The technological frontier at Tyndall: the 3-minute catch-up

A slide I recently presented at a Tyndall Centre PhD Network event attempting to summarise three years’ work in a super short amount of time. I discussed three perspectives on my PhD project, focussing on empirical aspects for a very broad audience. Here’s the outline:

  • First, context counts. 1,000 MW of installed wind capacity on Irish hills are not equivalent to 1,000 MW in Germany.
  • Second, picked with the Tyndall audience in mind was the observation that uncertainty in the UK energy policy landscape has created not insignificant risk, uncertainty and opportunity in the Irish renewables sector over the past 20 years.
  • Third, more theoretically, a brief discussion on the global antecedents and constraints on local agency in a technological innovation system. In plain English, what was the ability of locals to create and shape a local wind industry? And conversely, how did aspects of the global innovation system influence the speed and direction of the nascent Irish wind sector. In short, local agency has been bounded by global constraints such as dominant players, knowledge and policy. Institutions and rules from one country, such as Germany have been translated and transformed by the European Union, and then “planted” in new locations. But the agency and technological momentum of local entrepreneurs and developers have proved powerful factors in creating a local industry, which contributes to a global knowledge pool.

Who owns Irish wind?

Some work in progress from my bigger research project.

Simple question, who owns Irish wind?* EU28 states each have their 2020 renewables targets, but somewhere down the line each nation’s big number gets contextualised into an industry with firms, policies and instruments. Here’s a look at the changing concentration of firm ownership in the Irish wind industry as its developed taking snap shots at the end of 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2013.

The growth of Irish wind since 1999

The industry started small and independent, then got bigger and more utility. That’s impressive growth. But who gains, and how will we know when we’ve reached enough? Who’s financing this and who shares the gains?

There is roughly 3,000MW of built up capacity due to be delivered in the current round of connections (Gate 3), and anywhere between 10 and 20GW queuing up behind that according to different sources, these pies are going to rise some more before the heat is turned down.

Here’s the missing detail on the first two graphs:

Irish wind generating firms at the end of 1999

Irish wind generating firms at the end of 2004

*The even simpler question of course is how come the radio spectrum was sold off to Vodafone, O2 etc. and the wind farmers get to farm the wind for free. That’s another day’s work.

Participation is a form of control, and 15 other things I learned in Trondheim

Norway Curling Pants

Three days with CenSES in Trondheim, Norway.
Here are some things I learned:

  1. Who’s got the gold? Norway’s got the gold. And it’s distributed. Every monetary transaction is thick with some variety of social glue. There’s an in-your-face distribution happening five times per day per person. And once I turned off my internal currency calculator it felt okay.
  2. All of which means everybody, every day, literally buys into Society. Maybe.
  3. But they don’t talk about the oil so much.
  4. 99% of Norway’s electricity comes from hydro. That must be nice.
  5. A smart grid switch-on has been legislated for 2017 (That’s going to be tough).
  6. But nobody knows why. End users don’t want it. Energy producers don’t get it. Grid operators don’t want to pay for it. Big plays on end-use energy in this energy-rich environment make no sense. There’s a study in there somewhere on how policy motivations form, are enacted, and then completely forgotten about.
  7. “We’re Norway, we don’t need renewables.” True quote. Only slightly paraphrased.
  8. Norwegian academics are beyond hospitable. Takk!!!
  9. The locals are *very* proud of Gro Brundtland and Norway’s international climate leadership. Okay, but guys, about that oil…
  10. Turns out Norway, and not Dame Street Dublin, is the home of Spar. The “Spar roll” however is definitely an evolutionary Irish innovation.
  11. There’s a tonne of interesting research to be done criss-crossing multiple levels of governance, innovation and a (sub?)politics that is increasingly distributed. Some of this is going on at CenSES.
  12. Rohracher’s work on civil society orgs gets this. So does Raven, Smith and Kern’s [pdf] work on the protective spaces of innovation niches. Though lots of work still to be done on empowerment.
  13. I’m sceptical of Sørensen’s reiteration of Jasanoff’s (2011) call for policy makers/advisors/actors to replace ‘truth’ with ‘relevance’ when going about their evidence-based policy making business. Not sceptical of its merit, but its execution.
  14. Bruno Latour can also write brief and to the point papers. His response and de Vries’ initial challenge ($) on sub politics worth checking out. So nice to have other people set reading once in a while.
  15. A week of -10 and sunny beats +5 and wet.
  16. Participation is a form of control.

