Dieser Blog präsentiert eine Auswahl verschiedener Texte von mir. Die Herangehensweise ist multilingual und interdisziplinär. Die Themen sind international und betreffen vor allem Nachhaltigkeit, Wirtschaft, Politik und soziale Aspekte.
Viel Vergnügen! - JJ Bürger -

Ce blog rassemble une séléction de mes textes. L'approche est plurilingue et interdisciplinaire. Les sujets sont internationaux et concernent notamment la durabilité, l'économie, la politique et certains aspects sociaux. Bonne lecture! - JJ Bürger -

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

United Nations - High-Level Political Forum, with a focus on Water and Energy


The 2018 United Nations' High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development is currently taking place in New York City from July 9th to July 18th, including a ministerial meeting from July 16th to the 18th. The theme of this year's HLPF is: "Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies". The full program can be found here.

The High-Level Political Forum is the United Nations' central platform for follow-ups and progress reviews around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It provides a participatory opportunity for all States that are members of the United Nations or of specialized agencies.

View on the flags from inside the United Nations. Photo: EUPlanet

Water and energy (two intertwined topics which EUPlanet covered several times recently, for example here and here) are among the SDGs that are being reviewed in detail in this year's HLPF. Several documents and reports were produced in advance, in order to help structuring the debate on those topics.
For instance, the 2018 progress report on SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) can be found here and futher pieces of information are provided here. A two-page summary is available here.
Regarding SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), an extensive report on policy briefs was provided here. A two-page summary can be found here.

During HLPF, this "Ecological Living Module" at the UN showcases sustainable solutions, incl. for energy and water. Photo: EUPlanet

On July 9th, SDG 6 on water and sanitation was discussed in detail at the United Nations' during a three-hour session.
One important aspect of these discussions was the fact that SDG 6 is a goal that is very deeply connected to other SDGs, because water is a central element to so many aspects of sustainable development. For example, initiatives to fight hunger in developing countries may lead to increased use of water for agriculture and to more water pollution from livestock, as pointed out by Claudia Sadoff, Director of the International Water Management Institute. Thus, Sadoff highlighted, there may be many synergies between SDGs, but there may also be trade-offs. However, various solutions may help to address this issue, such as new irrigation techniques, changes in diet or solar-powered sanitation, she argued. Also, according to Sadoff, modern cities should be capable of absorbing water types from different origins (e.g. storms, floods, recovered waste water) and using them according to the respective water qualities.
Similarly, Lucía Ruiz, Vice Minister of Environment of Peru, emphasized the importance of integrating indigenous and ancestral knowledge of water management into local and national strategies, including water resources shared by several nations, such as the Amazonas.
Following the presentations of the panelists, the discussion with worldwide representatives in the audience helped to further underline additional aspects, such as the importance of long-term funding and capacity building. Other discussed topics included innovative financing solutions (including bottom-up or neighborhood projects as well as micro-finance) and smart usage of data and pathway forecasts.
Indeed, according to Danilo Türk (Chair of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace, former President of Slovenia), international funds for water projects (dubbed "Blue Funds" by a Senegalese participant) could contribute to achieving SDG 6 by 2030, in addition to water strategies that empower "each member of the investment community" to participate in local projects.
When asked about interconnections between SDG 6 and other SDGs, Claudia Sadoff mentioned, in addition to her statements on water-related aspects of agriculture and smart cities, that SDG 6 is also deeply linked to SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy). Not only can solar-powered sanitation help to address water pollution, but most renewable energies also require much less water for cooling purposes, compared to thermal and nuclear power plants.

HLPF review session on SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy). Photo: EUPlanet

