Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Q&A with Nathalie Horbach about the future of Nuclear Energy

Nathalie Horbach, Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee

Nathalie is a Thought Leader in the
LAB on Old and New ENERGY
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
April 17 & 18, 2007
Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain
Max. 20 Delegates
Early Bird registration till March 9th!

Club of Amsterdam: Nathalie - you teach at the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy at the University of Dundee and you follow the policies of nuclear energy at national and international level. There seems to be on one side a growing pro nuclear energy mood in Europe and on the other side a country like Germany follows a clear exit strategy. How is Europe going to deal with this situation?

Europe leaves its member-states the option to choose which course they prefer to follow. However, it now explicitly recognizes the "necessity" of including nuclear energy in the energy mix, for reasons of security of supply and diversification of energy sources, and emission constraints. Due to liberalisation, increased competition and European integration of national energy markets, it seems that such an accommodating approach is both justified and effective. It leaves those member-states, such as France or Finland, with a vested interest and political support to ensure the necessary nuclear share within Europe, while others, such as Germany, may pursue other options in respect of renewables (wind) thereby adequately responding to public pressure. In this way, joint investments in and further development of nuclear energy will be channeled to dynamic and secure markets, which allow also for channeling of safeguards, security and safety activities in order to further improve and ensure safe, reliable and sensible use of nuclear energy in the future. However, due to potential risks involved in nuclear activities, it is important to improve transparency and fair competition (especially in safety and technology) worldwide instead of merely regional, while preventing protectionist approaches.

Club of Amsterdam: Can you explain how nuclear energy relates to environmental issues? What role is it going to play in context of sustainable energy sources like wind energy etc.?

Nuclear energy provides for a credible alternative source of electricity. It does not emit CO2 although, similar to renewable energy sources, emissions are not entirely zero. Due to the need to mitigate recognized risks, nuclear energy has the most secured and innovative energy fuel cycle, in respect of both strict international and national safety and liability regulation (polluter-pays), including internalization of such costs in the electricity price.

It is for that reason that it can be considered to be increasingly 'sustainable'. However, there remains the issue of waste, which includes also an intergenerational aspect, that could be both negative (imposing a potential 'radioactive' inheritance) and positive (potentiality of an essential future energy source in view of new technological reprocessing developments), even though not imposing society with unconfined and uncontrollable emissions. In addition, proliferation and terrorism risks continues to be a source of concern, resulting in political reservations with respect to nuclear energy. Nonetheless, nuclear energy seems in the mid- to long term to be a 'sensible choice' in view of all available options. It is a credible and necessary alternative, especially in combination with renewable sources of energy, to reduce carbon fuel dependency both to respond to climate change and environmental concerns as well as insecurities inherent (and recently increasing) in the global energy supply market.

As such, the policy to no longer exclude nuclear energy as an option and even to increase reliance on nuclear power, could play an important mid-term role. On the one hand, it attracts further investment into developing safer and environmental neutral forms of generating nuclear electricity. Such is currently the focus of joint efforts in respect of nuclear fusion and 'new generation' nuclear facilities, which are constructed to be inherently safe, highly economical, proliferation resistant and produce minimal waste. On the other hand, it ensures an adequate electricity supply in the middle long-term, while reducing usage of carbon fuel as part of a global policy, and thus allows in the meantime increasing efforts and investments in further maturing other energy sources (wind, solar, etc.) in order to shift to a potential better sustainable option in the long-term.

Club of Amsterdam: What do you expect from a dialogue between "old and new energy"?

It is important to accumulate all fresh, innovative and diverging views, ideas and experience into a solid and new energy dialogue in order to extract important elements for a comprehensive and reality driven energy policy for the future. Often discussions in this field are constructed around narrow and obsolete premises, leaving aside a great potential that might result from a wider and more comprehensive approach based on an innovative method of guiding and channeling thoughts within a more 'philosophical' environment. This dialogue could encourage such a focus in search of consensus on new parameters, essential requirements and contemporary guiding principles appropriate to be incorporated in the preparation of future (European and other international) energy policies or strategies.

Thank you Nathalie!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Q&A with Paul Holister about Nanotechnology & Energy

Paul Holister is a consultant specialising in, among other things, the commercial and societal impacts of new technologies. He is currently writing "Nanotechnology and the Future of Energy", to be published by John Wiley and Sons.

Paul is a Thought Leader in the
LAB on Old and New ENERGY
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
April 17 & 18, 2007
Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain
Max. 20 Delegates
Early Bird registration till March 9th!

