News Article | April 25, 2016
Non-traditional buyers have become a large new source of renewable energy customers. Five key considerations when working with non-traditional energy buyers John Powers leads the Strategic Renewables Division at Renewable Choice Energy and has helped corporate, industrial, and institutional (C&I) clients achieve their renewable energy goals for over 12 years. This is the second in a 4-part series of blogs on the explosive renewable growth currently underway in the commercial & industrial market sector. Everyone can agree that 2015 was a historic year for the renewable energy industry. From the outcomes of the COP21 negotiations in Paris to record-breaking wind installations, we watched the market take crucial steps toward ever greater accessibility and adoption of renewables. The pinnacle of an amazing year was the long-term renewal of the Production Tax Credit, which will bolster the momentum of the wind industry and keep growth accelerating through the next five years and beyond. However, 2015 was notable for another critical reason: buyers in the C&I sector participated in the renewable market like never before. These companies executed Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) in excess of 3,400 megawatts of new wind and solar. Three months into 2016, the market shows no sign of slowing down. C&I buyers are driven to enter long-term contracts for a variety of reasons. They are a unique group, comprised primarily—but not exclusively–of buyers in the Information & Communications Technology (ICT) and manufacturing sectors. In many cases, they are opting for virtual PPA structures that allow them to bypass utility-provided green power, while others, like Google and Apple, are working with utilities to develop distinctive tariff programs. While some buyers prefer to quietly announce their deals, others are taking a pronounced role in helping to develop policy recommendations. They all like saving money, and they’ve all either made public commitments to reduce their carbon footprints, or have come under pressure from NGOs to do so. The unique nuances of the C&I buyer present a new challenge for the developer and financial services communities. Whereas PPAs have been a contracting mechanism in use by utilities for over a decade, C&I buyers have only come to the fore in the past couple of years. These buyers are hungry for solutions, but may be nascent in their understanding of the process. Here are five key considerations to keep in mind when working with this emerging customer class: Unlike utility buyers, energy brokers and financiers, most C&I buyers come to the table with minimal direct experience with the energy market, renewable technologies and contracting structures. While deals might have a strong internal champion familiar with PPAs, to execute a deal, engagement across the organization is mandatory. Expect representation on project teams from accounting, finance, treasury, and legal along with, in some cases, marketing/public relations and the executive suite. By working to educate and involve this group, deals have a much higher likelihood of getting done. Given the pace of change for most businesses, it is rare for a C&I buyer to enter into a supply contract for 12 to 20 years for anything. It’s therefore imperative for developers and advisors to successfully address project execution and operational risks on any C&I PPA deal. C&I buyers will look for specific deal terms when finalizing PPAs. Developers can expect that C&I buyers will prefer contract settlement to occur at the hub, as they are less equipped to take on basis and congestion risk than a utility buyer. C&I buyers will also prefer the shortest possible contract term. Finally, while C&I buyers will accept power “as generated,” most will prefer a contract for a fixed volume to avoid the risks inherent in a low offtake price, particularly for projects located in ERCOT or PJM. 3. Deals will take time and require flexibility No long-term renewable deal happens overnight, but expect C&I buyers to work particularly methodically and to look for credit flexibility. With the need to engage multiple stakeholders and conduct considerable financial analysis of the contract and credit terms, while also managing internal expectations, relationships with advisors like Renewable Choice or NGOs, and potentially press, a C&I PPA must have meticulous execution. Assume the process will take anywhere from six to 18 months from start to finish. While most C&I buyers are motivated by the potential financial savings inherent in a long-term PPA, their other reasons for doing a deal can vary widely. Many have made public commitments to carbon neutral operations and are looking for the environmental benefits that come from the renewable energy credits associated with their deal. Others may care deeply about the communities in which they operate and are motivated by improving the air quality in those areas. Still others may be looking for the novelty of their financial support leading to the development of a new project—and the positive press associated with that additionality. Understanding the value drivers behind each C&I purchase can smooth the way for developers to get deals done. No deal is done until the ink is dry—and sometimes not even then—but there are many variables that can lead a C&I deal to go sideways. Powerful stakeholders with the ability to slow progress on a deal may stall the process or even terminate it altogether if their fears aren’t adequately addressed or if market factors change. It’s important for developers to stay the course when working with C&I buyers, understanding that time and attention will help shepherd a deal over the finish line. Without a doubt, C&I buyers will remain a powerful force in new wind development—if anything, we’ve only seen the beginning of this trend. Particularly as market demand for energy continues to rise, C&I buyers will have increasing appetites for reliable, affordable electricity. With a nuanced understanding of the unique needs of C&I buyers, developers stand to profit alongside these powerful off-takers.
