Updates from GE

Taking Charge: GE Bundles Batteries With Largest Steam And Gas Turbines
By Bruce Watson – Ever since the days of Thomas Edison, utilities have been working on ways to balance the grid. In the absence of utility-scale batteries that could store and release megawatts on demand — they remain expensive — the most common balancing tools today are “peakers.” These power plants, which burn either oil or natural gas, can quickly ramp up to full power and pick up the slack when renewables drop off. But even the fastest peakers take several minutes to reach full power, forcing operators to run them at minimum load to keep them ready. Idling, the turbines burn fuel, pump out greenhouse gas emissions and accumulate wear.

But engineers working at GE have now come up with a clever compromise that works kind of like a hybrid car: gas turbine peakers and batteries wrapped in a single, efficient package with sophisticated power-management software. “With a hybrid gas turbine, you don’t have to run the turbine at all,” says Brian Gutknecht, chief marketing officer for GE Power. “If power is called for, batteries can provide immediate power. Meanwhile, you can start up the gas turbine.” By the time the batteries run out of power, the turbine will be up and running — powering the grid and recharging the batteries. more> https://goo.gl/UR1qmM

What the U.S. Can Learn From India’s Government Reform Efforts

By John Kamensky – India’s government is based on the British parliamentary system with career civil servants heading about 80 departments that report to political ministers.

Day-to-day operations are in the hands of career executives with the title of Secretary to the Government of India. It’s a more centralized system and in some respects and faces greater challenges. It serves a population nearly four times the size of the United States, with greater economic disparities.

Its 29 states (and 7 Union Territories) are largely sub-units of the national government with civil servants moving back and forth.

“A 21st century government cannot deliver with 19th century institutions,” Amitabh Kant said, and to that end, the government has identified over 1,000 laws to be reduced, streamlined, or repealed. In addition, the Indian government supports over 680 autonomous bodies (e.g., AMTRAK and the Postal Service are rough equivalents in the United States) and they are reviewing each to determine if they can be devolved or eliminated. more> https://goo.gl/jzRkNN

Sending a strong signal on global internet freedom

By Stuart N. Brotman – The growing restrictions on internet freedom around the world are easy to document; less so any visible American strategy that would reverse the ominous trends at hand.

According to its most recent annual report in this area, Freedom on the Net 2016, two-thirds of the world’s internet users live under government censorship. Internet freedom around the world declined in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year.

The types of blocked content include political communication aimed at promoting democratic values, such as online petitions and calls for public protests. Even satire can be punished severely: a 22-year old in Egypt was imprisoned for three years after photo-shopping Mickey Mouse ears on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Unfortunately, this type of criminal penalty is hardly unique.

Overall, Freedom House deemed only 17 surveyed countries to have real internet freedom; 28 were partly free and 20 were characterized as not free. The leading bad state actors should not be surprising: China, Syria, Iran, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan and Cuba (North Korea was not included in the survey, alas).

The U.S. would be hurt if the marketplace of ideas and the online commercial marketplace that thrive here are diminished overseas.

However, there has been radio silence to date about this issue from the White House and the Department of State. more> https://goo.gl/msTcLz

Updates from Chicago Booth

Identify and rise above load-bearing assumptions
By Linda E. Ginzel – How could you build a really, really tall building without building really, really thick walls?

A man named William Le Baron Jenney came up with the answer. Jenney is widely recognized as the father of the American skyscraper, and according to Chicago lore, he had a breakthrough idea when he observed his wife placing a very heavy book on top of a tall metal birdcage. The cage not only supported the weight of the book, Jenney could see that it could have easily supported a whole stack of books. A stack of books piled high and balancing on a birdcage—what an image.

Jenney introduced the idea of a complete, steel skeleton, and he built the first fully metal-framed skyscraper in Chicago in 1884. Just as his wife used a birdcage to support the weight of a very big book, Jenney used metal columns and beams to support his building from the inside.

This story demonstrates the combined power of shedding a default assumption that weighed people down with making a major conceptual shift, which, in this case, provided architects the strength they needed to build higher.

Many of us face load-bearing assumptions, perhaps about management, strategy, finance, or leadership. For example, you may assume that the economic world is a zero-sum game.

Shedding assumptions is not an easy task because many have served you well in the past, and there is risk in abandoning them. Yet one of the most important skills that you can acquire is a willingness to question your load-bearing assumptions and make a different choice, when necessary. more> https://goo.gl/zR2hFR

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The idea of creating a new universe in the lab is no joke

By Zeeya Merali – There’s an established principle in quantum theory that pairs of particles can spontaneously, momentarily pop out of empty space. Alex Vilenkin took this notion a step further, arguing that quantum rules could also enable a minuscule bubble of space itself to burst into being from nothing, with the impetus to then inflate to astronomical scales.

Our cosmos could thus have been burped into being by the laws of physics alone. Many cosmologists have made peace with the notion of a universe without a prime mover, divine or otherwise.

.. flipping the problem around, I started to wonder: what are the implications of humans even considering the possibility of one day making a universe that could become inhabited by intelligent life? As I discuss in my book A Big Bang in a Little Room (2017), current theory suggests that, once we have created a new universe, we would have little ability to control its evolution or the potential suffering of any of its residents. Wouldn’t that make us irresponsible and reckless deities?

We will not be creating baby universes anytime soon, but scientists in all areas of research must feel able to freely articulate the implications of their work without concern for causing offence. Cosmogenesis is an extreme example that tests the principle.

Parallel ethical issues are at stake in the more near-term prospects of creating artificial intelligence or developing new kinds of weapons, for instance.