And one question for further research maybe

  • Can civil society organisations provide oppositional forms from and integrated distributed centre, do they need to remain at, or partly at the edges, or none of the above? More to follow…

In your reader, reading your feeds’s good friend Wouter asked us today for a few blogs and websites he might be interested in as part of some digital research he is engaged in. Far be it for us to get in the way of academic pursuit, and may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb as they say. Here’s a dump of relevant sections from our Google Reader account. Excuse errors and omissions. There are tons of stuff missing but seriously, don’t sweat it, if your website is absent it probably means we check it the old fashioned way. Anyways, who reads RSS anymore.

Stuff That Matters — General News

Stuff That Matters — Green Blogs + Opinion

Stuff That Matters — Activism|Climate Change

Stuff That Matters — Env Orgs + Corps

Stuff That Matters — Social | Activism

Stuff That Matters — COP 15

Trafigura: “This is as cheap as anyone can imagine…”

From the Guardian
From the Guardian

I’m using the Trafigura / Ivory Coast / press gagging travesty of human decency as a case story tomorrow. It’s shocking how little attention this is getting in the main stream media. Here are my notes, I’ll add some opinion tomorrow.

The Guardian broke this in the UK so lots of links are from there.

First off check out this video featuring Real Victims ®

Ok, now for some background.

The Guardian publish this background on September 16th. Some highlights:

Trafigura trader James McNicol wrote from the firm’s Oxford Street office block: “This is as cheap as anyone can imagine and should make serious dollars … Each cargo should make 7m!!”

The plan was to buy a tanker load of dirty fuel, clean it on board, sell the good stuff and then Get rid of the slops.

Trafigura’s London head of gasoline trading, Leon Christophilopoulos, suggested a desperate remedy: a floating refinery: “I don’t know how we dispose of the slops and I don’t imply we would dump them, but for sure, there must be some way to pay someone to take them.”

The Probo Koala, was anchored off Gibraltar. Between April and June, it took three cargoes, each of 28,000 tonnes of contaminated gasoline [and cleaned them]. The Probo Koala’s spare tanks soon filled up with waste containing freshly created sulphur compounds.

The waste was shipped to Amsterdam where nobody would take it. So it set sail for the Ivory Coast. (Note: the Basel Ban, as well as the Bamako Convention, contains strict rules against the export of waste from developed to developing countries and according to Greenpeace clearly applies to this case.)

What followed was an environmental and human catastrophe.

The waste ended up being tipped all around Abidjan. It would have contained such unstable substances as mercaptans, mercaptides, sodium sulphide and dialkyl disulphides. Those living and working nearby risked burns, nausea, diarrhoea, loss of consciousness and death from contact with such compounds.

Thousands fell ill, the story broke locally and ultimately a case was taken against Trafigura:

As 31,000 Africans, many desperately poor, joined in an unprecedented group action for compensation organised by London lawyer Martyn Day, Trafigura tried repeatedly to give the impression that its ship had only pumped out ordinary slops from tank-cleaning: a completely different type of activity.

Trafigura settled with a £30m deal. That’s just under £1,000 per person involved.

The Guardian carry some details of the settlement here:

The settlement will cost Trafigura slightly more than 10% of its reported $440m (£270m) profits last year, and comes on top of the £100m the company had already previously paid the Ivorian government for a clean-up, also without conceding legal liability.

Hey, it’s like, 2009!

One of the big questions here is why is this only getting decent media coverage in the last month. The answer of course is lawyers.

This from the Financial Times:

The case cast an unaccustomed and uncomfortable light on a company that had until then enjoyed a low-profile existence as one of the world’s leading traders in commodities, including oil.

Trafigura has made heavy use of libel lawyers – including two defamation lawsuits and at least one court injunction – to combat coverage of the case, in which it continues to deny liability.

