity, on that same day and time in August, it is different, because we now are providing valuable information (not just data). We can better understand how this information can help us build more efficient power systems throughout the U.S. In addition, if we know that home owners and renters used about 38% (1.63 megawatts) during that same hour, now we as individual citizens can take some action in our own communities. Information empowers us.
I am human, or at least I try to be. Although I was born in Texas, I grew up in northern Ohio, just a few miles outside a small wonderful college town called Oberlin. My siblings and I lived on a small farm about 30 acres in size so I did all the usual farm stuff like mowing lawns, cutting down trees, putting up fences, getting thrown off of horses, etc. I got married right out of high school and then spent eight years in the U.S. Navy and eventually learned about the operation of a nuclear-powered submarine. Because of my Navy experience, my career path has been in the power industry (creating, selling or supporting electricity generation) and until recently, spent most of my years living in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and yes I am a Pat’s and Sox’s fan. While in the Northeast, I learned to forecast how much electricity our customers (the companies I worked for) used on an hourly basis, and one day my boss/friend asked me if I could forecast for the entire U.S. Being a stubborn idiot (or should I say "Wacky"), I decided I would try, which leads us to today. By the way, I would like to thank my friend for planting that idea in my head almost nine years ago!
Somewhere, and quite a long time ago, I got a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology and a few years back my wife and I created and operated a small electricity company for about seven years. It was a wonderful experience, but I didn’t know what I was doing (still don’t, I am afraid), so thank goodness she did. We eventually closed the business because the competition made it too financially risky; though I wouldn’t trade that experience because, you see, I got the bug! I like being an entrepreneur, which brings me to now.
Today, I still live in Massachusetts and I aim to create the Wacky Watts forecasting business with friends and family and learn who might be interested in knowing how their community uses electricity. Oh yeah, what do I like? Craft beer and compassionate people are on my list. I also appreciate passionate people in all walks of life (musicians, actors, sports personnel; because I wonder what makes them tick). But, mostly I like listening to other people. It makes me realize we are all somehow connected; and what they are saying is so much more interesting (and I learn a lot more) than listening to the voices in my own head!