Why Are Gas Prices So High? And 4 Simple Ways to lessen the impact

April 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you’ve bought gasoline in the last few days (anywhere in the USA) then you’ve paid close to or over $4/gallon. In some areas this is over 10 cents more per gallon than just over 2 weeks ago. What does that amount to? At least $100 Bn additional spent on fuel over the last few weeks. And on a more personal level? It’s $33 more spent by every man, woman and child in America.

Whichever way you look at this it’s more money coming out of your pocket. And it’s not just when you fill up your car. It shows up in the price of groceries (the stores pass the fuel cost through to you and I), in the price of services and in the price of gas/electricity for our homes (especially if you’re not on fixed rates).

But is this spike in cost really justifiable? The answer is a big NO.

The only reason we hear for the gas price increase is the unrest in the Middle East (especially Libya right now). Two wrong assumptions are made when this reason is given:

1. The Middle East supplies the bulk of US Oil:

Libya only supplies about 1% of US crude. Saudi Arabia supplies only 11% and other Middle East countries supply another 7%. The US actually gets the bulk of it’s oil supplies from the Americas (Canada, Mexico, Venezuela etc). And Net Imports of fuel have been reducing. But we think (or are made to think) that the bulk of supply comes from the Middle East.

2. Crude Oil price increase = Pump price increase:

The gasoline you buy at the pump today was drilled somewhere between 3-6 months ago. Yes. 3-6 months ago! It was refined, converted and stored. So that there is unrest in Libya today should, technically, not affect the pump price until the Summer. But the neighborhood gas station (which actually makes its money when you buy the Snickers at the station convenience store) reflects the ‘gas price increase’ only 2 weeks after unrest starts. Again it’s a perception thing.

So what can you as a consumer do to reduce the impact of the gasoline price increases on your wallet?

Drive less: The CTA/Metra/Public Transport System provider cannot jack up bus and train prices on a whim like the gas stations can.

Lighten the load in your car: Get the junk out of your trunk and you’ll need less gas to drop your kids at school etc

Shop local: Locally sourced produce comes from closer to you and hence the fuel costs will not, for the most part, increase the costs. The food is better for you too (it contains less preservatives).

Carpool: Saves on cost. It might even be an opportunity to know your neighbors (you know what they say about people becoming likable when you get to know them).

Any other ideas on how to reduce the impact of increasing gas prices?

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5 trendsetting companies/institutions in Illinois. One is working on toilet tissue…

April 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

Spring (ish).

Time to look at things with a brighter perspective. Time to look at 5 fresh institutions/companies to watch in Illinois over the next 9 months. It’s a diverse group with interests in 3-D printing, tubeless toilet paper, Kids tablets and crowdsourced fundraising for medical expenses.

Enjoy the awesomeness:

1.Kimberly-Clark and it’s tube free Toilet Rolls: Who said there is no innovation in the toilet industry! Kimberly-Clark (NYSE: KMB) is stepping up with a solution to a longtime problem: what to do with the waste that is the toilet tissue tube. You know someone had to sort this out considering the global push towards sustainability and more conscious living. The Hoffman Estates based company estimates that the 17 billion toilet paper tubes produced per year in the U.S. generate enough tubing to stretch over a million miles when placed end to end.

Why watch? The value of this initiative will only be truly seen if customers respond (and it seems to be catching on). Expect other companies to follow this trend. And I know, without a doubt, that you’ve used some tissue paper today so this’ll stay on your mind…

2. Nano-CEMMs and 3D printing : 3-Dimensional printing is about to be huge (or so says the Economist). The Nano-CEMM center (a partnership between Univ of  Illinois Urbana Champaign, Stanford, Northwestern, Notre Dame and NC State) is pioneering curvilinear  3D printing. In simple terms: it’s a cool way of improving the quality of 3-D prints and it’s a disruptive technology.

Why watch? The performance of the antenna on your smart phone will benefit from the method this center is developing. I’m sure Apple are watching. You should too.