The company and Leigh Day & Co, lawyers for the Ivorians, reached their financial deal to settle allegations that the waste dumping had caused flu-like symptoms in people who were close to the site.

CSR: Letter to the Editor

This from the Guardian on 18th September.

The UN special rapporteur’s report on the conduct of Trafigura (Report, 17 September) raises serious issues about corporate conduct and accountability. Affected victims in Ivory Coast have waited long for an effective remedy. While acknowledging the nuances in a case like this, the company’s reported attempts to stifle the freedom of expression of civil society and the media have done a disservice to human rights and to all in business and beyond who have striven to improve standards.
John Morrison

Institute for Human Rights and Business

Is this kind of City-media-lawyer-we’ve-got-bigger-dicks-than-you shit even legal? We’re going to find out, Conservative Peter Bottomley thinks not.

According to (who else but) the Guardian, he told MPs he was reporting Carter-Ruck, to the Law Society, saying that no lawyers should be able to inhibit the reporting of parliament.

“I will be seeking their advice on whether it is proper for any lawyer to purport or intend to inhibit the reporting of parliament,” Bottomley told the Guardian.

“It is the job of the press to make aware to all what is known by a few. Any court action which inhibits that should be approved at a very high level, with full justifications, and in normal circumstances, should not be made in secret.”

And just to reassure us all, GB has called the case “unfortunate”. Yeah thanks Gordon. Just like how it’s going to be “unfortunate” you’ll be an ex-prime minister next June.

In terms of media discourse, the breaking of the court ordered gag is interesting. I’m not sure it’s altogether Earth shattering though. Here’s what Guardian supremo Alan Rusbridger has to say. Go read it yourself. I’ve got other things to worry about.

So the media were bound by the laws of the land and those that would abuse them. What about NGOs. As far back as September 2006 Greenpeace were all over this.. Here’s an interesting para from that press release:

One question is whether the wastes were entirely generated via on board operations. In a statement to the press the charterer Trafigura states that the caustic nature of the waste was from use of caustic soda as a detergent for tank washings. However given the rarity of using caustic soda to wash tanks that carry refined petroleum products, it is not unreasonable to consider that the waste could come from land based sources.

After the Ivory Coast government and Trafigura reached a deal on cleanup costs, but importantly not on compensation for victims or even an admittance of culpability, Greenpeace came back with more.

“One cannot do justice without knowing the facts in their entirety. At this stage, it would have been more appropriate to secure a provisional settlement with an advance payment, rather than one that closes the books definitively, especially when the full extent of liabilities have not yet been determined,” said Jasper Teulings, Senior Legal Counsel, Greenpeace International.

Although this settlement has no bearing on the legal rights of the victims of this disaster, it is feared that the victims will now receive little, if any, support from their government in pursuing justice.

“This Faustian deal may provide the Cote D’Ivoire the much-needed funds to deal with the clean-up, but it is by no means fair. Trade in hazardous waste is a serious crime under international law (2), and by agreeing to this deal, the President has signed away his country’s right to bring a criminal corporation to justice,” said Helen Perivier, Toxics Campaigner, Greenpeace International, “The ease with which international environmental laws are broken and questionable deals exchanged for real justice, painfully highlights yet again, that the international community creates laws but simply lacks the political will to implement and enforce them.”

And Greenpeace is continuing the fight to convict Trafigura of a crime. Something that has not happened anywhere yet. This from Reuters.

Trafigura for their part have a series of related press releases on their site. Headlines such as
“High Court confirms that Probo Koala ‘slops’ cannot have caused deaths, miscarriages, or other serious or long-term injuries”
aim to tell their side of the story. No doubt Carter-Ruck will have signed those release off after careful inspection.

The ship
The ship

Four Links: COP 15, £££, NY, NEF

Penn Station the way it used to be.

In a move straight from Radar, here’s four links from the past week or so. Keepfakingit says yes to the best.

A Liberal Defence of Money by William Davies in The Liberal. Davies throws some high-value grenades back in the direction of Chris Anderson and the Free brigade.

The COP15 Train is being organized by the Campaign against Climate Change to get you to Denmark for some mid-talks debate. All aboard from St. Pancras International Friday 11th December.

