8 October 2017

It's time to get back to classes

During the MEDEAS workshop at Summer Academy of the Club Of Rome, held in Florence last September, I met several amazing students.  I looked at them with a bit of envy: I really feel like a student, even today I'm 45 yo. I'm only more aware I have less time to chase the countless things I have left to know.

Anyway, while I was speaking with them, some looked very conscious about what they wanted from the Summer School experience and they told me about their nice projects for the future. So glad to feel such an enthusiasm! 
Others, instead, looked more wondering about the role of the School in their life and in their futures, they looked to have more questions than answers, they were looking for something and one said to have the sensation of wasting time. These words invite me to tell a short personal story...

In the far 1994, I was already attending the University classes in Chemistry but the study went slowly, several thoughts crowded my mind: what did I really want my future is? Did I do the right choice with that chemical stuff? 
Therefore, I decided to take a look at the labour market and, at that moment, a competition notice as an engine driver was published. The access requirement was to hold a technical high school degree that precisely I have. I won 'the job' and in October 1995 I was employed with a training contract in the Italian Railways company,  Ferrovie dello Stato SpA.

The experience showed up incredible, at least for me:  in 2 years of a full-time salaried training and provided that I passed 3 enabling exams (theoretical and practical), I would have been a licensed engine driver, gaining also a permanent contract. 
I met very nice colleagues, we had classes with instructors(see pictures 2 and 3, not very esthetic, but with privacy) alternate to practical training, driving a real train with real people on board, under the supervision of more expert colleagues. And the job was also well paid, let's say, fortunately, because it is really a challenging job... and so exciting! 

My preferred engine was the Caimano, so versatile and powerful, you can see a picture of me (figure 1) in driving it on the railway between Florence and Rome.
Figure 1. Here is me, driving a Caimano on the railway between Florence and Rome.
Figure 2. Engine driver mates and instructors during a lunch break at Chiusi railway station.
Figure 3. Engine driver mates and instructors during a lunch break at Vernio railway station.
I felt relieved, I achieved also a good economic independence, a milestone of my life.
But after the first year, I realised I didn't want to do this job for the life. Hufs! Crisis again....but it has been not so bad as the first one because I realised I really wanted to go back to study Chemistry, I realised how that world, the world of Science and Research, was and still is really fascinating for me.
But...Could I leave that job to renounce at my economic independence? I couldn't...so that I went on with both, working and studying chemistry.

Today I'm no more an engine driver, the things changed further short after my contract became permanent at the end of 1997. I found another full-time job to sustain myself and to pay my fees and in 2001 I obtained my  Master's Degree in Chemistry...but this is another story. 

Today I earn quite less than an engine driver but, fortunately, the opportunity to manage scientific stuff, in particular, 'to Research' is still in my life. I have never given up and I would like to thank all the people that trusted me and encouraged me in to do it: now I'm enjoying all this as never before and I will do it while it lasts.

Thus...Students, of any kind and age, make up your mind to follow your instinct and passions, even they look confused. Any road you decide to walk, leading far from what you planned or closer to it, will clarify what really you are and you want, and this will be never a waste of time!







11 August 2017

MEDEAS workshop - World Reources Forum 2017-Geneve

Workshop Chair: Dr Jordi Solé Ollé (MEDEAS Project Coordinator, Department of Physical and Technological Oceanography – DOFT, ICM–CSIC)
Date and time: Tuesday 24, 16h30 – 18h30
Room: 7 & 8
Description
This workshop will report the current results of the ongoing EU project MEDEAS. The project aims at modeling the global and European economy as a function of the availability of natural resources, climate change and the policy choices that have been made and will be made in the future. It is focalized in particular on the effort needed to keep Europe on track of the decarbonization process necessary to attain the objectives of the Paris agreement. The project makes use of advanced modeling techniques, mainly based on system dynamics and it aims at producing a flexible tool designed to help policymakers taking appropriate decisions. The project is ongoing, but the available results already indicate that for the European economy, remaining within the boundaries agreed in Paris, a major effort will be required in terms of improved efficiency, growth of renewable energy and emission abatement.
Speakers
Jordi Solé Ollé is a senior scientist at ICM-CSIC. Having a PhD in applied Physics, his research career is focused on modeling physical/biological oceanography, climatology and environment and lately on energy resources. At present he is the Principal Investigator of MEDEAS and coordinator of the ICM-CSIC team on energy modeling.



