Three Indicators: California heat waves, remote work survey, price of iPhones : The Indicator from Planet Money Crank up that AC because a record-breaking heat wave is sweeping through the American West. That, plus workplace surveys, and Apple's newest drop on indicators of the week.

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Heat waves, remote work, iPhones

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And I'm Adrian Ma.

WONG: And it is indicators of the week. And this week, Nate Rott is back. Hello, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Woo, woo, woo. Thank you. Happy to be here.

WONG: And Nate, you report on the western U.S. from your base in California. I hear it's been a little toasty out there.

ROTT: Yeah, it's been hot. Let's just say I've been sweating.

WONG: You've got that glow.

ROTT: I've got that 90-degree glow.

WONG: (Laughter).

ROTT: Thank you.

MA: Well, today, Nate is going to help us go over some indicators that stuck out to us in this really busy newsweek.

WONG: That's right. We've got workplace surveys, a surprising reveal from Apple, and record demand for energy.


ROTT: And those indicators are coming up after the break.


WONG: All right, Nate, you are bringing us one of the biggest stories in the U.S. this week, the record heat wave in California.

ROTT: Yeah, right. So my indicator is 52,000 megawatts. That is what California's electrical demand peaked at earlier this week, which is the highest ever by a good amount, as the West has been broiling under that stubborn heat wave we were talking about earlier.

MA: So there was more electrical demand in California than ever? Really?

ROTT: Yeah. So, I mean, if you have not been sweating your water weight every day, which I hope has not been the case for most people...

WONG: Oh, jeez.

ROTT: If you didn't know, the western U.S. is under this historic late-season heat wave. Temperature records have been broken in Colorado, Utah and here in California. The state's capital, Sacramento, hit 116 degrees on Tuesday. So to deal with that, the lucky people, myself included, who have air conditioning have been cranking it up to try to keep their houses cool, which is causing electrical demands to reach that all-time high.

WONG: And California is known for having a history of these rolling blackouts - right? - when demand for electricity really spikes.

ROTT: Yeah. So basically, a rolling blackout is when - it's, like, a tool that grid operators can use to basically take some parts of - some areas that get electricity offline to try to manage the overall grid. Everyone thought that was going to happen this week, especially on Tuesday, but it didn't to the extent that people thought it would.

MA: And the government in California had been preparing for this, no?

ROTT: Yeah. I mean, California's been prepping for this for a long time. They brought more electrical energy supplies online in recent years. There was this, like, super jarring push alert that was sent to more than 25 million people's cellphones on Tuesday, mine included - kind of sounded like this Amber Alert. And it was telling people you need to basically reduce electrical supply.

MA: Was it like the Amber Alert sound? Or was it a different sound?

ROTT: Yeah, like the (imitating alert). But, you know, I think what this whole week really highlighted for me is kind of the challenges the world is going to face as we transition from climate-warming fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in an already hotter world.

WONG: So you're talking about this big energy transition that we, like, as a society have to make.

ROTT: Yeah. So, like, we all know that we need to cut climate-warming emissions to limit global warming, right? But warming has already occurred. So we're trying to transition the energy economy in an already hotter world where demands are higher and energy sources like hydropower, for example, are being diminished, which is all something that the government is aware of.

MA: Right. And we saw with the Inflation Reduction Act that recently went through Congress that the federal government is planning to make more investments in renewable energy.

ROTT: Yeah, but, you know, California isn't just going to rely on that, right? In a big reversal last week, the state voted to keep its last operating nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, running for possibly a decade longer than they had planned to help cover the gap as we make this transition to renewable energy. So I think what we saw in California this last week and, really, this last month with some of this stuff highlights the challenges and maybe some of the solutions to come.

MA: All right, Nate, thank you for that energy indicator. My indicator has to do with a category of workers who are probably at home contributing to that energy usage, blasting AC because they are working from home - so in other words, people like us?

ROTT: Guilty as charged.

MA: Now, it's clear by this point that a lot of people do value the ability to work from home if they can. But a new study that came out recently asks, how much is that ability to work from home actually worth to you. Right? It - and this came from this survey that asked people in 27 different countries from Australia and Germany to China and Egypt. And specifically, what the survey asked was, like, how much of a raise would your employer have to give you to make you go back to the office full time? Or, on the flip side, how much of a pay cut would you be willing to take for the ability to work remotely at least part of the week? And the answer, based on 36,000 responses, was 5%.