2. Educational Games for Tablets (Tallytots by Spinlight Studios): The Education industry (including the educational games market) is big but stale. Tablets are changing that. Tablet and Mobile Applications are big and will stay big for a while. Spinlight Studios (Champaign, Illinois) with it’s first app, Tallytots, is making great strides in becoming a big player in the intersection of the education and mobile app market with its fun and educational counting game for kids.

Why watch? In the skewed world of ‘apps’ the free apps get all the buzz. Tallytots is a paid app that beat out Ms PacMan, the Dr Seuss Apps and Mathboard and is rising fast in the App Store (number 19 at the last check). And that’s worth celebrating.

4. VTech and it’s Tablets for Kids: The Ipad, Xoom etc are, for the most part, too expensive for the average American. And you know kids want to play and learn with these tablets too (cute Ipad youtube video). This creates suppressed demand and suppressed demand plus lowering costs of production lead to huge market opportunity. VTech (a company in Arlington Heights, Illinois) is looking to capitalize on this latent demand with it’s line of kid and pocket friendly Inno-Pads. VTech already has it’s line of Innovative VReaders.

Why watch? People love their kids, the economy is on a slight upswing and Summer is just round the corner. There will be sales…

5. Fundraising for loved ones made easy with GiveForward:  There is a lot of uncertainty around healthcare insurance and medical expenses. With uncertainty comes opportunity. And with opportunity, in some cases, sprouts greed. But some people see uncertainty and confusion as a chance to help people. Step up Chicago based GiveForward. The site (in their own words) ‘is the easiest way to help a loved one in need’ by providing an easy to use fundraising platform for the smallest to the biggest medical expense. We say well done…

Why watch? Debates over the healthcare bill and rising medical expenses aren’t going to subside anytime soon. Neither will the need to care for our loved ones. Expect Giveforward to grow. They’ve already assisted in raising over $4.1MM!

Any other companies on your list? Any trends you think we should watch?

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Determining Market Need (CCIST Innovation Seminar University of Chicago)

April 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Presented on Determining Customer Needs at the University of Chicago Innovation Seminar earlier today: amazingly smart students (the intellectual rigor is alive and well!!!) and I learned as much as I hoped they did (probably more if I’m honest…)


What Does The Jargon On My Comed Bill Mean?

March 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Since we started the residential switching service we’ve heard this question over and over again:

‘what do these lines on my Comed bill mean?’

We heard it from our small commercial clients and we could answer their questions individually. But we realized it would be best to provide our residential customers a detailed explanation. Call it our “Comed bill reference guide’. It’s also on the Comed site but we’ve used simple English (where possible) so you can also become an expert on these things…It’s a bit long but should provide you all you need.

Here goes…


Starting from the left side of the Sample Bill:

Your Usage Profile (13-month usage) Total KWhChart showing how much electricity you used in the last month.

Electricity Usage – The chart (above) shown in numbers.

KwH (Kilowatt per hour) – Is the standard measure of electricity used (think of it like miles per gallon)

Account Number – A unique customer identification number (just like you have one for your bank account)

Service Address – If the electricity is for your home then it’s your home address. If it’s for your business then it’s your business address.

Phone Number – Primary phone number provided by customer

Issue Date – Date bill was created.

Previous Balance – Previous bill amount

Total Payments – A summary of payments received since the last bill. It’s zero if you paid your bill, negative if you didn’t.

Amount Due/Due Date – Amount you owe the electricity company and when the payment sis due

Meter Number – Customer’s unique meter identification number (some customers, mainly businesses, have multiple meters)

Load Type – Type of service rendered – all residential customers are general service. For the commercial segment there are different types (more details in next blog post)

Meter Reading Type

  1. Actual – usage data from your meter when Comed have come out and read your meter.
  2. Customer – usage data from the meter when you’ve read your meter yourself.
  3. Estimated – estimated usage data based on your historical usage (that chart above)

Multiplier X – A factor applied to usage readings for certain kinds of meters to accurately determine usage.  Comed determines this mystery X number

Usage – The difference between what you used before, what your meter reads now multiplied by the ‘X’ that applies to your meter type (measured in KwH)

Customer Rate – Your service classification (similar to how much you’re charged based on your ‘phone plan’)

Electricity Supply Charge – A charge for electricity provided during the billing period. NOTE: THIS IS WHAT CHANGES WHEN YOU SWITCH TO A NEW SUPPLIER!!!

