Monday, June 30, 2008

Model for directing funding to energy projects

Larger businesses may find projects aimed at reducing energy use within a department are hampered by having to find the funding from within existing budgets. Harvard have a loan fund to get around this limitation:

What is the Green Campus Loan Fund?
The Green Campus Loan Fund provides capital for high performance campus design, operations, maintenance and occupant behavior projects. Basic project eligibility guidelines state that projects must reduce the University’s environmental impacts and have a payback period of 5-10 years or less. The model is simple: GCLF provides the up-front capital. Applicant departments agree to repay the fund via savings achieved by project-related reductions in utility consumption, waste removal or operating costs. This formula allows departments to upgrade the efficiency, comfort, and functionality of their facilities without incurring any capital costs.


Cork Environmental Forum - a local NGO working to foster, promote and implement sustainable development in the Cork region - is wrestling with how to run a volunteer organisation where our lives are so busy it is hard to find time to do more. Does technology have a role to play in volunteer organisations of the future, and if so, how?

Geekcorp are volunteer technologists helping to implement technology in developing countries at a grass roots level. I particularly enjoyed this project How to make a BottleNet Antenna where ingenuity rather than money provides the solution to developing local wifi with locally available materials.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Most Intelligent thing I heard this week

Most Intelligent thing I heard this week came from Jeremy Clarkson, yes that one!  In a week short on good advice - see economist posting, a new series of Top Gear aired, (will now be the highlight of my week for pure fun escapism) and they talked about fuel economy.  So which supercar do you think died first in their race to see which car would go the furthest on a gallon of petrol.  Well the Ferrari died after 1.7 miles....  Anyway, next up was the Prius and I thought here we go, he's going to rubbish the Prius, I know it's fuel economy is not startling, it costs a lot to build etc., but you've got to start somewhere Jeremy.   So they decide to have the Prius do 10 laps of their track followed by a BMW M3.  Result? The BMW did 19mpg, the Prius 17mpg and Jeremy's comment?  
It's not the car you drive it's the way you drive it - so don't sell you big car, you'll only get peanuts for it, just drive it better.
(or words to that effect).  Nice one Jeremy!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Irish Economy in Recession - It's official

I have a low opinion of economists in general (with a few notable exceptions), especially when it comes to forecasting. They seem blinkered by their world of numbers and seem only able to roll forward the current situation and add a bit of sugar (after all if they predict bad news it will happen) and hope for the best. The housing boom wasn't going to end, until it did. Then we were going to have a soft landing, despite the experience of every other country, and today they announce we are not. 
But never fear, our predictions for 2009 are a smart recovery. On what basis might I ask? Oil has peaked/plateaued and the outlook is for a period of unstable but overall rising prices. Food prices are on the increase worldwide for reasons mainly liked to climate change and the increase in energy price. The price of many commodities such as copper and steel are on the rise, and at home the housing boom has ended and it is hard to see what is going to pick up the slack. Which leaves me wondering why do we keep listening to economists when they've got it so wrong lately and look set to get it wrong again?

I know we are not supposed to talk about the economy in a negative way because we will talk ourselves into a depression, but is that not child-like behaviour? Wouldn't it be more grown up to say, "Yes we have a problem, we understand what it is, and this is what we are going to do about it. There may be some pain for a while but this will give us a sustainable economy in the longer term." It's called leadership and it's sadly lacking in my view.

Yes the problems are very big - out 20th century economy was based on cheap oil - but there also many opportunities and much we can do, if we want to.

Economists are not without a sense of humour however, I saw this title of an ESRI report which made me smile: "A Stern Reply to the Reply to the Review of the Stern Review"

Monday, June 23, 2008

We've got to fight dangerous climate change - Not

"We've got to fight dangerous climate change". A little sound bite from Hilary Benn, Secretary of Status in the UK on the TV programme Dispatches tonight when asked whether incentives for biofuel production was a good idea given rising food prices. Who are we fighting exactly? It takes two to start a war and I don't think the climate gives a toss about us. But clearly climate is 'dangerous' and what we do when things are dangerous? We fight!! This piece of misdirection avoids laying any blame and implies there is an enemy somewhere to be afraid of but this government is on our side and we are going to fight together. Hurrah!