The Human Brain Project (HBP) is pleased to announce the release of initial versions of its six Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Platforms to users outside the Project. These Platforms are designed to help the scientific community to accelerate progress in neuroscience, medicine, and computing. The Platforms released today consist of prototype hardware, software tools, databases and programming interfaces, which will be refined and expanded in a collaborative approach with users, and integrated within the framework of a European Research Infrastructure. The public release of the Platforms represents the end of the Ramp-Up Phase of the HBP and the beginning of the Operational Phase. Karlheinz Meier, Co-leader of the Neuromorphic Platform, said, “The HBP invites scientists everywhere to work with our prototype Platforms and give us their feedback. This will help us improve their functionality and ease of use, and hence their value to society”. The HBP Platforms are designed to help researchers to advance faster and more efficiently, by sharing data and results, and exploiting advanced ICT capabilities. The Platforms should, for example, enable closer collaboration between scientists to create more detailed models and simulations of the brain. A first step in opening up the Platforms to the wider scientific community has already been taken, through the funding of the first HBP Partnering Projects via the EU’s FLAG-ERA 2015 Joint Transnational Call. The six HBP Platforms are: • The Neuroinformatics Platform: registration, search, analysis of neuroscience data. • The Brain Simulation Platform: reconstruction and simulation of the brain. • The High Performance Computing Platform: computing and storage facilities to run complex simulations and analyse large data sets. • The Medical Informatics Platform: searching of real patient data to understand similarities and differences among brain diseases. • The Neuromorphic Computing Platform: access to computer systems that emulate brain microcircuits and apply principles similar to the way the brain learns. • The Neurorobotics Platform: testing of virtual models of the brain by connecting them to simulated robot bodies and environments. All the Platforms can be accessed via the HBP Collaboratory, a web portal where users can also find guidelines, tutorials and information on training seminars. Please note that users will need to register to access the Platforms and that some of the Platform resources have capacity limits.
Traditional photography classes highlight lessons about lighting and framing a photo, but instead of learning these techniques, 40 high school girls learned how to build a camera and how to write code for Instagram-like filters in a recent workshop. On Saturday, June 4, these girls participated in the Girls Who Build Cameras workshop organized by MIT Lincoln Laboratory researchers at Beaver Works, just off MIT's main campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This one-day workshop taught girls how to build a Raspberry Pi camera and how to program image filters. Kristen Railey '13, a member of the technical staff in the Advanced Undersea Systems and Technology Group at the laboratory and the founder of a series of workshops called Girls Who Build, organized the event, which gathered more than 40 volunteers from Lincoln Laboratory, MIT, and various companies around Massachusetts to teach the students. "Teaching girls engineering is an investment in our future workforce," Railey says. "Women are an untapped resource in the growing field of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math]. The most effective way to spark a girl's interest in engineering is showing her how it is applied to her passion — whether it is fashion, health care, energy, or education." Railey's idea to host a hands-on workshop based on cameras and programming filters came about because of the abundance of image-based social media apps such as Instagram and Snapchat that use filters to alter photos taken with smartphones. Cameras, Railey said, also require versatile engineering including optics, computer science, and mechanics, so the students could learn which field of engineering they may be most interested in pursuing. In building the Raspberry Pi camera, the students were required to work in teams of four, and each team had a volunteer to guide them. Raspberry Pi is a series of credit card-sized single-board computers specifically designed for computer science education. Raspberry Pi, Inc. is a charity in the United Kingdom founded in 2009 to promote computer science education. The girls at the workshop used these single-board computers to build cameras of their own — only one girl had previously worked with Raspberry Pi. The students then programmed their cameras to produce several different image effects including flipping an image and using time lapse. In the afternoon, the students were taught to use the programming language Processing to write code for image effects. As an introduction to the activity, a programmer who is from the data visualization company Fathom and who uses Processing spoke to the girls. During this coding process, the girls learned to program an Instagram-type filter to flip the image, create a vignette, tint the photo, or single out one color from the image. While learning how to code for these filters, the students learned programming concepts like loops (continually repeating sequence of instructions) and logic (learning to think like a computer by breaking down tasks into specific instructions) to help them write the code. Volunteers from Lincoln Laboratory and other companies also spoke to the girls about their research involving cameras and image processing. Kristin Clark, a researcher from the Optical Engineering Group at Lincoln Laboratory, began the workshop by talking to the girls