Penn Station, New York. The way it used to be. It cost too much to clean the windows…

NEF, The New Economics Foundation. The independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being. The aim, to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environment and social issues.

Dinnertime: Potatoes sans Carbon

Potato Fair
Back to the Supply Chain Gang. I reread this Carbon Trust mini-white paper (Carbon footprints in the supply chain) this morning with a view to picking out the Open possibilities, as the term relates to supply chains.

Rather than a polluter pays approach the paper advocates an holistic view on the entire supply chain for two test cases, the Trinity Mirror produced Daily Mirror and three products Walkers Crisps produces. Let’s get some muck behind our ears and look at the spuds.

Walkers was encouraged to “own” the entire supply chain from start to finish. Broken into three stages this chain incorporates:

  • Raw material
  • Distribution, manufacturing and retailing steps
  • Product use and disposal

Crucially using this methodology Walkers is to take responsibility for the carbon in parts of the supply chain that it traditionally doesn’t own, e.g. the production of the actual potatoes.


For each of the products, the full product life-cycle was analyzed, considering emissions from fuel use in raw material production and distribution through manufacturing and product distribution to disposal and recycling…
Suppliers and other supply chain partners were engaged to provide energy data…
The data gathered was used to build a mass balance map of the flows of materials and energy through the supply chain and to build a footprint of the life-cycle emissions for each product. These results were then used to identify opportunities to reduce emissions by changing process flows and by changing the way the supply chain is structured.

The report goes on to list lots of expected insights. In the case of Walkers it presents this rather interesting finding:

A key opportunity relates to the water content of the potatoes. The overall supply chain can save up to 9,200 tonnes of CO2 and £1.2m per annum by changing the way that potatoes are traded; Walkers can reduce the emissions from the potato frying stage by up to 10%.
…By changing the way potatoes are purchased, savings can be made by both parties.

Here’s how:

The Problem for Farmers

  • Spuds purchased by weight
  • Spuds are stored in artificially humidified warehousing
  • This increases water content (thus their weight and saleprice)
  • Humidifiers use lots of energy. Energy = CO2

The Problem for Walkers

  • Spuds are fried to drive off moisture once sliced
  • Extra moisture in spuds increases frying time. Ergo more CO2 used in cooking

You’re seeing where this is going right.

The Solution

  • Price spuds by water content. Reward farmers for extra dry spuds
  • No commercial incentive for humidifying spuds means < CO2
  • < water means < frying means < CO2 = WINWIN

Okay, so that’s a nice little standalone study. Join up the supply chains and look for efficiencies. Easy to do in this case, not so easy once we get exponentially bigger supply chains.
Imagine the pack of salt + vinegar crisps is part of a ready meal. The ready meal is served on a plane. And the flight is part of a package holiday to Lanzarote. How we begin to put all that together so that Thomas Cook can add everything together to find efficiencies. Something it probably hasn’t even countenanced doing yet.

We open up the chain. We expose the information to whoever can use it, or add to it. What next? Can we build a reward economy around creating new efficiencies? Can we introduce a self-learning algorithm to capture these efficiencies and migrate them to similar systems/chains? From a software engineering perspective the answer is undoubtedly yes. How about social engineering?

It strikes me that if some of this were to be done we’d be faced with a problem analogous to those Wikipedia and Flickr have answered so successfully. In Wikipedia’s case it’s giving ownership and trust to its team of non-paid admins, without which it couldn’t function. In Flickr’s case it’s allowing you, I or anybody add descriptive tags, metadata, to each and every photo.

So at last a planet saving use for the social surplus. But how do we engage. Why would a member of Clay Shirky’s gin-soaked masses want to “tag” an Open Supply Chain rather than edit a Wikipedia article or sort a Flicker archive? Figure that one out and we may have a business model here. So answers on a (creative commons attributed) postcard please.

Trust, the basis of Causewired

There’s a trust deficit in society. Technology can play and is playing a huge role in rectifying this.

I’ve just read Causewired by Tom Watson. The book is Watson’s attempt to summarize the current state of play in the world of online philanthropy, social causes and network based social action organization. Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World as the tag line suggests.

