Numlock News: April 7, 2020 • Solar, Stress Eating, Eggs
By Walt Hickey
The price of eggs has exploded in the past several weeks, with the prices for grocers averaging $3.01 per dozen at the end of last week compared to the $0.94 per dozen they were selling for at the beginning of March. Supermarkets are ordering anywhere from four to six times their typical amount, but a key issue is that last year the egg producers lost money and actually shrank their flock. It takes up to five months to raise a hen to an age where you can get eggs, so there’s not a lot of incentive for farmers to react to The Great American Improvisational Omelette Festival with new production that will be useless come September.
Companies thought they were being real clever when they decided to require their customers and employees to agree to mandatory arbitration in the event of a dispute, a practice that grew widespread following a 2011 Supreme Court case involving AT&T. Typically, corporations have an advantage over their less wealthy adversaries at the arbitration table rather than in the court room, where a fickle jury could cost them lots of money. Enter FairShake, a startup that helps employees file arbitration claims en masse, which can overwhelm the legal departments and take some of that advantage back from the bosses. Since the company agrees to pay for the arbitration, that adds up, so they’ll often settle: from the claims FairShake settled, consumers got an average payout of $700 each.
In the five-day workweek starting March 23, the five boroughs of New York City averaged 4,808 megawatts hourly in electricity demand, which was down 12 percent compared to the same period last year. I was unaware that they were capable of making my office colder than it already was, but it would appear that commercial landlords around the city have actually found a way. The same effect hasn’t yet been seen in other cities, which let’s hope is merely a credit to the totality of New York’s shut down and not an indication that the other metros are slacking off. Still, according to the Midcontinent Independent System Operator — which manages the central U.S.’s grid — demand was down 3.8 percent the week of March 22. Meanwhile, in Texas, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said demand was up 4 percent.
The voluntary market for carbon credits — that is, people and companies buying carbon credits to offset the emissions they’re responsible for, even though they’re not mandated to do so by law — was at a seven-year high in 2018, when companies and individuals purchased 98.4 million metric tons of offsets for the reasonable fee of $295.7 million. You, personally, can even buy them for yourself — one guy tried it and owed $15.70 per months — but the issue is that the only motivation to do it is guilt, and unfortunately, while I may have been raised Irish Catholic, the Exxon-Mobil corporation was not, and all those 2018 carbon credits accounted for 0.25 percent of total global emissions that year. The United Nations estimates we’ve gotta cut emissions by closer to 45 percent by 2030.
Verily, a unit of Google parent company Alphabet, has over the past several years been unleashing hoards of mosquitoes in Southern California. No, they’re not Bond villains (yet) and based on a new paper published in Nature Biotechnology they’re actually doing a pretty great job: Verily worked with MosquitoMate and the local mosquito abatement district to release millions of lab-bred male mosquitoes that have been infected with a bacterium that makes them effectively infertile. The Wolbachia bacteria mean that when the (lab-bred) males mate with the (wild, bitey) females, the offspring simply don’t hatch. The paper found that through the 2018 season — July to October — the infected males were responsible for a 93 percent suppression of the female mosquito population. A bacterium is a little less permanent than a genetic bomb, as some have speculated on implementing, so this is a deeply promising advance.
A new poll surveyed how people were dealing with the quarantine, and the answers demonstrated a great degree of focus on personal advancement, goal achievement, and self-improvement. I’m kidding, we’re eating constantly and washing it down with alcohol to deal with the stress: 28 percent of adults said they were eating more due to the self-quarantine, compared to just 11 percent who said less. Among Millennials, that’s 33 percent eating more and 11 percent less. Fully 25 percent of Millennials are drinking more, compared to 16 percent of adults overall.
Unfortunately for the rooftop solar business, turns out “locked in at home” is considered a poor time to commence loud construction on our roofs, despite the financial benefits. Morgan Stanley projected that installations of residential solar panels will decline 48 percent on a year-over-year basis in the second quarter (which is this one), followed by a 28 percent decline compared to last year in the next quarter and a 17 percent drop in the fourth. This could have an overall annual decline in new residential solar by as much as 34 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, which is tough considering the projection had been 10 percent growth.
This past Sunday, I interviewed Olga Khazan, a writer for The Atlantic who appears here pretty regularly, and who today is coming out with her new book Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World. The interview was a ton of fun, do try to check out the book it’s really great.
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