about her research in space cameras, most recently the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a NASA-funded project aimed at discovering exoplanets, or planets that orbit stars outside of our solar system. Alex Lorman, chief of technology at Sea Machines Robotics, also explained the components of a camera and showed the students his professional photography equipment, including various lenses. The program concluded with demonstrations at three stations to show the students how simple cameras can be applied to a variety of research areas. Jessica Johnson from Lincoln Laboratory's Space Systems Analysis and Test Group, displayed a light-field camera that captures the light density and direction in an image. Robert Schulein from the laboratory's Optical Communications Technology Group demonstrated photogrammetry — the use of photography to measure and map distances between objects. Tom Graves from DotProduct showed the students three-dimensional scanning with one of his company's products that employs a camera to capture a 3-D picture for use in verifying a building’s construction and in efficiently mapping underwater naval infrastructure. The students were exposed to multiple scientific disciplines and with the hands-on activity were able to experience working in those fields as well. The keynote speaker, Uyanga Tsedev, a mechanical engineering graduate student at MIT, spoke about her research creating imaging probes for surgeons to identify tumors. The students also heard speakers from the Society of Women Engineers and the Women's Technology Program at MIT. The Girls Who Build Cameras curriculum will soon be published on MIT Open CourseWare for educators and students everywhere. In the fall, Railey will work with staff at Lincoln Laboratory to jointly lead and advise the Girls Who Build initiative while she pursues a doctorate full time in the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Joint Program. "I believe a partnership with an MIT student organization would be incredibly beneficial to growing the program, with a larger volunteer base, more funding, and new perspectives for developing Girls Who Build curriculums," said Railey. Before the workshop, half of the girls had never programmed before, and after, 90 percent said they wanted to continue learning to code. "This was a great experience for me because I had wanted to start programming," one of the students said, "but I didn't know how or where, and this was a great introduction."
News Article | March 29, 2016
Iran's plan to isolate and monitor all internet services within the country will place huge limitations on Iranians' ability to safely express themselves online, according to a report published today by freedom of expression campaign group Article 19. The report, Tightening the Net: Internet Security and Censorship in Iran, outlines the wide-ranging and often contradictory objectives of the National Internet Project, which was first announced ten years ago under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and now scheduled for completion in 2019. On a technical level, the project includes many upgrades to current communications infrastructure within the country aimed at boosting ICT development and economic growth: One of the key targets is to add an additional 12,000 km of fibre optic cables to the country's telecommunications network, expanding internet penetration in rural areas and bringing 20Mbps broadband connections to seven main cities (by comparison, urban areas in the UK have speeds that average at just over 50Mbps). At the same time, Iran's IP space will be transitioned from the older IPv4 protocol to IPv6, making it a regional leader in the move towards global implementation of the standard and greatly increasing the number of allocatable IP addresses. But the overarching goal behind the project is to separate the Iranian internet from the global web—blocking access to external content that might be politically or culturally subversive, and centralising the routing of all online communications from within the country to allow for total surveillance. By way of a mission brief, Reza Taghipour, minister of information and communications technology from 2009-2012, told Iran’s Mehr News Agency that “[i]solation of the clean internet from the unclean portion will make it impossible to use the internet for unethical and dirty businesses”—a mandate which ties into the strict online censorship introduced in the Computer Crimes Law in 2010, which criminalised offences against “public morality and chastity” and the “dissemination of lies,” effectively legitimising the suppression of any criticism of the regime or its deeply conservative values. “Development of better infrastructure may well lead to faster internet access” said David Diaz-Jogeix, director of programmes at Article 19. “However, the aim of developing this domestic internet infrastructure for the National Internet Project ultimately is to restrict access to world wide web and harvest private information about internet users in the country. The completion of this project in its current form would have a devastating impact on internet users, and severely limit freedom of expression for people inside Iran.” In order to exercise this control over the country's internet, the government of Iran intends to bring as much as possible of the physical hosting of data and services used by Iranians within the country's borders. According to statistics published by Iran's Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, 40 percent of the content currently visited by Iranian users is hosted inside the country, but the government's overall intention is to double this to at least 80 percent. To this end, alongside homegrown content providers such as the YouTube-like Aparat and social networking site Cloob, the government has funded the creation