Strategic Consulting in Cleantech

One of the best things about the SDM program is that it gives you some powerful tools, then encourages you to go out and use them. The Systems Leadership and Management (SLaM) Lab pairs teams of students with companies that want a fresh approach to a business challenge. My team worked with local information-driven energy management firm EnerNOC. We came up with some unexpected solutions and everyone benefitted greatly from the engagement. Check my recent SDM blog article on how we provided strategic cleantech consulting:

Throughout the course, the topics included leadership, teamwork, and group dynamics. Team members were able to apply these concepts immediately and improve their critical soft skills. Swope Fleming (SDM'10) summarized the experience well: "I thought it was an excellent project and EnerNOC's support was fantastic. Being able to work with 'live ammo' is something that just cannot be replicated in the classroom alone, and it was an invaluable experience."


Thesis Update: Wind Power and Demand Response in Denmark and Hawaii

Today I signed up 500 MW of demand response customers in Denmark.

Well, simulated customers.

My thesis, you may recall, is on integration of wind resources in Hawaii. Denmark is a pretty good analogue for Hawaii since it has lots of wind and a similar number of thermal generators. There is also a really good stochastic unit commitment model for the nordic countries called WILMAR. I am in the process of modifying WILMAR so that it can simulate Hawaii, but before that I wanted to see how Denmark would behave if it had a lot of responsive demand and 20% wind.

Rather than treating responsive demand as actual curtailment, I model it as another type of generator and leave the demand function unchanged. On the graph above, you see coal/oil/gas powerplants in grey, wind in green, and demand response in red. The x-axis represents about two weeks of operations. To model demand response, I am considering it (to first approximation) to have instantaneous spin-up time, an infinite ramp rate, and no startup/shutdown cost. Its marginal cost is higher than all other generators in the market.

Given these characteristics, I expected DR to be used relatively infrequently when the wind came in less strong than predicted. Not so - the optimization seems to like the flexibility of demand response and dispatches it all the time. I need to look deeper into my assumptions about DR having zero startup cost. (Furthermore, HECO rules promise that DR won't be called for longer than 2 hours at a time. Obviously that still needs to be coded into the constraint set.)

Other interesting observation: that large dark grey band is coal. For all of its world-class wind penetration, the country is still running a lot of dirty coal. You see the cleaner natural gas plants (light grey) kick in mostly when the wind dies down such as on 7/3. Running coal and wind feels to me like eating chocolate cake and diet coke to balance it out. I'd be interested in calculating the carbon-intensity of denmark's dirty/clean hybrid and comparing it to New England's pretty-clean natural gas sector. (Also: 100% wind on the night of 7/12! Go Denmark!)


Patent Hat Trick

After 5 years in the USPTO caverns, the third karl critz patent has been issued. This relates to my time back at the MathWorks as product lead for the Report Generator. Users had been asking for some easy way to package up Simulink and Stateflow models, then send them to colleagues for review. Interviews showed that people were willing to install a special program or plug-in, but preferred not to. I built a tool that would export these models to then-rare Scalable Vector Graphics so that models could be viewed and navigated in any modern web browser. There was even a neat "overview" mode that anticipated Apple's "Expose" feature by a few years. This feature is what made us jump to version 3.0, and it helped sales tidily. My career has progressed onward from this sort of work, but it's still cool to get the recognition.

(It is a bit embarrassing that the lawyers captured the figures using internet explorer, and "provided by compaq" no less.)


Business Logic 2x2

Following my recent realization that for business theory "if it can't be decomposed into a 2x2 matrix, it's not worth knowing", I hereby present my meta 2x2 matrix to describe all 2x2 business matrices:

can it be expressed
as a
2x2 matrix?
yes simplify
it hurts
no go back to
Karl's Business Logic noyes
should it be expressed as a 2x2 matrix?

Note to anyone seeing this through facebook: Mark Zuckerberg hates the <table> tag, so you'll have to click the link to see this on my blog karlcritz.com with original formatting intact.


Marketing Advice for Career Switchers

This week my Harvard Business School class ("Business Marketing") covered the topic of "what is your message when selling stuff?" In the model, there is one particular trap that I have fallen into, as may many of my SDM colleagues. Here is a short warning for those thinking of switching careers.

It seems like there's a truism in business literature that "if it can't be decomposed into a 2x2 matrix, it's not worth knowing." The latest bit of wisdom from Business Marketing concerns itself with how to sell a product based on its benefits. You have to consider your ability to deliver the benefit (low/high) as well as the importance of that benefit to the buyer (low/high). The strategy matrix looks like this:

ability to provide

If you do something well and the customer values it, lead with it. It's your hook. If you don't do something well and the customer doesn't care, ignore it and don't even talk about it. Who cares? If you don't do something well and the customer does care, you are in the realm of objection handling. Deflect and move on; there are dozens of books to help you do this with grace.