Club of Amsterdam: Paul, you are currently writing a book about "Nanotechnology and the Future of Energy". Can you describe how nanotechnology can have an impact on energy generation, storage, and utilization?

Nanotechnology operates at such a fundamental level that there is very little of a technological nature that it will not impact. Thus its effects on energy generation, transmission, storage and consumption are numerous and diverse. Some will be incremental and some quite possibly revolutionary.

Rather than trying to sketch the whole landscape, a few examples will hopefully illustrate the variety.
At the mundane end of the scale you have anti-fouling paints for wave or tidal power, or materials with a higher tolerance for radiation in nuclear reactors. I did say mundane.

In wind power, the potentially enormous improvements in strength-to-weight ratio of composite materials used in blades could pay back surprisingly well because the relationship of blade length to efficiency is not linear but follows a power law - though there is much argument about how this pans out in the real world.

At the other extreme of nanotech impact, you have solar energy. We are children in this area, and the playground is built on the nanoscale. Almost any development is going to involve nanotech - an intriguing recent exception being the use of lenses to focus light on old-fashioned silicon photovoltaics, thus demanding less of this expensive material. This is one of the areas where nanotech-enabled technology could well be revolutionary.

But what makes for a revolution in energy generation? Two things: availability and economics. The fact that solar energy is so bountiful - enough hits the Earth in a minute to meet our global requirements for at least a week - makes it potentially revolutionary; it's just the cost of capturing that energy that has been standing in the way. Reduce that enough, or increase the cost of the alternatives, and you have a revolution.

One other energy source could, I believe, be equally revolutionary. Not fusion, which, despite the dreams of my youth, I sadly have to relegate to a distant future - not that the ongoing experiments aren't worthwhile. Geothermal energy, boring as hot rocks and steam may sound - outside of saunas, that is -, has revolutionary potential for the same reason as solar - an essentially unlimited supply of energy untapped only because of economics. The nanotech connection is not as direct here as with solar - you have tougher materials to cut drilling costs or thermoelectric tunneling for efficient low-grade heat conversion - but it only takes the right conjunction of developments and geothermal power stations will be springing up - or down - all over the place.

I've only considered here principal power generation, but this should already give some sense of the breadth and potential scale of impact. I'd be surprised to find any reader of this unaware of the excitement surrounding developments in fuel cell and battery technology. Nanotechnology figures almost without exception in the cutting edge of both.

But I could go on for ages answering this question - you could almost make a book out of it ...

How do nanotechnology-based solutions apply particularly, if at all, to environmental concerns and energy security issues?

From an energy security point of view, nanotech developments are invariably positive since, at the very least, they can help save energy - aerogels for better insulation, IR-reflective window coatings, low-grade heat conversion in cars, etc.. They also assist to varying degrees in the development of alternatives to the fossil fuels upon which so many of us are now so dangerously dependant. I've already mentioned the potential of solar and geothermal energy.

On the environmental front the answer is not so clear. We live in a world where short-term economics have an overwhelming influence on decision making.

The good news for those who worry about things like global warming, is that the increasing cost of oil - a long-term trend that will not stop, oil being a finite resource - and the decreasing cost of alternatives such as solar energy, give renewables an ever more favourable economic position. When you look at the diverse spread of nanotech-related impacts they are almost always supporting technologies with an improved environmental profile.

Unfortunately, there is a rather big exception to this. Nanotechnology has helped greatly improve the effectiveness of catalysts. Fuel cells and catalytic converters are among the welcome beneficiaries.

But catalysis is also at the heart of gas-to-liquid and coal liquefaction technologies that promise oil independence for those with access to previously uneconomical gas reserves or to coal reserves. Energy security is a big carrot and it so happens that two highly-populated countries that rank among the fastest-growing economies in the world, and thus the fastest-growing energy consumers, are coal-rich: China and India. North America too is coal-rich.

If such countries can start to economically run their cars, trucks and buses on diesel made from coal - which ironically is low-emission compared with normal diesel at the vehicle end but overall produces more CO2 than oil-based diesel - then we could be looking at a greenhouse gas nightmare scenario - there is enough coal in the world to supply our energy needs for hundreds of years.

So, greenhouse nightmare or an emission-free future? Nanotechnology can enable them both. Barring a global wave of forward planning unseen in mankind's history, economics will probably make the decision for us.

What do you expect from a dialogue between "old and new energy"?