Ugo Bardi is a faculty member of the University of Florence, Italy. He is the author of the book “Extracted” (Chelsea Green, 2014) dealing with the world’s mineral resources. In MEDEAS, Ugo Bardi is engaged with the INSTM team that carries out simulations and scenario building in the area that has to do with the physics of the energy transition. Ugo Bardi’s web site is at www.cassandralegacy.blogspot.com.



Ilaria Perissi is a Senior Researcher at INSTM dealing mainly with the development of Green Chemistry manufacturing for Industry and Power Sector. More recently she focused her interests on System Dynamic applied to the study of resource exploitation. Her contribution in MEDEAS relies on the development of the Scenarios that aim at both describing the ‘big picture’ of the transition as well as becoming a reference for MEDEAS modellers.



Luis Javier Miguel González is a faculty member of the University of Valladolid (UVa), Spain, where he teaches Systems Dynamics and Control Engineering. He is the coordinator of the Research Group on Energy, Economy and System Dynamics of the UVa. His main role in MEDEAS is the coordination of the design and development of the models of the world, Europe and country-level in Vensim

6 June 2017

On 22nd May 2017, Ilaria Perissi from INSTM, partner of MEDEAS Project, was invited to give a talk during the "Energia 5 stelle: dal fossile a efficienza e rinnovabile. Quale via?" Conference (eng: "Energy 5 stars: from fossil fuel toward efficiency and renewables. Which way?"organized by the political movement "Movimento 5 stelle" ("5 stars movement"). 


Ilaria Perissi presented MEDEAS project and emphasized on the fact that it has exactly the aim to help policymakers in finding the way to move from fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency. 

Ilaria Perissi INSTM, partner MEDEAS Project, 'Energia 5 stelle: dal fossile a efficienza e rinnovabile. Quale via?'

14 April 2017

Climate: limits and opportunities for the new economies

In the previous post Information, Energy and Human development, I conclude saying that we dont know what will happen to our society if the planet will be overheated. I dont have the answer, and maybe I will never have it, but sure I gained a new question about which has been the influence of the climate on the history of civilisation, and which could be its role, if there is any, into imagining a future more equitable and a sustainable society.

I start exactly from this last point: how we are now imagining a future civilisation? 

Stating that we need a new source of energy that should be renewable (in the way we do not risk total depletion of it, at least till the sun will shine), also thinking about a new economy, that is not based on an intensive exploitation of fossil fuels,  would represent a powerful leverage to make a step toward a better future.

Recently, interesting currents are emerging in the economic scenario, promoting alternatives to phase out the present ‘polluting’ Growth Economies, that already in the 70ies, thanks to the study of ‘Limits to Growth’[1], showed the own limits in lasting this vision on a planet with a finite carrying capacity.

One of these currents is the Circular Economy’ (CE) that aims to reduce waste and to avoid pollution within the productive cycles, including the use of renewable energies and promoting the role of diversity as a characteristic of resilient and productive systems; so that it represents an interesting  way out from the limits of the present Linear Economy.

Another one is the Degrowth Economy (DE) that not only is based on the previous pillars of the CE, but it is also a new philosophy of lifestyle. The DE affirms that the prosperity can be of better quality and more equitable for all the humankind, even with much fewer materials things and harmonising the economy production according to the natural cycles (and I completely agree). 
We can grasp, from the previous description, why this current is called 'Degrowth': it simply pushes in the opposite direction of the nowaday 'Growth' economy, whose prosperity is based on the increasing demand of always new goods and services. 
Anyway, to be more precise, 'Degrowth' refers to the lowering of the indicator called Gross Domestic Product (or GDP), that measures the economic performance of a system according to, in simplified terms, the number of goods and services it can provide. Therefore, the DE assesses that more valuable prosperity is possible if we consistently lower the value of this indicator,  in particular in that countries we call Developed Countries, that stand out for their very high level of GDP in comparison to the world average. As a matter of fact, DE underlines also that this difference in GDP exists because there is a huge gap, both in economic and development terms, between the North and the South of the planet. The predominance of the North holds hostage the Southern socio-economic system, slowing down also its potential alternative trajectories toward a better life. 
Look at this paragraph, extracted from the very interesting book  'Degrowth: Vocabulary for a new era':


