Archive for April, 2012

Expats in Asia

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Michael Park

One of my former students, Michael Park, recently set up a company providing advice for expats looking to find work in emerging markets around the world – and, not surprisingly, much of his target audience has focused on Asia. He recently posted an interview with me, and I certainly wish him the very best of success with his new start-up, Emerging Market Careers!

Florence

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

The fourth & final leg of this month-long, round-the-world trip was a visit to Florence, Italy, for my annual Oil & Gas University sessions at GE’s Florence Learning Center. Like the Jakarta cohort (see previous posting), this year’s group seemed particularly strong, and included 28 participants from 18 countries around the world (including China, Pakistan, Iraq and Nigeria).

San Gimignano

On this year’s visit I took the opportunity to spend some time outside the city at a number of favorite Tuscany haunts, making trips to a few new places as well. First on the list was another visit to Siena – this time on a warm Springtime day, rather than the freezing, multiple-sweater November weather of a previous visit. The Piazza del Campo was a bit quieter than that scene in the latest James Bond movie – and I stayed firmly on the ground & didn’t climb the tower this time. But I did do a bit of hiking in San Gimignano, the hilltop town of towers, and recovered from that with some nice wine tasting in the vineyards of Chianti.

I saved my climbing for the 462 steps in the cupola of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – Florence’s well known Duomo. I was reading Ross King’s absolutely fascinating book, Brunelleschi’s Dome, on this trip, describing the incredible engineering feats necessary to build this structure, still the largest brick dome ever constructed (and larger than St. Peter’s in Rome, or the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC). In addition to designing the hoists necessary to lift the 37,000 tons of materials, Brunelleschi chose to build the structure without the internal wood supports normally employed for arches and such curved structures. And he did all that without any knowledge of statics (that bane of engineering students that I suffered through in sophomore year!) or analytical approaches and techniques that still lay a few centuries in the future. The climb up between the two shells of the dome made me all the more appreciative of the amazing architectural and construction feat that he accomplished!

Jakarta

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Pertamina Learning Center

I was back in Jakarta once again in March, conducting a two-day training course at Pertamina’s Learning Center, as part of the GE/IFP instructional program. This course had 33 participants, and was definitely one of the best classes I’ve had in recent years – one group even cornered me after dinner, and we continued our discussions well into the evening.

Iskandar at IBEKA microhydro plant

This trip was especially interesting, however, because I arrived a few days early and headed up into the mountains outside Jakarta to visit IBEKA, the environmental NGO which specializes in micro-hydro applications. Ms. Tri Mumpuni was in New York, but her husband Iskandar, a geologist & mechanical/electrical engineering guru who coordinates all of the technical aspects of IBEKA’s work, was a gracious host. We drove up to see their 120 kW plant at Cinta Mekar, which was one of their early applications supported with UN ESCAP funding (you can read about the plant in a case study document, with Cinta Mekar also featured on the cover of a ‘best practices’ report); and we then stayed at their nearby training center/mountain home-base. I had seen both Puni & Iskandar in the U.S. after last year’s visit, & also had a very brief chance to see Puni when she arrived back home from New York. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to catch up with them again sometime soon – in Asia, North America, or wherever our paths cross!

Beijing

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

I spent almost two weeks in Beijing in late February/early March – a little bit earlier than my June visits in previous years – and the trip was a busy one. I gave a two hour lecture at Peking U., covering the same topic as my Singapore talk (i.e., P vs. Q for China’s carbon) – but at a more leisurely pace, & with an opportunity for interactions and Q&A with both the students and faculty. In addition, some of my GEF/World Bank colleagues came for the lecture as well, making the session even more interesting.