I see no reason to use such emotive language. Climate change is a massive problem that requires us all to engage and find out how it affects each of us. What does it mean for me and my family? What can I do, individually and collectively? The qualities that will see us through this are ingenuity, leadership, creativity and collaboration. Qualities not inspired by fearful citizens ready to fight off the invaders, which is the image that comes to my mind by this sound bite.

Cousin Alexander on TV!

My multi-talented cousin (2nd once removed I think) is becoming THE spokesman for the G-WIZ. He has been interviewed several times for Japanese TV and this morning appeared live on the BBC to go head to head with a 'petrol head' journalist! He is a piano tuner, among other things, and darts around London in his G-Wiz avoiding congestion charging and parking fees.

Typically, he made friends with the journalist who shared a mutual love of Masterattis and untypically didn't talk that much in the interview! I await the recording with interest.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Report to help businesses develop carbon netural strategy

A report from Forum for the Future in the UK as produced a helpful guide to companies wishing to jump on the climate change bandwagon.

Their 8 recommendations are:
  • Embrace a stretching boundary in terms of the emissions included (direct, indirect etc)
  • Demonstrate a broad understanding of your entire carbon footprint prior to making any claim of neutrality.
  • Exhibit caution in making blanket corporate-wide claims of neutrality
  • Consider whether a claim of neutrality will resonate with your stakeholders - it's hard to stand over the idea of shipping bottled water worldwide, however you do it.
  • Use the carbon management hierarchy of Avoid - Reduce - Replace - Offset, simply using offsetting without an ongoing reduction in base line emissions is not credible.
  • Be completely transparent
  • Exhibit and sustain broad leadership on climate change
  • and most importantly, Tread neutrality as a long-term commitment and an on-going dynamic challenge.

Also lists some companies they feel are doing it right and some who may be following the letter but not the spirit going carbon neutral.

A new indicator - betfair

Ideas hit mainstream when you can bet on them at betfair. Brent Crude for August 133.36.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Notes from Biofuels conference in Cork

Metropole Hotel, Run by Ethical Development Action filmed and slides and video available in about 3 days.

As previously noted somewhere here - 1 Cow produces same greenhouse gas emissions as an SUV, but the inputs required to fill an SUV tank with biodiesel is equivalent to the food production inputs that would feed a person in the developed world for a year! Push to increase biofuels (biodiesel and ethanol) is increasing food prices for people in the developing world (other factors include climate, speculation and oil price).

By the US and EU creating regulations to demand a percentage of biofuels we are artificially creating a market for biofuels. More than 50% of EU consumption will have to come from outside the EU as there is not the land available. For Brazil this has meant massive capital coming into the country and going to rent land with suitable infrastructure for the production of biofuels. Brazil already has almost the highest disparity in land use, so landless peasants are being displaced to make way for crop productions.

Brazil's new car sales are now 90% flexfuel (petrol and ethanol) with 9 familiar car producers that include Volkswagen, Toyota, Ford and Peugeot and when you pull up to the pumps, you have a choice of your mix of fuels.

But the impact on the country of vast monocultures and the planned increase area causing huge concerns from both a social and climate change perspective.

Major challenges for African countries and Ethiopia and other Sub-Saharan countires in particular.
Food Security - price of stable food crop has trebled in last year.
Energy Security only 24kwh/capita/year and oil prices continue to increase
Water Requirement - for sugar can in particular, 4000l water per 1l of ethanoel and 9,000l per ha.

- energy security
- rural development
- decrease GHG emissions

- monoculture cropping, esp sugarcane, oil palm and sweet sorghum. These crops need processing shortly after harvesting. Export orientated model.
- cooperative model -
- combination model - monoculture + small holders to supply large companies
- small scale - 4 machines, crush, dehusk, mill and generator. Jatropha can be harvested and stored before milling at a later date, it requires little irrigation and fertilizer and can be intercropped with other crops. The generator is fueled with biodiesel from Jatropha and can supply electricity for the local village. This infrastructure can initially be setup using diesel fuel and switch later to biodiesel.

70l diesel to produce an acre of cereals (plough, till, sow, fertilise, spray, harvest).
20c in every $1 spent on food goes on distribution

Cause of rise in food prices:
- switch to fuels
- weather events (esp. australia)
- speculative trading in oil and other commodities with property out of favour.
- increasing affluence and changing diet - more meat.
Chinese meat consumption per capita - 1985 20kg, 2007 50kg
3kg cereal => 1kg port
8kg cereal => 1kg beef
- food prices fallen 75% in real terms in last 30 years so few young farmers.

