iPhone : App :: EV : kWh

Nissan Leaf exhibited at the 2010 Washington A...

One of the many EV's hitting the roads worldwide. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

If you took a large standardized test such as the SAT or maybe helped your child with homework in their logic class, you might recognize the “A is to B as C is to D” construct of the title. The interesting thing about the Electric Vehicle, or EV for short, is that much like how the iPhone taught people what in the world an ‘App’ was, the EV is poised to actually teach people like you and me what a kilowatt-hour, or kWh, represents and means in our life.

Most of North American households that receive a bill in the mail for their electricity consumption look at the big number that is preceded by the ‘$’ sign – because that is the number that means something in our life. But there is another number on that same piece of paper that we skip over, or maybe just quickly glance at, because there is little tangible meaning to it. This mysterious number is the one followed by the letters kWh – and it represents the amount of electricity that the household used, i.e. power over time. The meter on the outside of your house, condo, or apartment measures the amount of kWh  – and that sum is multiplied by your utility’s electricity rate – usually in the 10 – 30 cent range.

Similarly, before the iPhone, most people referred to software on a computer as a ‘software package’, ‘application’, or ‘disc’ – and generally the price for software hovered around $50 – a big number similar, albeit less than, to the total on your electricity bill. But when Apple released the concept of the ‘App’, where all you had to do was tap on the ‘App Store’ icon and download these little apps to your phone for free or maybe 99 cents, it changed people’s perception of software – and this might be like what the EV does for the kWh. In iPhone land, all of a sudden an ‘App’ was very manageable and understandable. In a ridiculously simplified way of thinking, an ‘App’ became “one of these little icons on my phone that can do something”.

Let me speak to the technically inclined folk for a second. You are likely ready to scream out at this juncture, “BUT Jason, that is what applications have always done – what in the world did Apple do different? Nothing!” And I would shake my head in agreement, but then calmly explain that though Apple did not really change what an application was, by marketing these programs on the phone as an ‘App,’ a very small, simplified word that is similar to the user experience of an iPhone, all of a sudden the concept became bite-sized. The app became extremely easy to swallow for the average non-technical type. Could a kWh become bite-size too?

Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy – a utility providing gas and electricity to more than four million US customers in 5 states, spoke at the Plug-in 2011 Electric Vehicle convention in Raleigh, NC two weeks ago. As I was sitting in the audience listening to a man who has been in the electricity supplying business for longer than I have been alive, I was semi awe-struck when he said that the EV was going to revolutionize the way people understand electricity. I thought to myself, “Could Jim be right?” – and I had admit that though I never put it in those words before thinking about the industry that I work in, I believe Jim Rogers is spot on.

Being spot on and making sure that EV’s catch on are two different things, but if plugin electric vehicles stick around, then we are about to learn a lot more about electricity. Vehicles such as the Tesla Roadster, Nissan LEAF, Chevy Volt, Ford Focus Electric, Mitsubishi i, BMW Active-E, Toyota Prius Plugin, and others are vehicles that have been heavily invested in, and I certainly believe that the momentum from so many automakers for the electrification of the automobile is to a point that the plugin EV is here to stay.

Though plugging in your car to a charging station or a regular receptacle at home and/or work may not be in your immediate future, it is becoming an everyday experience to thousands across the country. Utilities from coast to coast, such as Duke in Indiana, Ohio, and the Carolinas, Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison in Michigan, or Reliant Energy in Texas, or Pacific Gas and Electric in California to name a few, are all experiencing consumers that have gained an increased understanding of electricity and the kWh by choosing to electrify their transportation. These same people now know things like it takes 6.1 kWh of electricity to get to work and back through traffic in downtown San Francisco – and that it only costs them 55 cents a day ($2.75 a week) to drive since they charge off-peak at night as they sleep.

Since there are still misconceptions and limitations given to the EV by the media and the public because of lack of education on the subject, understanding electricity has not hit critical mass. The eventuality of it, however, is trending more toward critical mass over the next 10 years, especially with the major push from the US Department of Energy’s ‘Smart Grid’ initiatives. Those of us that have had the opportunity to experience and understand the re-emergence of the electric vehicle, the kWh has become less mysterious and more understandable. However, probably the most fascinating thing about the iPhone/EV phenomenon, is that you do not even have to buy an iPhone or EV for this educational understanding to take hold … though, as my iPhone carrying non-tech-savvy grandmother in Miami would admit, owning one does make the education much easier.

2 responses to “iPhone : App :: EV : kWh

  1. That’s a very insightful post, Jason. I think the problem is not that people are unable to grasp the concepts of apps or kWh, or other concepts (including the more “human” ones I am interested in), but rather that they get overwhelmed by problems of scale. An application like Microsoft Word (to give but one example) has so many functions in it that seeing it as merely an application is too big for those who are not computer literate. It’s hard for those who are not tech-savvy to separate the superfluous functions from its essential identity as an application. However, the iphone apps have a small scale financially (they’re not expensive) as well as technically (they have a focused task–an app to find your car keys, an app to find the nearest Italian restaurant, and so on), and so they are easy to grasp intuitively.

    Hopefully you are right about the EV doing the same economically. An understanding of the cost of electricity (through the measure of its use in kilowatt-hours) may allow people to make informed decisions not only about cars (weighing and balancing the cost of electric vehicles as opposed to gasoline ones or hybrids), but also about other goods, from lighting to air conditioners to washing machines to computers. And that kind of knowledge would be a major conceptual leap that is obscured by the hostility most people “naturally” have to numbers and equations, the domain of engineers and mathematicians and computer programmers.

  2. Pingback: Facebook Just Pulled a Chrome with Facebook Home | Jason Nitzberg

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