The message is clear and the reality too: the condition of the South of the Planet is very different from the North of the Planet. The DE aims to re-equilibrated this difference, conquering a new welfare for all the humans, based on more equity and environmental justice. Mumble ..how to do it? 

Usually, when we want to change something in any present situation, it is a good idea to check some facts in the past, probably the reasons of the existence of certain things in the present have their roots in the history.

Thus, when, in the past, this predominance of the Northern economy started and, is this just due to a randomness,  or are there any fact/evidence, in the history of civilisation, that advantaged the North in comparison to the South?

Take a look at the following picture:



Figure 1. Chronology of the most important ancient civilisations.


All the most ancient cultures were born in the Northern hemisphere.

I started to think this fact can not be only a coincidence. Why the civilisation and the economy historically have progressed more in the North than in the South? Could this mainly due to a physically different space instead of a conceptual different space'?

I think soThe economy is made by humans exchanges, interactions, cooperations: all these conditions, in which humans live and lived in the past, determine the economy and the civilisation (Here, I refer to  'civilisation' as the attitude of humankind to dominates the environment according to the fundamentals of rationalism). In particular, the capacity to produce (manufacturing) and the capacity to distribute (transport) are the foundations of any world economic system.  

Lets start to examine which could be the macroscopic differences, in terms of the capacity of transportation and productivity, between North and South of the Earth.

First, we are terrestrial creatures, we move easier by land than by seas, also many animals that have been and are crucial for transportation, hunting, agriculture and so on, are terrestrials too. Take a look at the following picture:



Figure 2.  The surface extension of emerged lands. 


As we can see in figure 2, between the parallels - 60°S and + 60° N, i.e. in a climate that is not polar, the available land is much higher in the North than in the South. 
Thus, an important macroscopic physical difference between North and South of the planet is the extension of emerged lands in not polar zones. 
Moreover, the Southern portion of emerged lands is fragmented in 3 continents: South America, Africa and Oceania: if we move in the direction West- East (W-E, or vice-versa) we note that these three portions of land are far severals hundred of kilometres of water.  Thus, any civilisation was born in the South, (before the transportation didnt reach an adequate technological level)  should expand preferred along the direction the N-S , while the path W-E  was more difficult to travel due to the presence of the water.
Quite different is the availability of movement W-E in the Northern hemisphere. Here, Asia and Europe cover the larger portion of Northern emerged land; moreover in those two continents, were born the most ancient civilisations in the history of humankind (China, Egypt, Greek, Romans and so on, as already shown in figure 1). Probably, the presence of the Mediterranean sea, that is an almost close sea in a temperate zone, permitted the development of navigation techniques and the development of commercial trade routes in more safe and protected areas.

We can summarise saying that: More are the emerged lands, more are the possibilities of creating a network of connections and more are the possibilities to have suitable places where things could be manufactured.


Ok, you will say that today the problem of the trade connections have been overcome by technologies, so lets say that the oceans or the extension of emerged lands don't represent any more serious obstacles in exchanging goods or information also in the Southern hemisphere.
But there is another problem, if you note, that still remains:  along the N-S pathways (meridians), in any point of the globe, we had/have to face with a change in the climate conditions (figure 3). 




Figure 3.  The figure shows a rough, meaningful split, of the three climate zones of the planet: polar, temperate and tropical zones.


Thus, I go back to the opening question of the post: has, (and had in the past) climate any impact on civilisation? And could it be related to the productivity of the human beings?

There is an interesting book, Civilisation and Climate by E. Huntington, that for the first time faced this issue at the beginning of 1900. 
Huntington, as himself reports, had the mission to investigate: “step by step,  the process by which geologic structure, topographic form, and the present and past nature of the climate have shaped man's progress, moulded his history; and thus played an incalculable part in the development of a system of thought which could scarcely have arisen under any other physical circumstances."