Career-switchers get trapped by the lower-right quadrant. We're looking to go into a new area and the bulk of our accomplishments are in a different area. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to resist and NOT play up areas of strength when the customer (a hiring manager) doesn't care. Imagine if someone wants to sell you a car and tells you how great it is at closed-course auto racing. Your thoughts are going to be "I don't want to do auto racing, why are you wasting my time?" and "Am I going to have to pay more for this?" In the best circumstance, the sales message might link that auto racing prowess to things you do care about such as acceleration or cornering. In the worst case, this quadrant will just bother or confuse the buyer.

Prior to SDM, my resume contained a lot of detail about software projects, languages, libraries, and skills. It's been painful to pare this away. I still see myself entering a world of managing software developers or at least working with them to develop specifications. Therefore, my software experience on the resume now focuses much more on leadership and real-world results. How many people did I manage? How did I develop and implement a product vision? None of the jobs I want will care whether or not I can finesse XML XSLT engines to output elegant SVG images, so that line had to go. Keep it relevant to the audience, and be careful what you're selling.

(On a personal note, removing OASIS DocBook skill may have hurt. That pain was nothing compared to removing "Eagle Scout, BSA" from the "awards" section. Darn you, relevance.)

(Image via Wenger, makers of knives both practical and... not.)


SDM Explained: A Transcript

What follows is an organized list of my coursework as part of SDM. The concept of "Systems Design and Management" can be hard to encapsulate in a simple sentence, so this exhaustive list can give you a better feel for how I have been applying myself for the last year and a half. The high-level themes provide the best feel for the SDM approach: leadership, the business of technology, and large-scale systems analysis. My personal area of interest is in the integration of renewable energy, visible both in the explicitly energy-related classes as well as the courses in which I performed substantial project work on energy issues. (Energy-focused courses are noted in bold.)

  • Technology Strategy
    • 15.965 Technology Strategy - Creating and capturing value
    • 15.969 User-Centered Innovation - Listening to lead users for product design
    • ESD.945 SLaM Praxis - How decisions are made, frameworks for competitive analysis
    • ESD.58 Disruptive Technologies - How technologies evolve
      • Project: market evaluation of 3rd generation solar cells
    • ESD.945 SLaM Lab - Applied technology strategy
      • Project: New market penetration for an energy efficiency firm
  • Management
    • 15.381 The Human Side of Technology - leadership theory as applied to tech
    • ESD.930 Leadership - leadership frameworks and personal reflection
    • ESD.38 Enterprise Architecture - an engineering approach to organizational transformation
    • 15.514 Managerial Accounting - how to think about costs and income
    • ESD.763 Supply Chain Management - treating a supply chain as an optimizable design
    • 15.281 Advanced Leadership Communication - running effective teams
    • HBS1929 Business Marketing - how to manage a team for b2b sales
      • Project on how to sell to electrical utilities
  • Energy
    • 15.366 Energy Ventures - Practical lab in how to launch an energy-industry startup
    • ESD.940 Wind Turbine Design - manufacturing, meteorology, and the NREL FAST suite
    • ESD.934 Engineering, Economics, and Regulation of the Power Sector - grid operations
      • Project: future outlook for demand response
    • ESD.865 Modeling Electric Power Systems - numerical optimization with GAMS
    • Thesis - Demand Response for Grid Balance with High Renewable Penetration
  • System Engineering
    • ESD.33 System Engineering - analyzed the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative as a large-scale systems problem
    • ESD.34 System Architecture - applied architectural principles to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
    • ESD.36 Project Management - how to bring in a project on time and on budget, using system dynamics to avoid the traps
    • ESD.344 Real Options - mathematical tools for when and how to build flexibility into product design
  • Misc
    • ESD.301 Statistics - Emphasis on hypothesis testing
    • 21F.415 Deutschland im Europ√§ischen Kontext - Deutsche Literatur auf Deutsch
    • 6.083 Mobile Application Development - Wrote 5 deployable Android applications

This portfolio of classes has positioned me for a role in product management, project management, corporate strategy, or engineering management.


Product Camp Boston: Register Today

Registration just opened for Product Camp Boston. The focus is on product management, the difficult and under-appreciated art of figuring out "what to build", not just "how to build it." It's an O'Reilly-style "un-conference", which means that the content will be organized on the spot according to interest. It also has the advantage of being free. I attended the 2009 camp and learned a lot. Let me know if you'll be there.


MIT Energy Conference - Visit the Free Showcase on Friday

I'm on the organizing team for the MIT Energy Conference Showcase. Tickets for the conference itself sold out long ago, but the Friday (4 March) Showcase is free and open to the public. We have put together a great collection of academics and companies doing cutting-edge work in the energy field. I'm particularly excited by some of the unconventional wind and hydro generators we'll have on the floor. Stop by the Westin from 5 to 8pm and say hi.