EU - 10% liquid biofuel substitution by 2020 = 5mt/pa of biomass needed in Ireland to meet target.

Biogas- km/ha biodiesell 23, biooeth 29, blt 60, biogass 94.
Excise relief allocation -

Q. For Farmer with Plant hire business - looking for solution with zero waste -everything is used.
Pure plant oil - cost of plant, cost of vehicle modification and situation on fuel tax, land per liter.
Biogas - for electricity and for vehicle use.
Checkout elsbett and ecocar for ppo conversion kits
Checkout grooil

If using biofuels in road going vehicles then generally subject to road tax - if off-road such as tractor or plant equipment, then like green diesel so no tax.

Digester with 100kwh capactiy about €500k to produce biogas and linked to CHP plant. Vehicles require engine conversion. Possibility of 30% grant from SEI for Digester/Biogas project.

PPO setup for 1000tones/yr processing plant €200-250k

Biofuel is green right? Takes 320 years to payback saving in GHG if growing soybean in virgin amazon rainforest. Best is sugarcane to ethanol in virgin ground in Brazil, payback in 17 years.

Biofuels are still a ludicrously expensive way of reducing emissions from transport - cost €600-800 per tonne/co2

Monday, June 9, 2008

Washing Machines in 2017

I found myself trying to explain how different I thought things might be in the future, not Business as Usual, but what? For some reason I heard myself say "So take washing machines..." Having thought about it since, it's not such a bad example. So here is my text for an advert for a Washing Machine Upgrade in 2017. I am assuming an Enlightened Transition type scenario (no major economic shock and proactive moves to replace fossil-fuels. See

Everwash 2.0 Software Upgrade
- works with all our models
- includes API upgrade
- interface with home networks
- works with energy saving controllers version 1.0 and above
- new cycle for cold wash for use with Coolwash detergent.
- Include wash cycle for latest Gucci range of nanofibre range.
Upgrade cost €50 for machines over 3 years old.

Everwash washing machines available in 3 sizes
Every part can be replaced with parts available from local repair shop within 24 hours.
Running costs lowest on the market.
Lease cost €99/year with buy-back option after 10 years.
10% discount when you signup to our power package.


It is now expensive to make machines, so they are designed to be repaired quickly and cheaply using parts which can be made locally by a local fab shop. Designs for all parts are held online and are downloadable directly to the fab machine for a cost per download.

Rather than upgrading the machinery, companies make money by providing a servicing/leasing option and software upgrades. As most appliances are now supplied on a service basis, this gives the company every incentive to make the machine long lasting, easy to repair and easy to recycle.

The need to drive down the cost per wash has challenged fabric manufacturers and detergent company to come up with longer lasting fabrics that can be washed a low temperatures. These washes require special wash cycles. The software has been opened up to allow amateur washing machine hackers who now carry out much of the development of new code for the company. Where this custom software is used in new releases, the programmers get one of payments of €1000.

Washing machines can now link into the home intranet and be controlled from any computer or internet device (such as a phone) linked into the home network.

Appliances can now be controlled by power companies, where there are agreements with the household. This allows the power company to quickly dump load on unexpected peaks and to schedule non-urgent services, such as a machine wash, for low usage times. The appliance has an interface to allow the user to specify the urgency of the wash and/or the maximum they are prepared to pay for the wash.


Fab Labs -
Change from selling product to services - The Natural Step and Interface Carpets
Smart Metering and Energy Demand Management
The rise of the Amateur Professional - Charles Leadbetter Ted Talk

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Zeri Systems Design

Currently looking at options energy generation for a farmer in North Cork who also has a plant hire business and was reminded of the elegant solutions from Zeri where every waste product is used producing zero waste overall.

Made some notes here:

Cork Environmental Forum Plenary on Sustainable Economics

Last night, June 3rd 2008, CEF had a couple of great talks from David Korowicz and Emer O'Siochru on why our current economic model is unsustainable and what might replace it. In particular how we might manage that transition given increasing energy prices and the challenge of climate change.