ROTT: Like, a 5% pay cut...

MA: Yeah.

ROTT: ...To stay working from home? Huh. I don't know. I might take the over. I like working from home.

MA: And the survey, by the way, also showed a large gap between the employees' preferences around remote work and the employers'.

ROTT: That's shocking. I mean, I feel like employers and employees are always on the same page.


MA: I mean, I guess this is no surprise that employers want to see the minions in the office more often. And I think as this goes, it'll be pretty interesting to see, like, which of these sides gets more of what they want. You know, for the researchers' part, they actually think that remote work is going to become more prevalent. And they point to the fact that there are surveys of employers that say they're kind of warming to the idea. There are also increase in job listings that advertise flexibility to work remotely. And there's actually been, like, a recent spike in patent filings for remote work technology.

WONG: No, thanks (laughter).

ROTT: Yeah. I want to know a little more about what that technology is before I give the stamp of approval.

MA: Yeah. I don't think it is, like, you know, robot assistance for the at-home workers.

WONG: (Laughter) I would love a robot butler...

MA: We could get behind that, right?

WONG: ...Bringing me my iced tea while I'm typing away.

MA: That is one way they think things are going to go. But they also say that there are some possible headwinds to the adoption of remote work. And one of them is the fact that there's an increasing number of regulations in different countries to govern remote work, right? And, for example, this global insurance company called Lockton, they say over a dozen countries have or are considering passing regulations to codify work-at-home rights. And the thinking from the researchers is, like, this could make it more expensive and just, like, less appealing for companies because those rules might require them to provide work-at-home employees with certain kinds of equipment and not to bug those employees after hours and a lot of rules just to make sure that the work-at-home people get the same rights as the people who go into the office.

ROTT: Count me in on that. That sounds great.

WONG: How about the right to wear pajamas?

MA: (Laughter) How about at-home employees get the right to a 70-inch flat-screen TV?

ROTT: Fancy, big flat-screen TV or maybe just a new smartphone - what do you think about that, Wailin?

WONG: Ooh. Well, that brings me to my indicator, which is zero. That is the difference in price between the new iPhone 14, which Apple announced this week, and the previous generation, the iPhone 13.

ROTT: Doesn't Apple usually jack the price up a lot with the new ones?

WONG: Yeah, like clockwork. Usually, like, every new release comes with a price increase. But, you know, here is Apple's vice president of iPhone product marketing, Kaiann Drance, at this week's launch event.

KAIANN DRANCE: iPhone 14 will start at just 799. This is the same starting price as last year's iPhone 13 but with so much more capability that sets a new...

MA: Big reveal, the price is still high.

ROTT: Very high.


WONG: Yeah.

ROTT: Yeah.

MA: But, I mean, like, I guess with prices for, you know, everything else going up, you know, from gas to, like, pork chops, it is kind of surprising to see, like, a fancy, new gadget stay the same price.

WONG: Yeah. And, you know, the pricing took analysts by surprise, too. Apple does these elaborate press events, as we know, every year to unveil new phones. And there's usually also this pregame ritual where all the tech writers and the Wall Street analysts try to guess what the new features are and how much the prices are going up. And so there had been chatter that the price of the iPhone 14, the new one, was going to go up by maybe a hundred bucks, you know, because Apple is facing a lot of the same supply chain pressures and higher prices for electronic components that the rest of the tech industry is facing.

ROTT: I guess, why did they not?

WONG: Well, you know, Apple plays things pretty close to the vest, so it didn't explain its reasoning. But the company has made some moves to bring its costs down for components like chips. And that's probably given it some wiggle room on pricing. So, for example, Apple switched from using Intel processors to designing its own chips - still being manufactured in Taiwan. But there is some industry estimates that switching to designing its own chips has saved the company, like, billions of dollars.

ROTT: Well, I just long for the days of the Nokia flip phone. That's all I'll say.


WONG: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Corey Bridges with engineering from Maggie Luthar. Kathryn Yang checked the facts. Viet Le is our senior producer. Kate Concannon edits the show. And THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.


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