This was also reiterated during the three-hour session of in-depth review of SDG 7, on Tuesday July 11th. Notably, Adnan Z. Amin (Director-General, the International Renewable Energy Agency IRENA) and Hans Olav Ibrekk (Policy Director, Energy and Climate Change, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) emphasized the link between SDG 6 and SDG 7, as well as the potential benefits of renewable energies.
Many panelists and participants shared an optimistic outlook on the dynamic growth of clean energy solutions, particularly in the field of electricity, where renewables and batteries achieved remarkable cost reductions (and are poised to continue to do so, according to Amin). Furthermore, the share of access to electricity among the world's population has grown from 78% to 87% from 2000 to 2016, while the absolute number of people living without access to electricity is now below 1 billion. In this context, the role of off-grid solutions should also be highlighted: according to Amin, 50% of those who will gain access to electricity between now and 2030 will do so thanks to off-grid solutions such as mini- and microgrids or stand-alone photovoltaics.
However, it was also highlighted that the world is not yet on track to address the issue of safe, clean and affordable energy for cooking. According to the UN's statement, "41 per cent of the world's population (almost 3 billion people) continue to lack access to clean cooking solutions. From 2000 to 2016, 1.4 billion people gained access to clean cooking fuels and technologies. However, these advancements were mostly offset by population growth during this period. Almost 4 million people, mostly women and children, are dying annually due to household air pollution due to inefficient cooking". The urgency of this grave situation was emphasized by a large number of participants and panelists. As Sheila Oparaocha (Executive Director of ENERGIA, Zambia) argued, this issue also requires a thorough analysis of home/kitchen design and food-related processes, as well as a critical reassessment of gender dynamics.
Furthermore, as pointed out by Laurence Tubiana (CEO of the European Climate Foundation), despite positive trends in the energy industry, the "battle is not won yet", as worldwide energy-related carbon emissions increased in 2017 instead of decreasing. Tubiana argued that additional efforts were needed, such as achieving a carbon-free electricity supply on a global scale by 2050, building on current progress in renewables integration and grid management. Similarly, Amin affirmed that about 1 trillion USD of worldwide clean energy investments would be needed every year in order to reach the SDG 7 goal by 2030; those investments would by worthwile, according to Amin, given their vital impact on sustainable development.
Further topics discussed by panelists and participants were carbon-free transportation, bottom-up empowerment and gender aspects of energy strategies, innovative financing solutions, carbon pricing, the role of nuclear energy, carbon emissions from mineral exploration industries, the role of subsidies for renewables and fossil fuels, and clean energy as a motor for power reliability, job creation and economic diversification, especially in developing countries. The importance of Research & Development efforts was also underlined by a participant from South Korea (citing for example Artifical Intelligence and Cloud technologies) and by the host Amin, quoting in particular e-mobility as one of the main fields of research on emerging clean energy technologies.

Testing device for quality assessments of solar cookers. Photo: EUPlanet

Concerning the much-discussed dire need for clean cooking solutions, several NGOs presented their projects during an event on Thursday, July 12th. For instance, Solar Cookers International (SCI) developed the testing device shown above, allowing this NGO to test various solar cooking devices from any manufacturer, in order to ensure industry-wide quality standards and comparability. This testing device is compliant with the ISO standards for performance measurement in cooking devices, which were adopted only a few weeks ago.
In addition, SCI and Solar Cities presented some of their work in Haiti, empowering local communities to embrace biodigesters and solar cookers in order to solve the country's energy shortage and to create opportunities for community engagement and economic development. The Public-Private Alliance Foundation (PPAF), which initiated the event, also presented some of their experiences of working in Haiti, through renewable energy projects such as biodigesters and solar cookers, or through microfinance, handicraft and manufacturing.
A silent auction was also organized, in order to raise funds for new projects in Haiti, allowing participants to buy Haitian items such as paintings, rum, handicraft.

Paintings at the Haitian benefit auction. Photo: EUPlanet
Rum-tasting for the auction, as well as Solar Cities information material. Photo: EUPlanet
Indeed, many more efforts are needed to reach the United Nations' 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Many of today's technologies and habits will have to evolve, and a lot of investments will be needed. Yet, remarkable coordination efforts are being carried out at the United Nations, and many individuals are committed to implement concrete projects that improve people's lives and empower them to create their own solutions and opportunities.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The role of blockchain technology in the energy transition


This week, on Monday June 18th, the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) and the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences organized a symposium on “The Role of Blockchain in the Energy Transition”, which took place at Grand Central Tech in Manhattan, New York.

Blockchain technology promises critical progress for the energy sector. Indeed, blockchains could improve system reliability and reduce operating costs, thanks to new types of interactions between the power system, its users, and distributed energy resources (DERs) such as photovoltaic rooftop installations, heat pumps, electric vehicles or electricity storage. This would also represent an opportunity to enhance overall system efficiency and to share the economic surpluses arising from better resource utilization.
However, blockchain technology continues to evolve and projects with different levels of maturity are being discussed on both sides of the Atlantic. Therefore, the symposium’s panel of experts discussed a range of key insights for a better understanding of blockchain and its potential for the energy sector.

First of all, what is a blockchain? Kicking off the main event, Jens Strüker from the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences described it this way: “A cryptonetwork is a decentralized network built on top of the internet that provides a wide variety of digital services. Tokens are the internal currency of cryptonetworks, and the incentive mechanism which enables them to function. Blockchain is the underlying technology [of those cryptonetworks and their tokens]”. Strüker highlighted specific features which blockchain technology aims to deliver, such as increased efficiency (higher speed, less layers) compared to intermediate platform exchanges, better control over data exchanges and other benefits that are specific to the token-based approach of blockchains (such as: immediate remuneration, better incentives for participation in the network and for investing in the network).