Cap and Share is a method for equably sharing out the common right to emit carbon. Basically permits are issued to everyone equally and we then sell them, via a bank or post office, to the companies that import fossil fuels. Ireland is currently giving serious consideration to trialling Cap and Share for transport (Ireland has the highest km/capita of anywhere in Europe and is higher than the US!) and the rest of the world is looking on with interest. So much for "what can I do, I'm just one person" or in this case "what we we do, we're just a small country?". After the plastic bag tax and the smoking ban, is this another chance for us to lead?

You can watch the recording of the streaming feed here:

A professional video version (including the first few minutes!) will be available later plus the slides from the presentations - keep an eye here http://www.cef.ieor add yourself to the mailing list on the home page.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Curse of 1000 Choices

Choice is freedom and freedom is good so the more choice the better? Instinctively we know this is not true, but it's liberating to hear it being confirmed. A couple of TED talks address the issue of choice. Barry Schwartz talks about The Paradox of Choice suggesting less is more. Dan Gilbert talks about Stumbling on Happiness and the idea that we can have real happiness when we get what we want but we can also simulate happiness when we want to make the best of what we have.

To give you a flavour:

Barry Schwartz
"I went to buy a pair of jeans (and) that used to be a 40 second affair. I just walked in, told them my size, and walked out with the jeans, that turned into an hour-long ordeal because I told them my size, they then asked me which of a dozen styles I wanted, and that, of course, required that I try them all on.

What happened was, I got the best-fitting jeans I had ever owned and felt worse about it than I had ever felt before. And that really got me thinking, why should it be that I do better and I feel worse? The result, some years later, was this book (The Paradox of Choice), which tries to answer that question. How can people do better in a world with so many choices and feel worse about how they do?"

Dan Gilbert
"Let's see how your experience simulators are working. Let's just run a quick diagnostic before I proceed with the rest of the talk. Here's two different futures that I invite you to contemplate and you can try to simulate them and tell me which one you think you might prefer. One of them is winning the lottery, this is about 314 million dollars; and the other is becoming paraplegic. So just give it a moment of thought (laughter)- you probably don't feel like you need a moment of thought- and interestingly, there are data on these two groups of people, data on how happy they are... A year after losing the use of their legs, and a year after winning the Lotto, lottery winners and paraplegics are equally happy with their lives. "

I realised after listening to these talks how much of my day was spent making decisions m- most of them along the lines of what shall I do now. Shall I check my email? Shall I answer that now? Shall I do that boring job or the more interesting one? Shall I have a cup of tea now? Shall I return that call? Shall I check my email?.... The stress!

It seems to me there are two kinds of decisions I make. Decisions from the head - which digital camera should I buy? and Decisions from the gut - should I take this job? What shall I watch on TV? Shall I do my accounts now (this last one should be made from the head and answered Yes instead of from from the gut - I'll do them tomorrow!).

Both decisions can be more stressful than they need to be. It took me a week to do all the research required to find the best camera for taking snaps of horses (they move a lot). By the end of the week I was an expert of cameras in a certain price range with quick reaction times but of course my knowledge was quickly out of date. This was such a waste of time and in future I hope two things will happen. Camera companies will stop competing with each other to produce cameras for the average punter and instead produce cameras specifically for small markets (See Seth Godin Ted Talk below) - I want the mid priced sports photography model - robust, reasonable quality and fast response time. Secondly, the development of more sites like Which dedicated to producing a short list of items to choose between. In the old days I enjoyed making a selection from 10 possible cameras. I do not look forward to making a choice from 200.

The stressful part of making decisions from within - the gut or voice inside, is if I feel I have to be able to justify that decision. In future I'm going to be more confident of saying "I did it because it felt right".

Reading the comments on the two talks above is as interesting as the talks themselves and I would offer the following suggestions to those who complain that the problem is identified an no solution given:

- if you feel that one choice is the right one - trust that feeling
- cultivate a "good enough for me" philosophy rather than only being satisfied with the best deal
- once a choice is made, don't look back
- put our own limits on our choices - by taking advice of others, buying only brands we trust or just limiting the time to make the choice

Seth Godin at TED

Monday, June 2, 2008

Future photo technology - from Microsoft

Not often I can be enthusiastic about microsoft, but this is seriously cool.