I admit I haven’t yet read the entire book, but if you search accurately in this treatise, you can find the author clearly reports that the temperate climate is the best environment for the development of civilisation, under several points of view. And figure 3 shows that the portion of temperate climate zone in the North of the globe is decisively larger than in the Southern one.

Here, as one of the example that reinforce the thesis of the author, I just report the following graphs, from his book:



This figure reports the main temperature in which a man, employed in a factory job, is able to reach his best performance in terms of productivity, intended as the best combination of mental and body energies. This temperature it is around 50 °F or 10 °C.
More recent studies[2]assess that in an office, the ideal temperature for mental activities is around 20-22 °C, and it makes sense:  we probably need a warmer environment to reach the optimal mental-body energy combination to work in an office in which we stay sitting almost all the time. And we are sure enough that these average values of temperature are typical of the temperate climate zones.
The book from Huntington offers several others interesting examples to thinking on, it simply reveals that the human activities, and even the moral issues, still depend upon Nature. And this is a positive aspect- the author says- because it gives us the opportunity to correct our behaviour, knowing that there are climate physical conditions to take into account, even in planning a new economy.

And, especially in a Degrowth Economy, the relationship between our body energy and the climate is, probably, the most important to keep in mind if we want to achieve more equity in the opportunity of future sustainable development, for all the cultures independently of the latitudes they are.

What I would like to point out with these ideas, is that the productivity of humans, on which civilisation and economy both rely, have been and still remains highly conditioned by climate. 
The North and the South of the planet are different environments, different availability of space and climate, i.e. a mainly physical differences, that, reasonably, have affected the history of the world economies, with an active role in originating the inequalities we are observing now.
Changing our economy implies to face these climate diversities, maybe now more than in the past,  to image a future more equitable civilisation as it is described in the vision of a Degrowth Economy, or another new desirable more equitable Economy, that I think, we need so much precisely ‘now’.

The message of Huntington is full of hope, he concludes his treaty saying: ‘If we are able to conquer the climate, the whole world will become stronger and nobler”.

The previous analysis aims to recall that physical differences still exist between the two hemispheres, even they appear faded by the idea of globalization. Decarbonize the present economy is absolutely urgent to avoid global warming but it will not remove the preexisting physical barriers that originated economic inequalities even before the industrial era. And any new policy that promotes a more sustainable and equitable society must account for this physical diversity, to avoid its virtuous proposal failing.




[1] Meadows, D. H., Meadows, D. L., Randers, J., Behrens, W.W.(1972). The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books.
[2]Mofidi, F., Akbari, H. (2017), Personalised energy costs and productivity optimization in offices,  Energy Build143:5, doi: 10.1016/j.enbuild.2017.03.018

27 February 2017

Information, Energy and Human development

In the MEDEAS project ( the acronym states for Modelling Energy system Development under Environmental And Socioeconomic constraints) more than 10 partners from UE countries, work on how to shift the energy provisioning necessary to drive all the activities of the modern society from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The reason for the existence of such project states mainly in 2 points:

1.      The first is the concept that fossil fuels are treasure buried under the surface of finite dimension planet, and this is why sooner or later they are going to finish, independently from the effort we put in discover them.

This is what we call ‘a physical limit’: this kind of reservoirs can not be infinite because the planet is finite. Moreover, the fossil fuel resources are not renewable, because oils and gas are the products of complex and long time-taking geological transformation happen under the crust, in extreme environmental condition of pressure and under several biological material degradation processes. Those conditions are not easy to reproduce even in a lab. Thus, this point fixes that we should image a future society based not on this kind of resources.

2.      The second, and maybe the most urgent to deal with, is that the use of fossil fuel is 'one' of the main responsible of the GHG emissions: several studies assess if the GHG concentration would rise to 25% of the present concentration, an irreversible over-heating of the planet occurs.