In a pre-recorded presentation, Ashley Pilipiszyn (from Stanford's SLAC) described some of her research on Crypto Control for Power Systems. By reducing the amount of verification necessary to proof that a certain service was indeed carried out (“Proof-of-Work”, used for example by BitCoin) or that it was monitored correctly (“Proof-of-Authority”), Pilipiszyn’s “Proof-of-Control” concept reduces the blockchain’s energy consumption. Indeed, this blockchain technology only needs to verify that sufficient controls were in place during a given interaction. According to Pilipiszyn, this could become an efficient solution for power system functionalities such as forecasting, scheduling, dispatch and frequency regulation.

Colleen Metelitsa (GTM Research) presented several existing use cases for blockchains in the energy sector, including electric vehicle charging (for instance, the ambitious “Oslo2Rome” project, using an Ethereum blockchain), wholesale power trading (for example: 39 companies have been taking part in a pilot project, using a Tendermint blockchain), distribution management, grid flexibility (e.g.: transmission system operator TenneT will be able to manage residential storage units through a Hyperledger blockchain) and cybersecurity. Metelitsa argued, more generally speaking, that blockchains could be used to optimize multiple market participation options for DERs and also to remunerate them immediately.

Andrew Reid (ConEdison), who recently won an award for his research on microgrids, presented ConEdison’s approach to redefining the utility business model, by integrating DERs and by designing and implementing new management processes that maximize the value of innovation for ConEdison. According to Reid, blockchain technologies will be an essential part of this strategy. He also announced an upcoming ConEdison report on blockchain implementation in the power sector, and on use cases that could prove to unlock substantial energy benefits.

Scott Kessler (LO3 Energy) presented his company’s blockchain technology Exergy, aiming to be a DSO-operated demand-response and grid services platform that understands the time- and place-dependent value of DER grid injections, and that moves towards a system based on grid efficiency. In addition, his company’s work on local community microgrids enabled the “first-ever energy transaction through a blockchain”, according to Kessler. He also emphasized the industry’s need to continue their research efforts for new, profitable business models. Kessler also argued that different layers of blockchain could very well go hand in hand: local ones could be used for specific or urgent local interventions, whereas larger blockchains could be used to ensure system optimization. In a similarly cooperative spirit, he highlighted that the aim of LO3 Energy was not to create a single turnkey-ready blockchain product for the worldwide market, but rather to accompany utilities in their deployment of blockchain-based solutions, harnessing their employees’ knowledge of local constraints and imperatives.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

United Nations - Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation


This week, the third annual Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) took place at the United Nation's headquarters in New York. This forum is also known as the "annual collaborative Multi-stakeholder Forum on science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)". Indeed, the United Nations adopted 17 SDGs in order to structure and coordinate the world's efforts to reach the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Forum on STI is part of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism that aims to support the efforts of reaching the SDGs.

Banner of the STI Forum at the UN Headquarters

A large variety of topics were discussed during the STI Forum, thus reflecting the fact that the SDGs are multidisciplinary and cut across all sectors of economy and society.
For example, during the panel discussion on SDG 6 (sustainable management of water and sanitation for all), Hungarian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, Katalin Annamaria Bogyay, argued that this goal needed to be addressed systematically, by strategies that are also closely linked to SDG 5 (gender equality).

Discussion in the UN's large auditorium 4 on SDG 11: Inclusive, Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Cities

Despite the interdependent nature of sustainability and the SDGs, this blog article will focus on some main aspects around the Food-Water-Energy nexus, which was also the topic of this blog's previous post.

The interconnection between food-, water- and energy-related sustainability efforts was highlighted for example during the session on SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production patterns). The Inga Foundation presented their projects promoting soil- and water-improvements by planting Inga Trees as agricultural component, allowing farmers to escape the vicious cycle of poverty and Slash-and-Burn practices in rain forest areas, therefore also reducing deforestation and protecting biodiversity.
The trend of decentralization, as well as its opportunities for enhancing sustainability, were discussed in the same session, for example by NYU energy researchers and by urban farming experts from Madagascar.
In the follow-up session on SDG 15 (sustainable terrestrial ecosystems), Inger Elisabeth Måren, from the University of Bergen, Norway, laid out a similar argument in favor of local and indigenous agricultural knowledge. According to Måren, those smaller local farms, their surroundings and other decentralized sources still provide a majority of the global food supply, while the share of big argicultural corporations is still much smaller than one might expect. Harnessing and empowering this local knowledge could foster biodiversity and agricultural efficiency in unique ways, as many speakers of the STI Forum agreed. In contrast, new technologies such as Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence were seen on the one hand as very promising, game-changing opportunities, but on the other hand also as a threat to jobs in particular in countries identified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs), where many rely on small-scale farming.

