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:

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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!

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Hello from Chile!

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!

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Some Background on Japan

Hello friends, and greetings from Yokohama! I’ve been in Japan for a little over three weeks now, but in many ways it still feels like I’m barely getting started. I just got my Japan Rail Pass (which gives me unlimited travel on Japan’s major railway network), so I’m excited to travel around the country and generally “embark” on this chapter of my Watson journey.

In addition to doing some sightseeing, I’ve done some reading and conducted a few interviews during the last few weeks. I’ll start publishing some interview writeups shortly, but first, here’s some relevant background about Japan’s Smart Grids and power sector.

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A Stopover in Aachen

On my way from Freiburg to Berlin, I took a one-day detour to the city of Aachen. Aachen is located at the Dreiländereck (“tripoint”) between Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It’s also home to the E.ON Energy Research Center, a public-private partnership between RWTH Aachen and one of Europe’s biggest energy companies. I went to conduct some interviews at the research center and did some tourism in the process.

It took about nine hours to get from Freiburg to Aachen by bus. Luckily, I made a friend who kept me company during the journey. Continue reading

A Belated Goodbye to Freiburg!

[An installment of the new series: Priya catches up on blogging!]

“Time goes by fast!” The thought passed through my head repeatedly as my bus pulled out of Freiburg’s central station, and I looked out the window at the familiar sights rolling by for the last time. It was September 3, the end of my six weeks in Freiburg. You’d think six weeks is too short a time to get attached to a place, but let me tell you — it’s definitely not. I fell in love with the cozy city, surrounded by the beautiful Black Forest and full of wonderful people such as Sebastian, Theresa, Timo, Kadda, and (remotely) my sublessor Kathrin, who all made me feel welcome and at home.

So what exactly did I do in Freiburg between my last “life update” and the end of my time there? First of all, I met with a number of people working in the Smart Grid or renewable energy realms: technical researchers, social scientists, representatives from energy utilities, consultants, representatives from Smart Grid technology companies, and people who fit more than one of these categories. (Some of the resultant interview writeups are posted, and some are forthcoming.) As part of this process, I spent time reading papers and articles online to learn more about my interviewees’ work and Smart Grids/renewable energy in Germany.

Of course, I also made plenty of time to have fun! I toured the surrounding area, had some visitors, and admittedly watched a little too much Netflix (I’m working on it). There were moments big and small of many varieties — funny, lonely, happy, and sad —  and I’ll (hopefully) get better at sharing more of these moments as I start to blog more consistently during the rest of my Watson year. For the end of my time in Freiburg, though, I’ll simply share some highlights.

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Grid Flexibility and Cooperation: A Meeting with Christoph Heinemann at the Öko Institut

On August 11, I met with Christoph Heinemann at the Öko Institut. The Öko Institut is a non-profit association that conducts research and consultancy in the area of sustainability. Its Freiburg office sits in a zero-energy building in Vauban, next to some other Green City tourist attractions. (See the bottom of this post for pictures.) Mr. Heinemann is a Senior Researcher in the Öko Institut’s Energy & Climate Division, and has worked on a number of Smart Grid projects. More specifically, his work has centered around flexibility, the ability for the Smart Grid to balance energy demand with the intermittent supply from renewable energy sources.

Mr. Heinemann started by giving me background about the status of Smart Grids in Germany. There are many government-funded projects researching Smart Grids, but grid companies have not yet needed to change their approach. This is because Germany’s grid is mostly strong enough to support the current share of 20-25% renewable energy, and there are still many conventional power plants to provide flexibility. Therefore, companies don’t yet make money with demand-side management. Mr. Heinemann also told me that the German energy trading market actually comprises two markets: a balancing energy market where energy is offered for short term balancing, and a spot market where energy is bought and sold in the longer term. A company’s flexibility options lie in the balancing energy market. After Mr. Heinemann’s introduction, we began the Q&A.

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A Visit with EWS Schönau, Germany’s “Electricity Rebels”

On Wednesday (August 5), Sebastian and I went to visit EWS Schönau, an extremely successful German energy cooperative. EWS was founded after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, when the town of Schönau’s provider KWR refused to phase out nuclear or move towards environmentally friendly energy. Schönau’s citizens realized the only way to change the status quo was to own the grid themselves, and after many negotiations, multiple citizens’ referenda, and a large fundraising effort, EWS was finally established (1994), allowed to operate Schönau’s electricity grid (1996), and allowed to buy and own this electricity grid (1997).

We were greeted at EWS by Tanja Gaudian. EWS currently sits in its own office building, with additional buildings for a workshop and a small entertainment center. The EWS office also has a co-generation plant, a fuel cell, and rooftop solar. With 100 employees, it’s the biggest company in Schönau (and incidentally, Schönau’s biggest taxpayer). Continue reading

Viel Tourismus

This weekend, I was a tourist! I spent Saturday (August 1) wandering around Freiburg’s city center and Sunday (August 2) at Lake Titisee in the Black Forest.

Freiburg’s city center on a sunny Saturday is magical. Street performers play and the farmers’ market bustles with tourists. I spotted an English-speaking tour group and tried to linger behind them for a free tour of Freiburg Münster, but I wasn’t quite stealthy enough. It was okay, though; I made up the time I would have spent learning historical facts instead being awed by the Cathedral’s beauty.

IMG_20150801_125524124      IMG_20150801_125956475      IMG_20150801_130029174

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