The Future of Energy

Last week I was honored to be asked to give a brief talk on the future of energy at 1776, Washington DC's startup incubator. I was in town for less than 24 hours but it felt invigorating to present my ideas back in my home town.

The event was called RebootEnergy, and its purpose was to bring together entrepreneurs, policy makers, and corporate leaders to discuss trends they see in the energy industry and what their organizations are doing to capitalize on them.

After a fireside chat between Evan Burfield (1776 founder), Aneesh Chopra (former CTO of the US government), and Blake Burris (head of the Cleanweb initiative), the evening centered on lightning talks - three-minute mini-presentations given by the rest of us presenters.

I chose to focus specifically on the trend of increasing energy consumer empowerment, which is an area in which my startup is constantly breaking new ground:
The Future of Energy: Engaging the Consumer from Bryan Hassin

My lightning talk was well received (I was even quoted in the follow up press release!) and I met many new, interesting people afterward. Perhaps more interestingly, I was surprised and excited by just how many people I bumped into there whom I already knew:

Evan, the founder of 1776 and a friend from high school
Apoorv and Rob, friends from Rice
Heather, a classmate from IMD
Catherine, whom I met when I was interviewing with OPower (called Positive Energy at the time)
Blake, my collaborator on Rice's Cleanweb Hackathon - the first in Texas
Joseph, a fellow cleanweb entrepreneur whom I met in Houston in August
David, a collaborator on GIVEWATTS
and several more

Even though I was presenting professionally in DC for the first time, it felt more like a homecoming. This was good validation for me that I have been running in the right circles!

It was a great event and I was really impressed with what Evan and the 1776 team have accomplished. In stark contrast to the lack of startup culture when I joined UUNET back in 1996, DC is now bursting with startup energy. And that's a good thing because energy is exactly what my startup is trying to revolutionize!


Economic Inequality in America

Recently I've been seeing many facebook posts about a video describing the very lopsided distribution of wealth and income in the United States. The video is actually a year old but it has been given a new lease on life by upworthy and, at the time of this post, has more than 10,000,000 views.

The basic arguments of the video are:
* The US has very unequal distribution of wealth and income.
* Over time, wealth and income distribution is becoming more unequal.
* Most Americans aren't aware of how unequal and increasingly unequal wealth and income are in the US and they would prefer them to be more equitably distributed.

This has made for some good and spirited discussion among my friends. Many of my socialist-leaning European friends believe that it's a great travesty and that Americans are either ignorant about it happening or wrong in willfully letting it happen. Many of my libertarian-leaning American friends believe that it's a right and natural outcome of a meritocratic free market.

Regardless of the video and the data sources and the definitions it uses, I'm glad it has stimulated this discussion because it's not something I've really thought much about before. It leaves me with several questions:

* Is US wealth and income distribution as inequitable as the video makes it seem?
* How does the US compare with other countries? (The US looks OK in this World Bank data.)
* What should the US wealth and income distribution look like - and why?
* Is this even the right question? I've seen it argued that wealth and income mobility (the ability for someone in one group to move up to another group) is more important than a snaptshot or trend of distribution. This resonates with me as it seems to align with the American dream: that anyone, no matter where he comes from or what he has today, can make it big tomorrow.
* If mobility is the right metric to focus on, how does the US stack up there? (Not too well, it would seem from this Wikipedia article.)
* Or are there other metrics we should look at for an ideal future state and work backward from there?
* If indeed the US is out of whack with regard to the metrics we claim to hold dear, why is that so? And what can or should be done about it? What other approaches exist and what would be their tradeoffs?

What do you think about these issues? I don't have any conclusions of my own yet as I'm just starting to consider them.


Last week Katie and I saw the movie everyone has been raving about: Gravity. Although it wasn't the best sci fi movie ever (as we had heard from some people) - and, in fact, I wouldn't classify it as a sci fi movie at all - it was quite enjoyable.

We saw the movie in IMAX 3D and I'm glad we did. It is visually quite stunning with amazing panoramic shots of the earth during both night and day. The 3D is really well done and actually heightens the flinch-worthiness of the tenser scenes. I would expect nothing less from Alfonso CuarĂ³n, who directed my favorite of the Harry Potter films.

Although people tend to focus on the visual aspects when singing this movie's praises, the audio was quite good as well. The constant tension between the sweeping score and the silence of the vacuum of space, combined with the cinematography, really succeeded in presenting both the beauty and hostility of space.

The film was incredibly immersive and the zero-g effects were extremely believable. This is a testament not only to the production techniques (using robotic attachments to move actors around as if they were in null gravity) but also to the skill of the actors. Decades ago actors acted on real sets and interacted with real objects/people. In this movie, though, actors were in front of green screens and I'm not sure any of them were actually in the studio at the same time. This must take an extra level of skill to act believably in a completely "produced" environment.

All in all, the movie was very good and definitely worth seeing - especially in IMAX 3D. Its themes of rebirth are a bit heavy handed but it is a beautiful, compelling story about the triumph of the persisent human spirit. For those of you have seen it already, what did you think?