Transmission Services Charge – A ‘toll’ charge for transmission system cost during the billing period.

Purchased Electricity Adjustment – A charge or credit to ‘true-up’ the cost of electricity supplied. It’s for balancing the books.

Customer Charge – A monthly charge to recover part of Comed’s cost.

Standard Metering Charge – A charge for the cost of the meter, meter reading and other metering services.

Distribution Facilities Charge – Another ‘toll’ charge for costs incurred by the electricity provider for delivering electricity to you.

Smart Meter Program – An approved pilot to evaluate smart meter technology

Environmental Cost Recovery Adjustment – A charge or credit related to the recovery of certain environmental cleanup costs.

Energy Efficiency Program – A charge to fund the smart ideas portfolio of energy efficiency incentives mandated by law.

Franchise Cost – A fee to recover costs related to the franchise agreement between the electricity supplier and the customer’s municipality.

State TaxA state or local tax levied upon customers


Message Center – marketing and account specific messages placed on the bill. We’re hoping to get some more information on here for you.

And that’s it (long I know). Your reference guide for when you’re not quite sure what is going on with your bill.

Let us know what you think, does it make sense?

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‘Chicago Tonight’ on Switching

March 25, 2011 § Leave a comment


The electricity switching industry in Illinois is heating up. And, as we’ve been saying for the last few weeks, Comed is getting out of the Supply Side of the market and hence they are pretty comfortable with customers moving to other Retail Electricity Suppliers.

Exciting times ahead.

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Are we actually as green as we think we are?

March 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

So I sat in conversation with a friend a few days ago at an event where the Chevy Volt was being displayed/test driven. Our conversation very quickly drifted to how beneficial this ‘green/sustainable’ movement towards electric cars, cfl bulbs etc is. Then I watched ‘Tapped‘ and decided I’d do a post on how some of the things we do, with the intention of becoming ‘green(er)’ or healthier might actually be doing more damage than good.


All things green and sustainable!


I’m sure there are many examples out there but I’ll pick three things I’ve interacted with today:

Electric vehicles: So if you buy a Volt (or any other electric car) and choose to charge the vehicle at a time when you would otherwise not be taking electricity from the grid then you might be using electricity generated from fossil fuel sources (Coal, Gas). In this case the net effect of you moving from regular petrol to electricity for your car might actually be zero or (in the worst case) negative. You’ve probably just bought a more expensive car (which makes you feel good about how ‘green’ you are…

A way to ensure the net effect is positive is to use electric car chargers powered by renewable energy to recharge your car.

Bottled Water: If your water was put in a bottle in a plant and transported to that store shelf you picked it up from then there has been some use of petroleum products (resin used in bottle manufacture, diesel for the truck, electricity for pumping the water from the water source etc). And that plastic bottle is made from petroleum resin which comes with some health implications (there is the whole BPA discussion that I won’t get into here).

Glass (made of sand) provides a more earth friendly option for reusable bottles or just get a glass cup and add a filter to your tap.

CFL bulbs: If you read our post on disposing of CFL light bulbs then you know that they contain mercury and improper disposal can result in contamination of water (through landfills) or exposure to mercury vapor (which is bad).

The simple solution is to dispose of the bulbs properly when they break but more importantly be careful with the bulbs so they provide the value they are supposed to provide during use.

Any other examples? Thoughts on this whole movement?

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ComEd’s Competition: Spark, Champion and Direct Energy compete with ComEd for customers – WGN

March 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

ComEd’s Competition: Spark, Champion and Direct Energy compete with ComEd for customers – WGN.


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