Editorial: In a Time of Harrowing Inconvenience
Depending on the model and the meteorologist, the United States is experiencing its hottest summer since x, where x is a year between the Dust Bowl and the Cretaceous. Mixed in with the heat have been several major storms knocking out power and damaging outdoor things. Hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting appliances stand without surge protection.
Appliance makers of the Earth, I tell you that these events are just preludes to a time that will try mankind’s souls, when he shall have to either adapt, or live in a world without central air, refrigeration, XBox Live, or coffee for hours or even days at a time!
I speak not of the 2012 Apocalypse, or the Mayan Calendar, or the invasion of Martians, but of a time that shall be called the Great Inconvenience, a time of power loss, and uncomfortable heat or cold, and it is coming as assuredly as the next low-pressure front. This is a market you cannot ignore any longer, not because there’s a few crazy people planning for a major disaster, but because of how crazy people can get during a minor one!
The record July was a good one for PTACs and portable units. Energy preservation efforts in commercial office districts backfired into a run on desk fans. Storms have played havoc with suburban power grids, and homeowners in return quickly snatched up window units they could power with the even faster-selling generators. Battery-operated devices of any kind have flown off the shelves, as have devices that plug into car outlets.
Local news outlets in metro-Detroit, Chicago and Buffalo reported that mini-fridges and freezers were popular buys as those without power scrambled to preserve their food stores. Anecdotally, the designer of a self-built portable walk-in refrigerator (normally used for catering) in upstate New York told me he and his buddy made a nice bit of change after a power outage by selling storage bin spaces in the trailer to neighbors. Cable providers were hit with a cascade of broken DVRs and set top boxes.
There’s a niche here if you can figure out a way to reach it. All the conveniences consumers have come to rely on are potential converts. You could be the one to design the car-powered coffeemaker. You could be the one to save every wedding cake in America, or shine as a beacon of solar-powered connectivity amidst an ocean of blackness. And when the power’s on you can market all of it to campers.
Of course the Great Inconvenience is a tough one to plan for. Success stories will come from those who can accommodate cheap production, and quick deployment. Harnessing alternative power resources will be the watchword of our faith.
Long-term, a summer that strains the power grid tends to whip public support around tougher energy controls. A couple of record summers in the late-’80s played a bit role in Energy Star, while the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was spurned by the 2003 blackout. These public overreactions have yet to significantly reform/rebuild the grid itself. More likely, the burden of responding to the pseudo-Armageddon of 2012 will fall upon a far easier target, and gee, who could that be?
Prepare today for the Great Inconvenience, and the next time the public is hit with mass temporary irritation, you will be ready.
Seth M. Fisher,