This underlined once more the importance of keeping an effective overview and a (sustainability-oriented) control of development strategies and their multiple effects across all economic and society sectors. In this spirit, Jack Metthey (Deputy Director-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission) for example highlighted the importance of tackling energy and climate issues in a comprehensive way, and Jim Watson (Director of UK Energy Research Centre and University of Sussex) argued that high-level sustainability roadmaps may be important, but that capacity building was almost equally as important. As examples for capacity building measures, Watson quoted for instance training and human resources, efficient institutions capable to follow up on implementation progress, as well as a sufficient long-term funding.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Scientific Symposium - Zero Carbon Cities and Food-Water-Energy Nexus Research


On Friday, June 1st 2018, a scientific symposium kicked off a week of workshops and discussions about "The City of Tomorrow". Organized by the US-German CITYtrans / Zero Carbon City network (in cooperation with the New York University, the City University of New York and the German Center for Research and Innovation, and with support of the German Federal government), these events bring together research partners from the US and Germany to exchange knowledge and elaborate new projects.

The kick-off event on Friday was an opportunity to debate about research challenges and solutions for sustainable urban districts, thanks to researchers sharing their most recent insights and thanks to presentations from young scientists who participated in the week-long Urban Summer School in New York City, showcasing their case studies on carbon reduction strategies for a Downtown Brooklyn neighborhood district.

As Ursula Eicker from the Stuttgart Technology University of Applied Sciences (HFT Stuttgart) pointed out during her keynote at the beginning of the event, cities have a major impact on the way we consume energy, so the goal of becoming a "Zero Carbon City" is more and more important for cities across the globe. Yet, the exact definition of this goal is not always clear. For example, Eickner explained, the city planners' perspective can change significantly once they start taking into account indirect emissions outside of the city parameter, such as those caused by the food supply chain. Therefore, in order to address sustainability issues more holistically, the event tackled not only energy-related topics but also water- and food-related topics ("Food-Water-Energy Nexus" or "FWE").

In addition, as Detlef Kurth from the University of Kaiserslautern underlined in his key note, social aspects also need to be considered by city planners when working on improvements for the FWE Nexus. Negative side effects or gentrification-related issues should be avoided while improving sustainability, he argued. He also outlined methodological differences that exist in the urban planning approaches (particularly in terms of Zero Carbon Cities) in Northern and Southern Europe and in the Anglo-Saxon countries - differences that may also encourage us to look at things from a different angle.

Volker Coors from HFT Stuttgart then described advantages of 3D modelling for sustainable city strategies, as well as the importance of efficient data gathering and processing. Indeed, the quality of the data as well as the analytical tools are decisive in order to produce insights that support cities on their path to carbon neutrality.

Teams of young researchers went then on to present results from their Urban Summer School case studies. They also outlined concepts for model-based tools that could provide efficient decision-support for zero carbon strategies, if further research efforts were deployed.  
Indeed, the researchers presented insights on energy-related and demographic statistics of the Borough Hall district in Brooklyn, as well as the district's potentials for energy efficiency and renewable energy. In addition, the district's food industry was analyzed, highlighting on the one hand the sector's energy consumption and transport-related carbon emissions, and on the other hand its potential for electricity production through bioenergy from food waste. The sewage in the close-by Red Hook wastewater treatment plant was identified as another important potential for bioenergy, able to cover a majority of the plant's electricity needs if combined with bioenergy from food waste.
Building on these results, a case study by another team of researchers then analyzed possible scenarios for a 80% to 100% carbon-free energy mix in the Borough Hall district. Their results suggested that this target was feasible, albeit a certain amount of energy imports remained necessary as well as flexibilization efforts in order to make this scenario more cost-efficient.
The potential for a higher share of electrity-based heating, particularly through heat pumps, was also discussed, as a solution that may be complementary to other flexibilization and decarbonization efforts.

Further to these presentations, Dieter Hertweck from Reutlingen University, described challenges and opportunities of digitalization and new business models in the FWE Nexus. As he pointed out, utilities are increasingly facing a platform-based shift of their industry, very similar to the experience of other industries, such as the car industry and the retail/supermarket landscape as new services such as UBER and Amazon continue to gain ground. Researchers can and should support businesses with data-based insights and qualitative advice as their traditional business models evolve, Herweck argues, pointing to recent achievements in his university's "Research Lab for Digital Business". This way, according to Herweck, efficiency gains and increased sustainability can go hand in hand - even in less industrialized regions, or rather: in particular in those regions.

The kick-off event was concluded by Michael Bobker from the CUNY Building Performance Lab, discussing the overall challenges and opportunities of "Zero Carbon Cities" as well as the ambivalence of this concept, thus rounding off the symposium by reflecting on the presented results and some aspects of Ursula Eicker's initial key note.

The series of workshops and debates is still ongoing until Thursday, June 7th,

Venue of the symposium: NYU 6 Metrotech Center, Brooklyn, New York