Dr. Liu (left) & Prof. Yang

We did another one-day workshop for the GEF/World Bank SO2 trading project – and I spent the morning bringing the project team up-to-speed about the U.S. Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR). This is a rather complicated topic even for U.S. utility executives and power plant personnel actually affected by the regulation – let alone foreigners who have only cursory knowledge about the U.S. legal system, and the numerous challenges and lawsuits that always come about when EPA promulgates a regulation. CSAPR was thrown out by the courts a few days before it was to go into effect, and the court will not be hearing arguments about the case until this coming April. Even before this latest case, however, the SO2 markets had crashed when EPA first proposed the limited trading approach (in July 2010), and it is now becoming clear that full controls on SO2 will ultimately happen – and those plants still uncontrolled will probably be shut down instead. (The posting about the Eddystone plant in late 2010 was a harbinger of such coal-plant shutdowns, and the boom in shale gas makes such actions even more likely.) My colleague Prof. Yang Jintian of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning led the afternoon session about Total Emissions Control (TEC) in China. You can see both of us – along with Dr. Liu Junguo, the GEF/World Bank project director, in the nearby photo.

China has been moving aggressively to implement its energy & carbon intensity goals (announced prior to Copenhagen, & incorporated into the 12th Five Year Plan), and I had a chance to meet up with UNDP’s environmental team in China about their on-going projects supporting this effort. UNDP arranged meetings with the Energy Research Institute, the Sinocarbon Innovation & Investment Co., Ltd., the World Bank, and others during my visit – and it was especially nice to meet up with Ms. Hou Xin’an once again. Xin’an and I had worked together in Ulan Bator in Mongolia in the late 1990s, and she has moved up the UNDP management ladder and is now heavily involved in governance issues within the country.

Singapore

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

I was very pleased to be invited by the Energy Studies Institute (ESI) of the National University of Singapore to make a presentation at a conference entitled ‘China Energy Issues in the 12th Five-Year Plan and Beyond,’ held in late February. ESI invited 16 speakers, assigning each of us a topic – and mine was “Carbon Pricing Strategies in China: Carbon Tax or Emissions Trading?” All of the presentations are now available on the ESI website, and it was really nice to be able to meet the other speakers, many of whom I knew solely by reputation or from reading their (often extensive!) publications. And a word of appreciation for our ESI hosts is certainly warranted – they did a really great job & put on a first-rate conference.

Old Ford Factory

While in the city, I took a guided walking tour around the old Chinatown section, and was surprised to find that a small hotel I had stayed at in a previous Singapore visit had a reputation because of its previous occupants – it had been a well-known brothel! (Wonder how I missed that one before!) The city was commemorating the 70th anniversary of its surrender to Japan during my visit, and I was able to reserve a place at one of the sessions held at the Old Ford Factory, the location of the British surrender. There is a fascinating museum there now, and the commemorative sessions had speakers and a graphic documentary film. You might recall my visit to the Changi museum on my last Singapore trip — & as before, I was struck by how much the city has changed, and how much for the better!

On this visit, I was reading William Gibson’s latest book, Distrust That Particular Flavor. I became a Gibson fan back in the mid-1980s, when I picked up a copy of Neuromancer, his first novel & my introduction to ‘cyberpunk’ fiction — & now I read his newly-published books as soon as they come out. This new one is a bit different, since it is his first non-fiction work, a collection of formerly published articles, speeches, book forwards, etc. Interestingly, one of the articles (from the early 1990s) was about Singapore. Given its title — “Disneyland with the Death Penalty” — you can probably guess that it was controversial (it even has its own Wikipedia page), & wasn’t particularly well received in the city. But what attracted my attention were his comments about information technology:

“They’re good at this stuff. Really good. But now they propose to become something else as well: a coherent city of information, its architecture planned from the ground up. And they expect that whole highways of data will flow into and through their city. Yet they also seem to expect that this won’t affect them. And that baffles us….”

My presentation at the ESI session discussed how emissions markets were increasingly moving towards what is often called “big data,” massive streams of ubiquitous energy and environmental data, flowing in real time – and how disruptive this will likely be for China’s environmental governance system (which still considers much of this information to be “state secrets”). But perhaps not surprisingly, I found that Gibson had already explored the topic – almost two decades ago!