Sometimes something simple can put you in your place. For me it was the awakening that I’m dependant on certain utilities. I’ll get to that shortly.
I’ve written before about the great new ‘smart’ tech that proliferates my life. And I still believe that it’s key to raising the living standards of everyone. Technology companies provide tools and resources (at a cost) that empower individuals.
For me it’s a huge social trend that’s going to dominate the 21st century. It’s the idea that, through tech, individuals like you have far more power over your own life than ever before.
But that means that, as you get more power, governments lose it. And when governments lose power, they get angry. They get more repressive, restrictive and act more like nanny-states.
One of the biggest power shifts is that of access to energy.
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is a company made up of government (60%) and industry participants (40%). It’s responsible for operating Australia’s gas and electricity markets and power systems.
A fact sheet on their website explains the National Electricity Market (NEM). While it’s the ‘National’ market, it’s really mostly the Eastern seaboard, Adelaide and Tasmania.
It includes around 51,000km of transmission lines and cables. It states $10.1 billion was traded in the NEM in 2013-14. It also says the NEM supplies around 9 million customers.
But it’s the reason for a spot market that’s interesting reading. According to the AEMO,
‘Electricity cannot be stored easily, so the electricity market operates as a “pool”, or spot market, where power supply and demand is matched instantaneously in real time’
Some of the states still own the distribution companies (NSW owns AusGrid for example). Some are privatised like Citipower and Powercor (Vic). Some are also owned by foreign companies such as Citipower & Powercor (Vic) and Electranet (SA).
Government has been losing control since the early days of privatisation. It’s a trend that’s going to continue. But so is the ability for individuals to have much greater control over their own electricity needs. That means less reliance on government, corporations or foreign entities.
The trend for the future is individual energy creation and storage. And when the AEMO says electricity can’t be stored easily…well they’re kind of wrong.
Blackouts and wishlists
One night this week I was typing away on my computer. Just doing some research on an up and coming tech company. I had the computer going, the TV was on in the background, and the lights were on.
I heard a couple of short sharp bangs from outside. I could tell it was kind of close to me. It wasn’t my house (thankfully). But somewhere nearby there had been a small explosion.
As it turns out, a second later the lights, the TV, the heating, everything went out. All I was left with was the eerie glow from my (fully charged) laptop. I called the power distributor. They said the firefighters were out to a local exchange, and that it seemed a small explosion in the underground cables was the likely cause.
This was about midnight. They said by 5am everything should be good again.
In an instant my outdoor camera was useless. My Amazon Echo was useless. My Nest Thermostat was useless. Anything connected to my WiFi was useless. My TiVo box and smart TV were useless. Here I was in my ‘smart home’, with the dumbest home on the street.
However, I have a wood burner in the front room. That meant I still had warmth. And while my phone was in the red zone (8%) I had a fully charged battery pack upstairs. And my computer was running at 100% power and had more than enough juice to see me to bed.
I sat there in the glow of my computer pondering life.
I realised how dependant I was — not on the internet or WiFi or smart tech — but on electricity. Without the ‘sparky stuff’, most of my tech was useless. But then I thought to myself, well at least I’ve got battery packs.
At that very moment I put another piece of tech on my ‘tech wishlist’. Home battery packs. I want to get battery packs for my house, in which I can store energy to use as I see fit. I could eliminate my reliance on the traditional energy companies for my most needed utility, electricity.
Storing electricity in battery packs isn’t hard. You just need the batteries to start with. The good news is that home batteries are starting to become more widespread, more accessible and, over time, will become more affordable.
If you can link it up to an effective solar system, you can potentially live completely reliant on your own home for energy. That’s my goal in the next few years. You might already be a step ahead of me in that respect. And if you’re not, I reckon that soon enough you’ll possibly head that way too.
I love my non-tech too
The other thing I realised is that, even in a modern, high tech world, one of the best ‘technologies’ I have is my wood burner. If everything failed for days on end, I could still warm my house.
That also made me realise that there are still plenty of amazing, necessary companies that aren’t tech related. In fact some of the most important companies in the world aren’t tech related. Companies that make wood burners. Companies that makes toilets, taps, pipes, doors, clothing, food. These are all still essential companies.
Sure, I bang on about tech a lot. That’s my specialty. But at the same time I can also appreciate the tremendous potential in companies that do everything else we need in the world.
I need those kinds of checks from time to time. Something that puts me in my place. Something that says, don’t forget to keep your eyes open to everything. And just as there are plenty of essential low-tech solutions in our lives that we shouldn’t forget, there are plenty of low-tech opportunities on the market that we shouldn’t ignore.
Of course, one of the best places you can find these kinds of non-tech related companies is on the ASX. In particular small-cap companies.
These small Aussie companies are growing incredible businesses, trading for cents on the ASX. They produce and distribute food, make appliances, dig earth from the ground, sell household products, and run retail businesses.
They’re the kinds of companies that we all use, and we all probably take for granted. I know I do from time to time.
The truth is, I still love my tech. But after my little awakening during the week, I also love all the non-tech things that make my life that little bit easier to navigate.