Archive for March, 2011

L’Hydrocarbure

Monday, March 28th, 2011

L'Hydrocarbure coverFor those of you who have been wondering exactly what it is that I’ve been doing in China over recent years, perhaps the best summary is a brief paper I prepared for L’Hydrocarbure, the alumni magazine put out by IFPEN (the Institut Français du Pétrole Energie Nouvelles). The article is entitled Emissions Trading in China, and it summarizes my recent experience and implementation ideas there. A very special thanks to Diane Counord for all of her assistance on this!

Jakarta

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Pertamina logoI was in Jakarta in late March on behalf of IFPEN to give a GE ‘Oil and Gas University’ presentation at Pertamina, the Indonesian national oil and gas company. Pertamina is the world’s largest producer and exporter of LNG, and my two-day presentation covered the role of economics in environmental management; the Kyoto Protocol and carbon markets; market-based instruments for renewable energy and energy efficiency; and the role of energy within the international environmental system. Twenty-eight engineers and technical staff members attended the course, which was held in Pertamina’s Learning Center in the city.

Ms. Puni

While in Jakarta, I was also fortunate to be able to meet up with Ms. Tri Mumpuni and some of her colleagues. Ms. Puni is the Executive Director of IBEKA, a community-based group which works to provide energy and electricity-based services in rural villages throughout Asia. The group has worked before with UN ESCAP, and has particular expertise in micro-hydro applications.

You might recall that I worked with UN ESCAP in late 2009 and 2010 on energy access issues, and I was very pleased recently to find out that the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has accepted our proposal for a ‘Pro-Poor Public-Private Partnership’ (5P) to help improve energy access for the rural poor in five Asian countries. One innovative element of the proposal is that it will link the 5P process with international carbon markets, and IFAD will be providing $1.35 million of the $2.21 million project funding (with UN ESCAP and the private sector providing the rest). Ms. Puni’s group pioneered the 5P approach several years ago, and Indonesia is one of the five countries involved in the UN ESCAP/IFAD project – so I anticipate that she will be even busier (if that is possible!) over the next several years. (If interested, you can read a summary of the proposal in Annex II of IFAD’s President’s Report of 6 December 2010.)

Venice R&R Redux

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Given the wonderful visit after last year’s Florence training sessions, it was pretty easy to justify going back to Venice again. And this year’s visit was similarly influenced by a couple of books about the city.

Bridge of Sighs

I’ve become quite a Richard Russo fan over the past few years, devouring works like Empire Falls and Straight Man – but a definite favorite this past year was Bridge of Sighs. Most of the story takes place in upstate New York, but Noonan, a painter, escapes the parochial small-town setting for the international art world of Venice. Like many tourists, we headed over to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (located right on the Grand Canal) to check out one of modern art’s most famous collections, and a highlight of that artistic scene. But even more fascinating was crossing over the Bridge of Sighs itself. As I’m sure most already know, the bridge connects prison cells on one side with the lavish courtroom chambers of the Doge’s Palace on the other. For many prisoners, its windows offered their last look on the outside world. The bridge itself plays a key role in the novel (beyond the title) — and I won’t spoil that for those of you who haven’t yet read it. I’d only suggest that its contemplation about life is fully on par with last year’s Venice offerings. (And the grandeur of the Doge’s Palace far exceeded what I was expecting!).

Brunetti's Venice coverGiven last year’s posting, you might also guess that another title I picked up and read was Donna Leon’s Death at La Fenice, the first of her many books featuring the wonderful Commissario Guido Brunetti, a detective in the Venetian Questura. In Leon’s novels, setting and ambiance are every bit as important as the plot, and Brunetti himself is a Venetian detective with a passion for food and drink, music and art, and Greek and Roman classics (read in their original languages). Her novels have generated so much interest that there is now a guidebook entitled Brunetti’s Venice (written by Toni Sepeda, an academic teaching art history and literature), which provides walking tours that use passages from the novels (plus Sepeda’s own insights) to highlight the sights and sounds of this fascinating city.

We did the first two walking tours – the first starting at La Fenice and ending at Rialto Bridge, and following the path that the detective walked that first night in the first novel, as he decided “to take advantage of the star-studded sky and the deserted streets” in the early morning hours. The second took us from the famous bridge (home to the money changers in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice), through the fish and vegetable markets, to the (fictional) location of Brunetti’s home in the San Polo district – reading excerpts all along the way. Commissario Brunetti was a wonderful traveling companion…. & he didn’t cost much when we stopped in his neighborhood restaurant haunts!

Florence

Monday, March 28th, 2011

This year’s GE Oil & Gas University’s training group had 28 engineers from 18 different countries, including China, Russia, Iraq and Kazakhstan. The Middle East was particularly well represented, with participants from Saudi Arabia and Oman; two each from Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt; and three engineers from the country most well represented, the United Arab Emirates. This year’s visit included a nice little side trip to Lucca, the ancient walled town and birthplace of Giacomo Puccini; Pisa, home of the famous Leaning Tower; and, of course, time in Florence itself.

Birth of Venus

Birth of Venus

Perhaps you’ve heard about the ‘Stendhal Syndrome’? This is a condition where people become dizzy, with rapid heartbeats, often becoming faint, when they are exposed to art of great beauty in concentrated settings. Not surprisingly, it has also been called the ‘Florence Syndrome,’ and is often associated with the Uffizi Gallery. And I can certainly see why; we spent several hours wandering the halls of this magnificent museum on this visit, with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus a particularly memorable attraction.

On our stroll over to the Uffizi, we walked by the Palazzo Vecchio located right next door — and I was extremely surprised to see a sign there announcing their current exhibition. Yes, it was none other than Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God – this time the real thing, not the print I had seen in Paris (see last summer’s Paris posting below). The setting, like the work itself, was more than a little strange. You can get a sense of the Museo de Palazzo Vecchio’s stunning grandeur from its website, and to get to the Hirst exhibit we first had to pass through the Studiolo of Francesco I de’ Medici, which the museum itself describes as the Medici Palace’s ‘room of wonders,’ and a masterpiece of Florentine Mannerism (created between 1570 and 1575). It was a tightly enclosed space covered floor-to-ceiling with amazing art – before passing into a small pitch-black room, with Hirst’s diamond skull virtually floating in the center. If you didn’t get Stendhal’s Syndrome in the Studiolo, I suppose the incongruous shock of a grinning, glittering skull could nonetheless lead to similar symptoms.

Pennergy & Briar Bush

Monday, March 28th, 2011

In early March, I participated in a panel session on “The Future of Energy” at U Penn, on behalf of Pennergy, a group based in the engineering school with a special interest in energy issues. Other panel members included Professor Nathan Lewis of CalTech and Dr. Mark deGrandpre, of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners. Prof. Lewis is one the world’s most noted researchers in solar energy, and you might want to check out his website, and especially his 2007 paper “Powering the Planet.”

Jonathan Watts cites Lewis’ work in his recent book When a Billion Chinese Jump (described in one of last summer’s postings), and I was invited by the Briar Bush Nature Center to lead a discussion about the book over dinner at – quite fittingly! – the Mandarin Garden restaurant in nearby Willow Grove, PA. They did not warn me that one of their members had lived in China for eleven years – working on environmental issues, no less! – and was fluent in Mandarin. The session nonetheless turned out to be a lot of fun, with lots of questions – and I had a knowledgeable partner so I could pass along the tough ones.