I’ve a lot more to come about the subjects Watson tackles but right now I’m going to take on the subject of trust, particularly in light of the last two posts on this site concerned as they are with Digital Britain and Modern Liberty. There’s a gaping trust void in society right now. Our government clearly don’t trust us and in the midst of a  recession the likes of which none of us have know before there’s a danger that society fragments and turns away from the most needy, and from the most grave causes.

The central thesis of Watson’s book is this:

New Technology and the human urge to communicate will create the basis for a golden age of activism and involvement, increasing the reach of philanthropy and improving the openness of politics, democratic government and our major social institutions.
[BUT, working against this is the current global recession. Governments are running into budget shortfall and cutting spending in all social areas.]

So, just as our governments are failing us by cutting back on spending that increase social cohesion, we are coming up the the technology and the ideas to bind ourselves together in social economies without our governments’ help. I’m going to have to leave my reaction to government responses here to another post, needless to say it’s a big issue.

Whether our governments get it right with initiatives like Digital Britain, Watson’s point is that there’s a whole ton of people in the doing-something-that-matters space that aren’t waiting for their government. And why should they. Private (and open source) enterprise has given an historically unprecedented number of people the tools and inspiration to take action in a whole host of fields.

For now I want to take a look at some of studies in Causewired and see how they are tackling matter of trust.

What technology is allowing us do

A quick overview of what this technology is allowing us to do is in order. Watson’s beat is online philanthropy. That means free giving. And by free I mean free as in speech, not beer. Giving of one’s own volition. So who’s giving and who’s getting? Watson hones in on some prime time examples: DonorsChoose, Fundable, Kiva and Facebook Causes.

Each a very different application or platform but some bigtime shared attributes and functions, not least of which in my view is the way trust is leveraged, certainly in the case of the first three if not quite so strongly with Causes. For those not familiar with these companies it’s worth clicking the above links and checking their about pages real quick. In all of these examples Watson is showing us that the abstraction between the giver and receiver in a philanthropic situation is being removed. If I use DonorsChoose to donate textbooks to classrooms I know what text books and what school is involved. If I loan money with Kiva to a person or project in a developing world country chances are I have a photo and story behind the whole deal. The personalization and directness strengthens the sense of empathy with in turn cranks up the trust motor.

How is this being achieved

Watson highlights the transition from anonymity to real identity on the social web as key.
From Charles Leadbeader in We Think: Freedom is a slippery idea, but I believe that the web will be good for freedom of expression in four respects.

  • The freedom to think what we like, to form and express ideas independently
  • The freedom to shape our identities, to be who we want to be
  • The freedom as consumers to choose and buy what we want
  • The freedom to express ourselves through creating things that matter to us.

It isn’t a big leap of logic to suppose that for freedom to exist within a social space the atmosphere of that space must be made up of a large dose of trust. Example: I am only free if I trust my cohabitants to obey the rules of the social space and  thus not impinge upon my freedom. The future threat of the curtailment of freedom may in itself act as that very curtailment.

But freedom within an environment is not enough within itself. After all, if a user can have a trust based relationship only within a closed space how can a movement or cause grow. The trust relationship must expand. That may mean the expansion of the [closed] environment or it may mean the migration of the users and their attached trust outside the environment.

From an interview with Causes’ Sean Parker Watson tells us turning users into propagators is key.

“Deliberate viral engineering, how you turn your users into propagators through careful optimization was very important “

This is illustrated in another case study,  Kiva, the developing world online loan agency. By allowing users to help many causes and many users to help each cause there’s a natural urge for donors to tell more people to donate to their cause and see their cause succeed. Watson likens this to a child collecting baseball cards.

Watson isn’t afraid to be a little cynical in illustrating his point when he mentions the black tie ball philanthropy that continues to pull in big money in New York. Being seen at the ball is a big part of the play.

Causes do not spread just because they are good, they spread because people spread them. This seems simple and rather obvious but it is the secret sauce behind the rise of all the online social networks. In short, people like being asked nicely by other people they know to do things for them; that request validates the relationship.

