Kumamoto Earthquake Aftermath Photos (a.k.a. the Case for Resilience)

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, 2016Yokohama, 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:

Continue reading

Watson Fellowship Conference

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!

Continue reading

Scaling Energy Breakdown Methods

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!

User Engagement and Social Norms: An Interview with Kristin Goldbach

On August 13, I headed back to Fraunhofer ISE to meet with Kristin Goldbach. Ms. Goldbach’s background is in environmental science and sustainable urban development, with a focus on participatory approaches. Her research examines user behavior pertaining to renewable energy and Smart Cities in different European settings; Ms. Goldbach’s master’s dissertation was about her work on the EU’s ORIGIN project, and she’s currently working on the EU’s iUrban project.

Continue reading

Cities, Grids, and RE: A Meeting with Gerhard Stryi-Hipp

My final meeting at Fraunhofer ISE on August 12 was with Gerhard Stryi-Hipp. Mr. Stryi-Hipp is Fraunhofer ISE’s Coordinator for “Smart Energy Cities,” Fraunhofer ISE’s Head of Energy Policy, and President of the European Technology Platform on Renewable Heating and Cooling. He has worked on renewable energy and Smart City projects both domestically and internationally.

Continue reading

Exploring Environmental Governance: A Meeting with Prof. Michael Pregernig

On August 6, I met with Prof. Michael Pregernig, Professor of Environmental Governance at Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg. As stated on his page, one of his research interests is “the role of science and expertise in environmental- and resource policy, with a focus on effective policy advice (evidence based policy making) and democratic inclusiveness.” He has conducted numerous policy studies in Europe and the US, among other locations. Given these interests, I walked into his office with two big questions to tackle:

  • Can science/policy interaction explain why Germany and the EU have been so much more progressive than the US in terms of climate change legislation?
  • How can local governments successfully incorporate citizen participation in realizing long-term social/ecological/economic goals?

Continue reading

Local Energy Transition: A Meeting with Simon Funcke

On Tuesday (August 4), I met with Simon Funcke, a Ph.D. student at Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg who studies the local effects of energy transition. Mr. Funcke co-published a guide for municipalities or small regions looking to start local energy cooperatives; has participated in multiple “added value” studies for renewable energies (such as this assessment for PV in Freiburg); and has recently been studying the actors and political discourses associated with renewable energy deployment. During our conversation, I learned quite a bit about the interaction between Germany’s national and local renewable energy movements. Continue reading

Some Things I Read (July 29-30)

The problem with keeping a travel-cum-research blog is that it’s sometimes hard to integrate research material into my travel posts. So I may start separating out my “travel” and “research” posts from time to time… like right now.

Interesting Reading 1: Freiburg’s Smart Green Tower Project
This project is a planned residential/commercial building in Freiburg outfitted with solar PV panels for energy production and lithium-ion batteries for energy storage. Even cooler, though, is that the building’s energy management systems will optimize power flows and renewable energy usage on the local and municipal grid. I have SO MANY questions about the project — about the privacy and security implications of exchanging the information necessary for “smart” optimization, about whether any of the tower’s apartments will be (or could be) affordable housing, about how generalizable the building’s design and technologies are to other parts of the world.
Unfortunately, the architects in charge of the project don’t have time to talk to me, but their secretary made me aware of a conference in London in mid-September (theme: “How Digitalization Impacts Cities”) at which they’ll speak about this project. There’s no conference website (I have the program from the secretary, but that’s it), so I don’t know whether or not the conference is public. I’m dying to find out.
Continue reading