The GHG emissions are not only from fossil fuel combustion, this is why the argument is very debated, but it is undoubtedly true the largest contribution comes from the activities of the post-industrial era.
Image a new society based on RE, or rather, trying to make the transition toward a cleaner and renewable energy sources looks like the right solution for both the problems reported at point 1 and point 2.
How to get there? How can we move toward the transition?

According to the preliminary results obtained in the MEDEAS project, performing simulations with models and analysing several historical data, the transition will be possible and sustainable, only if we put our effort on building RE energy infrastructures, lets’ say... urgently!

Why is this so important for our future?

History teaches us that the development, the economy and the human well-being rely mainly on 2 pillars: energy provisioning and circulation of information (both immaterial, named knowledge, and material, named goods).

Look at the following interesting picture from the book ‘The condition of Postmodernity’ (David Harvey,1989). It's not very recent but, nevertheless, currently valid.


Energy moves information. The picture (‘The condition of Postmodernity’ David Harvey, 1989) tracks an evolution path of the information propagation during the past years, it compares the speed necessary to an information to carry out a complete trip around the world.

The picture tracks an evolution path of the information propagation during the past years, it compares the speed necessary to an information to carry out a complete trip around the world. Reversely it also shows the physic distance is virtually shortened as consequence to the increased information (that nowadays is become the informatization) capacity. In another word, Harvey announced the dawn of globalisation.
That the capacity to diffuse information depends on the available 'energy', it's not explicitly reported in this picture, but we can sure to prove it simply doing a short research on the kind of energy resources that, in each period, drove the society.

Years 1500-1840.
In this period, a mixture of energy resources is available for the society. The main energy provisioning is in charge to the animals, both for transportation and agriculture, but also renewable energies, as the wind and the water flows were already exploited in manufacturing, in food production and in driving several other human activities.
Coal has been already discovered and used, but the massive implementation for heating and metals’ manufacturing starting around the year 1600. It became the main energy resource to prepare the ground for the Industrial Revolution.
Anyway, the potential of information spreading is weak in this period, in the order of several months.

Years 1850-1930
Around 1850, the Industrial Revolution culminated. We have the first evidence of the maturity of the steam motors, able to push both the terrestrial transport by railways and the maritime transportation by transoceanic vessels. 
In 1856, oil was discovered in the USA and a new era began toward the present civilisation. The first power plant in 1882 (USA) and the first industrial implementation of Radio Transmission are in 1897. Moreover, with oil, a so light and energy dense resource, the aviation is quickly developed a few years later, pushed by the incoming First world war 'necessities' to fly.
In the average, information spreads around the World in few weeks.

Years 1930-1950. Refineries became more sophisticated producing new powerful fuels, but the more important new entry is the uranium, now used to produce electric energy and heat in nuclear plants. In 1942 we have the first controlled nuclear reaction (Fission) and in 1954 ex-URSS built the first reactor for civil use. Uranium became a new non renewable fuel resource.

Years 1960 up to now. 
After the Second World War, the oil boosted the Boom Economy. Aerospace development, electrification, informatization, fertilisers and medicines extend the expectancy of life. And more recent, oil also has been and it is still used to provide the technologies for renewable energy plants (PV, wind, geothermal).


Thus, it should be quite clear that the future of humans depends on the availability of the energy resources, and find a better way to produce energy appears unavoidable to escape the modern society collapse.
Moreover, the use of a ‘clean energy ‘is decisive to mitigate the global climate changes. 
This is the real priority, because we could still image to go back to a society without fossil fuel, a pre-carbon period similar to the one described by Harvey, but we cannot exactly quantify what happens to the Earth’s life if the planet will be irreversibly overheated prior the occurrence of the unavoidable  ‘energy transition’, both that is sustainable or not.  

14 February 2017

MEDEAS Newsletter

http://medeas.eu/newsletters/MEDEASNewsletter.pdf#page=1

MEDEAS NEWSLETTER 01

MEDEAS aims at developing a leading-edge policy-modelling tool to support the planning of policies that would favour the transition of the European Energy system toward a new system, based on renewable energy. 

It's time to get back to classes

During the  MEDEAS workshop at Summer Academy of the Club Of Rome , held in Florence last September, I met several amazing students.  I loo...