As I relate in my Watson Returning Fellows’ Conference post, I visited Kumamoto, the epicenter of Japan’s huge earthquakes in mid-April, about three weeks into their rebuilding process. Rather than burying pictures at the bottom of that post, I wanted to dedicate a separate space to pictures from my meanderings around the city. First, an excerpt from the aforementioned post:
May 9, 2016, Yokohama, Japan
…[M]y visit to Kumamoto, the epicenter of Japan’s huge earthquakes three weeks ago in mid-April, was so powerful. It reflected the reality of a Japan where rebuilding is a common event, where resilient infrastructure has innumerable value. The earthquake had caused major power cuts, gas leaks, and water shortages in Kumamoto, and train and plane services to Kumamoto were stopped for a while. Since Kumamoto is on the Japanese island of Kyushu, it was then basically isolated form the mainland. The rebuilding was well underway by the time I visited – the utilities were back and train services had been restored a few days before my visit – but there was still a lot to do. As I walked around the city, I saw many modern buildings with visible cracks in their foundations, shattered windows, or red “unsafe” inspection signs. I saw older houses, small cottages with grass roofs, caved in like crushed cake frosting. I saw trash piled up three weeks deep, a mix of normal waste and cleanup debris that the city trash services simply couldn’t handle.
To me, though, what was more interesting than observing the infrastructure was observing the people. I saw community. I saw volunteers in the city center serving food. I saw trash trucks from other cities including Kyoto, sent by these other cities to help clean up. I saw temporary vendors in a main market, presumably set up there because their normal buildings were unfit for use. The result was a juxtaposition of permanent shops, closed-off buildings, and stalls with cardboard boxes piled behind them. In this market, I saw lots of people walking around, hanging out, shopping. They were smiling, socializing, and coming together as a community… I saw a city moving on and moving forward.
And now, some pictures:
Wow! I can’t believe I’m back in the US after a year of traveling. I landed in Boston on July 29, flying from Santiago de Chile with a layover in Atlanta. A lot of people have asked me what my first meal was after landing in the US, so to answer the question, it was a spinach, mushroom, and Swiss egg sandwich from Einstein Bros. Bagels. My first “real” meal was atukula, home-made by my loving mother.
Shortly after landing, on August 1, I headed to Bar Harbor for the Watson Fellowship conference. I had an amazing time. The conference involved a fancy welcome dinner and then two full days of breakout sessions, Fellow presentations, and deep conversations with other Fellows during breaks/late into the nights. I really appreciated the sense of community I found among the other Watson Fellows. Although our projects were all very different, we had many shared experiences, and it was great to discuss the ups and downs of my year with people who just “got it.”
During the conference, I gave a ten-minute presentation about my project. From the Watson Fellows’ Guide, “Obviously, one cannot convey the entirety of a whole year’s experience in such a short period of time. One can, however, share a meaningful piece of it… This is not a business powerpoint presentation, but an opportunity to share your experience with each other from your unique perspective.” In the spirit these guidelines, I decided to tell two stories that illustrated my experience. You’ve seen one of these before (in this post) and the other one is new. For those interested, the text of my presentation is below. Enjoy!
One interesting Smart Grid application is known as “energy breakdown,” or figuring out how much energy each appliance in your house uses. However, most energy breakdown methods depend on installing hardware in every house, which is hard to scale. This research video by my interviewee Nipun Batra (from IIIT Delhi) talks about how to scale energy breakdown using algorithmic methods. A short and interesting watch!
On September 2, I visited SmartExergy, a 4-year old startup that provides wireless monitoring solutions for Smart Grids, Smart Homes, and Smart Production. The company is co-located with a number of other startups, in a building adjacent to the University of Freiburg’s Faculty of Engineering. Omar Gorgies, Smart Exergy’s CTO and a Ph.D. student in safe systems at the University of Freiburg, showed me around.
On August 28, I headed to Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg to meet with Sabine Reinecke, then a Ph.D. candidate (and now a post-doc) in the Chair of Forest and Environmental Policy. Her work examines climate change and biodiversity governance, in particular the interactions between different governance settings. During our meeting, we talked about various strategies for understanding environmental governance interactions. For context, we drew upon two of her studies: (1) an analysis of the REDD+ Partnership, an independent transnational exchange platform beside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and (2) a case study analysis of climate science and policy in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK.
When I arrived in Chile in May 30, the last two months of my Watson stretched out before me. Now, my departure on July 28 — just two weeks away! — seems scarily close.
I’ve had an amazing time here in Chile. I took Spanish classes in Santiago for the first two weeks and have been blundering about in the language since then. After classes ended, I started conducting interviews (mostly in English) and have had fun gaining insight into the Chilean Smart Grid scene (more on that later). I’ve also traveled out of Santiago for some sightseeing. I especially enjoyed my trip to San Pedro de Atacama; I think the Atacama Desert region is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Below are pictures from two sunsets during my San Pedro de Atacama trip. I hope you enjoy them!
On September 4, I met with Professor Antonello Monti at RWTH Aachen University. Prof. Monti directs RWTH’s Institute for Automation of Complex Power Systems, working on topics such as monitoring and distributed intelligence for Smart Grids. He was also the technical manager for FINESCE, an EU-funded project running from 2013-15 that developed an open-IT infrastructure for Smart Grid-related applications. Prof. Monti and I sat down for an interview, and he also gave me a tour of his lab.
On September 10, I Skyped with a researcher at the Institute for Future Energy Consumer Needs and Behavior (FCN) at RWTH Aachen University. His work applies agent-based simulations, or models of interacting autonomous actors (“agents”) with encoded needs and/or preferences, to energy-related problems. He’s co-authored a number of papers in this area, including one on German biomass plant installation and one on the spread of solar PV systems in Italy. He is also working on projects involving techno-economic analyses of large energy systems and pricing/regulation in power markets. We talked primarily about the merits and limitations of agent-based modeling for Smart Grids and renewable energy.
On March 15, I Skyped with Dr. Klaus Kubeczko, a researcher at the Austrian Institute of Technology. As mentioned on his profile, Dr. Kubeczko studies research, technology, and innovation policy, with “a strong interest in socio-ecological-economic transitions and system innovations for sustainable development.” He is also the Operating Agent for the International Smart Grid Action Network (ISGAN)’s Smart Grid Transitions Annex, which is why we first met. Dr. Kubeczko told me about some of his projects and gave me his insights on European and global Smart Grids.
Note: I’m not in Venezuela; I’m in Japan. However, I found this news development particularly interesting.
Energy crises can have weird consequences. Recently, Venezuela’s government reduced its governmental work week to two days in order to save energy and avert energy shortages. The short Reuters article about it (linked here) is an interesting read.
It’s interesting to observe the (unconventional) energy-saving approaches the Venezuelan government has taken. Besides reducing the public sector work week, the government also did an impromptu “daylight savings,” shifting the clocks by half an hour so the sun shines a little later into the day (saving on energy for lighting). The government also ordered malls to have their own electricity generators (which isn’t as much about reducing energy usage as much as it’s about shifting strain away from the main electricity infrastructure). One can argue about the efficacy of these approaches, but I won’t get into that discussion here.
This crisis is also an important reminder of how inextricable energy and water issues are. Venezuela depends primarily on hydroelectric power from its main dam. However, drought has reduced water levels and thus the amount of electricity available in the country. Oops. Such interlinkages between energy, water, and other utilities/services provide a huge challenge (“In a crisis affecting some service, how do we keep interlinked services running?”) but also a huge opportunity (“How can we use one type of utility infrastructure to solve problems with another?”).