Why I Hate "Value Stacking" And Other Jargon

One of the themes here is that the over-specialization of elite knowledge is going to get us all killed. Or at least make things harder as we transition to a sustainable civilization.

Example: the energy systems jargon term “value stacking”, which means “having the capability to perform multiple energy services at the same time”. #

I’m no expert on this stuff - that’s the point! - but this term has turned me off for reasons I have struggled to articulate. After all, it simply represents a claim that a given energy project delivers value in several ways. Who cares?

So what’s the problem?

Energy systems are, well, systems - there are complex interdependencies embodied in our electricity grid. There always will be, but we are trying to shift from a grid with interdependencies that create fragility and make it harder to improve the system, into a situation where the interdependencies lead to resilience, flexibility, and greater overall capabilities.

“Value stacking” is a way for energy pros to at least wave their hands in this direction - look this battery (it’s always batteries) will let you avoid using electricity at certain times of day (“peak shaving”), and reduce grid usage when requested (“demand response”), and improve reliability (“backup power”). These may all be true, and I’m sure these terms are useful for energy industry folks to communicate.

But: we are entering a world where industries that could safely remain obscure, and walled off from one another and from society at large, must become legible to broader audiences, and whose experts must become willing to consider factors that, in the recent past, could be sensibly ignored.

Jargon makes things feel settled, and it gives the impression - to those who use it, and those who are shut out by it - that the situations it describes are static. If a caste of experts has had the time to develop their own language, then the territory must be not only mapped but parceled out.

The climate crisis will ask many things of us, and one of those is intellectual courage - we must bring fresh eyes to the ways in which we have divided up the world in the modern era. Pushing back against jargon is part of that - I’m picking on one field here, but the challenge is everywhere.

As in many things, Alex Steffen got here first:

The greatest danger in any work that asks you to think systemically about the future is getting locked into the worldview that made sense to you when you first began, that you built your successful career on. This “sunk-cost expertise” can easily become a set of shackles. # Many solutions will not be deployed as fast as they should be because they challenge the authority—or even the jobs—of incumbent professionals. # How we talk about who we are is as out-of-sync with the realities of this planetary crisis as how we produce our energy or build our cities. #