Bringing all this back to trust

One of the most important observations Watson brings to the table in Causewired is this:

Optimism is inherent in people. Consumers will switch brands for causes, particularly young consumers.

Exampe: Every summer Coke and Pepsi go head to head with youth orientated promotions. Collect 20 bottle tops and get a free iTunes voucher. How about if these were led by social causes instead of iTunes giveaways.

83% of Americans say that companies have a responsibility to help support causes and 87% would switch from one brand to another if the other brand is associated with a good cause.

That’s a lot of brand loyalty simply migrating because of people’s innate desire to “do the right thing”. This highlights a couple of glaring facts:

  1. The online social philanthropy space is potentially huge
  2. Our governments need to be in there getting a piece of the action

Let’s bring this back to trust again. It’s natural to wonder why governments don’t take on this job of turning users into propagators of key services. The private sector is now shining some big fat arc lights down this road, it shouldn’t be hard for our public services to start taking some big steps here. It’s also natural to wonder what we can do to reduce the trust deficit that exists between the government and the rest of us (as outlined here). It our governments aren’t going to trust us on some big issues right away, the least that can be done is the services and applications be put in place so we can trust each other. Then let us do the hard work.


Whilst researching this article I came across this piece by Tom Watson.

…on one hand, people are ever more conscious of philanthropy and its role in commerce and society; on the other, these people are talking to each other more so than ever before.

If you keep talking you can change the world right? And now talk is cheap, easy and global. In theory the more we talk, the more we get to know each other and empathize, the more we trust. In the UK right now the government, through Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report, is attempting to map out the digital future. It believes at the end of this future there is a Digital Dividend, the spoils of which will greatly benefit all of society. Lord Carter could do worse than spend a few hours reading Causewired and learning how that dividend is already being created.

Social media toolsets: The US vs UK

I’m halfway through Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s Forrester backed study on social technologies “Groundswell“. Their definition of groundswell:

A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.

100 pages in there hasn’t been anything earth shattering in terms of unexpected insight, though the case studies and different approaches of different industry are worth reading. What is great is the raw data that Li and Bernoff have access to and expose.

From a European perspective some of this data is more than a little troubling. Some hard facts:

Percentage of online consumers using RSS in 2007:

  • US: 8%
  • UK: 3%
  • France: 5%
  • Germay: 4%

And some figures on blog and UGC usage (US – UK):

  • Read blogs: 25% – 10%
  • Comment on blogs: 14% – 4%
  • Write a blog: 11% – 3%
  • Upload UGC video: 8% – 4%

Yet the percentage of users visiting social networking sites is much more evenly balanced with the US at 25% and the UK at 21%.

Again usage rates differ significantly when it comes to participation in discussion forums and postings ratings and reviews:

  • Participate in discussion forums: 18% – 12%
  • Read ratings and reviews: 25% – 20%
  • Post ratings and reviews: 11% – 5%

And again when various social media roles are looked at the level of engagement of UK audiences are roughly half that of US audiences. Why is this? In some markets lack of broadband is cited as a reason, but it doesn’t take a 2 meg connection to use Google Reader. Similarly, engaging in review cites such as CNet isn’t a high bandwidth task.

Is there then sociological reasons at play? Are Brits simply less inclined to both complain and applaud products and services online? Are they less willing to experiment with new media and plaster the results all over Flickr and YouTube? It would appear so but keepfakingit isn’t so sure why.

Li and Bernoff ( or maybe I’ll call them Charlene and Josh, this is after all social media) point to the reasons for participation in groundswell technologies. Going through these let’s see if there are any pointers to this great Atlantic divide. So, we participate to:

  1. Keep up friendships (Facebook etc.)
  2. Make new friends, lovers, one night stands (Facebook etc. again)
  3. Succumb to pressure from existing friends
  4. Paying it forward (you use a review site so feel eventually obliged to submit your own review)
  5. The altruistic impulse
  6. The prurient impulse (Showing off is fun)
  7. The creative impulse (UGC etc.)
  8. The validation impulse (we all want to be assured of our place in the world, the rationale behind many blogs)
  9. The affinity impulse (Big use case for sports fans).

Nothing in the above jumps out at me as the reason behind this US/UK drift. Let me know your thoughts.