As Anders Sandberg put it, although it is understandable that scientists shy away from philosophy, afraid of being thought weird for veering beyond their comfort zone, the unwanted result is that many of them keep quiet on things that really matter. more> https://goo.gl/GjCJpd

Make Congress Great Again

By Matthew Spalding – Today, the primary function of government is to regulate.

When Congress writes legislation, it uses very broad language that turns extensive power over to agencies, which are also given the authority of executing and often adjudicating violations of their regulations in particular cases. The result is that most of the actual decisions of lawmaking and public policy – decisions previously the constitutional responsibility of elected legislators – are delegated to bureaucrats whose “rules” have the full force and effect of laws passed by Congress.

The modern Congress is almost exclusively a supervisory body exercising limited oversight over administrative lawmakers.

If the development of the rule of law and constitutional government is the most significant accomplishment of the long history of human liberty, the greatest political revolution in the United States since the establishment of the Constitution has been the shift of power away from the lawmaking institutions of republican government to an oligarchy of experts who rule by regulation over virtually every aspect of our lives.

The result is an increasingly unbalanced structural relationship between what amounts to an executive–bureaucratic branch that can act with or without Congress to pursue common goals, and an ever-weakening legislative branch unable or unwilling to exercise its powers to check the executive or rein in a metastasizing bureaucracy. more> https://goo.gl/Jp3xRz

How We Can Bring Back the American Dream

BOOK REVIEW

Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It, Author: Richard Reeves.

By Dwyer Gunn – The U.S., in other words, had fallen prey to the very thing it rebelled against in the first place: an immutable aristocracy.

Reeves explores the divide between the top 20 percent of Americans—who have benefited from a modern economy that rewards education and human capital—and everyone else. Upper-middle-class families, he writes, aren’t just distinguished by their high incomes; they’re also distinguished by higher levels of education, lower rates of non-marital childbearing, more stable family structures, and more intensive parenting practices.

These factors all add up to provide enormous advantages to these families, particularly the children. And while many of these practices, far from being unethical, are precisely the kinds of behaviors policymakers should encourage all parents to exhibit, Reeves highlights three specific ways in which he believes that upper-middle-class families are unethically and unfairly “rigging the market” in favor of their own progeny:

  1. exclusionary zoning practices,
  2. unfair practices around college admissions (including legacy policies), and
  3. an internship process that rewards well-connected children.

Reeves’ book proposes a number of reforms that could return America to a country of equal opportunity. more> https://goo.gl/dXyzeC

How the Obama phenomenon and Trump earthquake happened

By Reid Wilson – The Hill spent months digging deep into decades of data that illustrate the nation’s changing demographics, economics, culture and politics.

Those glimpses of a changing America are evidence of a series of countervailing demographic, political and economic forces that have long exerted themselves on the nation — and now define the quadrennial struggle between two sides of the political aisle that are deeply polarized along race, class, economic and educational lines.

At the center of the divide are two sets of divergent trends.

The first set contrasts the changing face of America, which is being hastened by the rising influence of the most diverse generation in American history, with a radical political shift among the nation’s still-dominant cohort of older whites, who now act as a more homogenous voting bloc than ever before.

The second set reflects the changing nature of how Americans live, work and build economic power. A generations-long trend toward wage stagnation, automation and globalization is in the final stages of exterminating the blue-collar manufacturing jobs that once sustained America’s middle class in the heartland. more> https://goo.gl/YgDUA0

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Updates from GE

Renewable Energy Makes Things Tough On The Grid, But New Software Could Help

By Bruce Watson – In 2016, more than two-thirds of power in Europe came from nonrenewable sources. Globally, renewables are expected to reach parity with coal and gas around 2040.

Nevertheless, the speed with which intermittent renewables — the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow — are coming on board is making it harder for European utilities to balance the grid. That’s because the grid, as large as it is, is also a delicate system where supply must match demand at all times or there’s a risk of blackouts.

In France, for example, strong winds in the north mixed with a sunny week on the Riviera in the south can lead to a surfeit of electricity that puts the balance at risk.

The intermittency also makes profits hard to find, with European utilities on average struggling to increase profits 1 percent in 2016. Countries around the world are watching how Europe uses thermal generation to keep the grid balanced; prioritizes low-cost, clean and renewable energy; and keeps utilities profitable amid a rapidly changing energy network. more> https://goo.gl/iC532f

Uber’s Problems Are Silicon Valley’s Problems

By Katy Steinmetz – The world’s most valuable venture-backed company is no doubt in crisis. And the story of Uber, in its extreme success and what may turn out to be extreme failures, is in some ways singular. But it also hits on issues in the technology industry that are far bigger than one company.

Silicon Valley has struggled for years with diversity and inclusion, as critics have wondered whether the industry can achieve its grand self-image: a bunch of brilliant minds set on making the world a better place, for whom no problem is too tough to solve, no status quo too established to upend.

Despite whistle-blowing at other companies about hostile office cultures and widespread acknowledgement that the industry needs to “do better” when it comes to hiring and retaining women and people of color, those problems have persisted.

The fact that Uber, the brightest product of the Silicon Valley ecosystem of the past several years, could become such an influential global powerhouse while seemingly neglecting its own workplace speaks to some of the reasons that broader progress, as many see it, has been slow.

The pressure for startups to grow fast — and the prospect of profits or an enriching “exit” for investors — can be blinding. Taking time to think about unsexy HR practices often feels antithetical to hard-charging disruption.

Company culture and bias can be hard things to see, much less change, especially if the people at the top believe they’re running a meritocracy. more> https://goo.gl/WwGncQ

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