Taking 'old energy' to be the way we have done things since the dawn of the industrial revolution, i.e. primarily by burning fossil fuels, I think that the likeliest difference between old and new energy, and the generator of greatest debate, will be systemic rather than one particular technology or another. The question of when and how the transition to new energy occurs is also intriguing - as the coal liquefaction scenario above shows, we could in theory be stuck with the old, or pretty similar, for some time to come.

We have gorged ourselves for more than a century on the energy equivalent of a free lunch. As we start to realise that, while there may be such a thing as a free lunch, it isn't necessarily dinner and breakfast too, we can size up the alternatives, the most striking thing about which is their diversity.
Only coal and nuclear fission are potential candidates for maintaining the uniform and monolithic energy network we have now in the developed world. There are good reasons to avoid both, if we can - some would argue that we cannot.

All the alternatives involve a mix of technologies and energy sources, with energy not always being produced where you want and when you want, thus producing a far more complex system than we have now. The phrase 'intelligent grid' is often held up as an example of how this complexity will operate, with buying, selling and saving of energy being possible at many scales. I'd rather do away with the 'grid' word altogether because it evokes the electricity grid that we in the developed world generally take for granted but which exists only as a consequence of our historical dependence on fossil fuels, and is grossly inefficient. In a mixed-energy-source scenario, the traditional grid would be challenged by localised generation, the form of which would vary according to location - Saudi: sunshine; Greenland: geothermal.

The gridless or localised grid scenario begs the question of how large amounts of energy will be transferred from one place to another, which will no doubt continue to be either required or an economically viable activity. The classic answer is hydrogen, but it is unfortunately a lousy way to transport energy, thanks largely to its volatility. In theory, the development of cheap, high-load superconducting cables - perhaps made of carbon nanotubes - might keep the old-fashioned grid alive but it seems to me that an efficient means of converting whatever energy source happens to be available to you into a fuel that is liquid, or close to it, at room temperature - e.g. methanol -, combined with a fuel cell technology to make good use of it, would be a hard system to beat when it comes to storage and transmission.

As I write, there are at least a few scientists around the world trying to figure out ways to outdo Mother Nature in turning sunlight into a compact, transportable energy source. All of which happens, of course, on the nanoscale.

Thank you Paul!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Innovation - a hybrid connection between old practices?

Humberto Schwab, Director Club of Amsterdam, Innovation Philosopher, Moderator of the Club of Amsterdam LABs in Girona near Barcelona, Spain

Club of Amsterdam:
Humberto - you are an Innovation Philosopher - most people hardly see a connection between philosophy and daily life and even less between philosophy and business. What is the added value? Why has philosophy something to say?

Philosophy is the body of experimental and theoretical knowledge collected and shared by humanity since the invention of this specie. It is the richest fountain of wisdom about our selves as human beings, our needs and aspirations, our world outside and inside us and most of all about our values.

In philosophy we investigate falsehood and truth, the permanent and the temporarily, good and bad acting, good government and bad societies, beautiful and ugliness.

Most of all we have gathered wisdom about the quality of life. We try to make our daily life every day an experience of quality. At least many people try to reach this. This striving for quality is what connects our life with philosophy. Essential in our daily life is that we have our eyes wide open to see the right elements in their right relation; this is where philosophical methods are. We need to get rid of prejudice and false presumptions.

In business – more and more – the essence lies in the ability in enhancing the quality of life, in part or as a whole. This quality is related to issues of ethical policy and sustainable business. Sustainable is not only a matter of the natural environment, more and more we realize that sustainability concerns the quality of our communities. The pursuit of the good life is more and more the frame in which innovation in the experience economy is moving.

Last but not least, philosophy contains all the possible concepts, approaches, notions and strategies to frame productive ways of reasoning. Innovation is essential the rethinking of tradition, tradition as recipes for life. Taking traditional steps over again leads to new insights.

That is why innovation is often a hybrid connection between old practices.

Innovation sometimes demands new paradigms; philosophy is the producer of new paradigms.

You have been involved in large-scale educational programs. Can you give us an example of what you did and what the outcome was?

We managed to position philosophy in the official juridical structure of the secondary school system in the Netherlands. This old philosophy was recognized as one of the strongest innovation in Holland. I designed a complete program for the schools. A big innovation was the transformation of 100 excellent Dutch teachers from different disciplines into real Socratic teachers. That means wise people who put forward the right questions and not the answers.

At the moment I am involved in fundamental innovations of education in the Netherlands and in Spain.

In our society of the future learning is a value as such. This demands a totally different perspective on education and schooling. In an i-society learning has a different place then in the past hierarchical society. We need business, ngo-s, academies, citizen’s organisations and local government to co-create a challenging learning landscape in Europe.

In your EuroLab you use a special combination of techniques - some have been widely used in industries. Can you tell us why you choose them and how you adapt them to your projects?

The most used techniques are used instrumental while I always want to work in dialogues. A dialogue involves the total presence and commitment of the individual as reflective being. This means maximal awareness and maximal responsibility.

We cannot oppose general techniques on humans, without losing their individual strength. The Appreciative Inquiry method is very strong dialogue method in business, especially when - like the present situation - the relations between the stakeholders become totally different. The Appreciative Inquiry (AI) bring to light all the hidden good practices and experiences of all the individuals involved, emerged from their personal life. The top down model of the expert above sending his missives down kills the experience wisdom present in the whole organization. This AI method is fruit of a bunch of scientific insight on the effects of positive psychological approaches.

The Socratic method I have adapted to learning situations in school and business is the strongest context I know. Fundamental in this method is the key role of the good question. Putting forward basic questions is the art of collaboration. It gives new air to breath new ideas. People hardly share basic questions, let alone basic assumptions. Yet they work in contexts as if they share assumptions, values and concepts. The deconstructing of a basic question and the reconstructing of a shared answer uses collective intelligence as a rich fountain and provokes strong bounding on crucial challenges. In the Socratic discourse, the philosophical tradition serves as a support system, it helps to articulate good intuitions, good arguments and good ideas of all the participants. The Socratic chair (trained philosopher) represents the tradition and embodies it in a supportive way for each participant.

In a Socratic discourse the group transform in a natural way into a reflecting body that emerges a higher intelligence and a higher responsibility. It exercises human collectively at his best. It has strong rules that forces people to rethink other positions and to rehearse steps in thinking taken by others, it forces people to listen and repeat and to clarify all concepts used. The strong authoritative way of safeguarding the rules by the Socratic chair, gives rise to a real strong participation of all in an egalitarian way.

The strong relation between flourishing business and democratic cultures lies precise in the opportunity to put forward any valuable question of the quality of human life. The dialogue starts with the rethinking of standing practices and will virtualize new possible worlds and actions.
Good business ideas are in fact very often philosophical brainwaves!

More and more good business and good government are critically checked on qualitative grounds, from citizens perspectives.

From the Socratic brainstorms we have to come to a stage of productive planning. The future scenario methods are excellent in binding people on shared visions of the future and on shared actions to realize desired scenarios. Good dialogues generate an emergent intelligence that will give complete new frames and horizons. Yet scenarios without value dialogues are blind.
That is why in my EuroLABS the basic structure is the embedding of the personas in a value dialogue context. The revitalization of the basic existential questions generates an energy that also creates strong creative content.

I often hear that there has been enough talking and we should act now. Why do you put dialogue into the centre of your labs? And how does it relate to Do-Tanks?

There has definitely been enough talking, but then we talk about talking in the one-dimensional level we are used to do. Besides this talking is mostly discussions without any check of concepts, understanding of each other or reflections on principles or presumptions. This talking is often a chat between deaf people, they afterwards will follow their own routine in the way of thinking they were used to do.

The Club of Amsterdam LABs lead to a change in internal dialogue; people really need a strong dialogue with other beings to change their internal reflections and dialogues. This will directly lead to action, when you make shared action plans and design a sustainable dialogue with the stakeholders. To shift from a money driven society to a value driven society needs a new way of talking: the real human dialogue.

Action is always for a crucial part guided thinking or unconscious frameworks of meaning. The Socratic dialogues make sharing intelligent action possible.

Club of Amsterdam LABs:

LAB on Old and New ENERGY
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
April 17 & 18, 2007
Early Bird registration till March 9th!
Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain
Moderated by Humberto Schwab, Director, Club of Amsterdam, Innovation Philosopher
With the Thought Leaders
Nathalie Horbach, Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee, UK
Simon Taylor, Director and Co-Founder, Global Witness, UKChristof van Agt, International Energy Agency, FrancePaul Holister, Nanotechnology & Energy, France

LAB on MEDIA and Human Experience
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
May 29 & 30, 2007
Early Bird registration till March 16th
Girona near Barcelona, Spain

Moderated by Humberto Schwab, Director, Club of Amsterdam, Innovation Philosopher
With the Thought Leaders
Laurence Desarzens, urban communicator, beatmap.com
Paul F.M.J. Verschure, ICREA research professor, Technology Department, University Pompeu Fabra
Ricardo Baeza-Yates, Director, Yahoo! Research Rudy de Waele, Founder, M-trends.org