of bespoke national email providers, search engines, e-government services and even a national browser based on the open source Firefox. Additionally, selectively throttling access speeds to international services is employed as a way to drive Iranian users towards adopting domestic alternatives, with the upshot that they become far easier to monitor, especially when government-sanctioned channels are used in combination. Ironically, Article 19’s report suggests the construction of large-scale filtering and surveillance apparatus in Iran has been partly justified by a logic of protecting citizens from surveillance elsewhere. Members of the Iranian police and intelligence services had already expressed concerns about the interception of communications passing through US data centres, which the Snowden leaks revealed were grounded in fact, Diaz-Jogeix explained. “The knowledge that the US, UK, and other 'Five-Eyes' governments (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) were carrying out illegal mass surveillance programmes has not only had an impact on the privacy and freedom of expression of individuals in those countries, but has provided inspiration for expanded and far-reaching surveillance practices in other countries, including Iran,” he said. “The revelations that governments who hold themselves up to be beacons of freedom were (and still are) engaging in mass surveillance of their citizens encouraged Iran to form its own narrative on the need for further surveillance and censorship.” Since its inception, the National Internet Project has suffered from numerous delays, and the original planned completion date of 2015 has now been revised back to 2019 at the earliest. But the government is known to have allocated hundreds of millions of dollars towards further development, spending an estimated $285 million on works related to the project in 2015 alone, according to Article 19’s research. While the project is still under development, a chance remains for outside agencies to steer Iran towards openness. The report recommends that national governments and internet governance bodies directly address Iran's duty to uphold the digital rights of its citizens, and also advises that any foreign companies or investors work only within guidelines set out by human rights law. “While we urge internet companies to continue to engage constructively in discussions concerning increasing internet access in Iran, we unequivocally call on them to avoid providing assistance to the Iranian government's surveillance and censorship projects that would restrict the free flow of information and views online,” said Diaz-Jogeix. So far, Iran’s younger and more computer literate generation have proved themselves able to bypass attempts at censorship, but the government’s severe speed restrictions on unwanted traffic (including SSL connections which can be used to tunnel to other sites) is likely to push more people towards domestic services out of sheer practicality. “Whilst a particularly tech-savvy Iranian may find ways to circumvent a 'National Internet,' should it come into being, we do not know to what extent this might be the case," Diaz-Jogeix said. "We already know that the Iranian authorities have the power to slow down or 'switch-off' the Internet at critical moments, for example during elections. The National Internet Project goes a step further in creating an all-powerful state that closely monitors its citizens and blocks information from outside sources." With a population that is already familiar with the web, Iran is unlikely to be able to create anything as hermetic as North Korea’s hugely limited Kwangmyong network. But even if filtering and censorship is not total, such a level of intervention into internet access and content can only be a further blow to freedom of expression in the country.
Developed at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, the vest uses sensors to measure a worker's body temperature and heart rate and sends the data wirelessly to a smartphone app, which instantly alerts users to any anomalies. The innovation comes amid concern at the growing number of heat-related accidents on construction sites. And it follows a NASA climate report warning that temperatures over the past decade have been the warmest in more than a century. Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellow in RMIT's School of Property, Construction and Project Management, Dr Ruwini Edirisinghe has been working on the smart vest concept for more than a year. She devised her heat stress vest as part of her research in to improving worker safety. "Heat related illness is of serious concern in the construction industry, and can lead to fatalities," Edirisinghe said. "It can cause heat stroke and damage to body organs and the nervous system resulting in permanent disability or even death. "A big part of the problem is some workers don't recognise the early warning signs. This technological solution will hopefully change that." National and international regulatory bodies such as SafeWork in Australia, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSH) in the USA and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK are increasingly recognising heat stress hazards in the construction industry. Workers in building and construction are at higher risk of death or injury than those in many other occupations, with figures from SafeWork Australia showing the industry accounted for 12 per cent of the nation's work-related fatalities in 2013-14. But other workers are also exposed to hot conditions on the job, including bakers, fire-fighters, welders, miners, boiler room workers, chefs, farmers, gardeners and foundry operators. The signs and symptoms of heat illness can include feeling sick, nauseous, dizzy or weak. Victims can also become clumsy, collapse, suffer convulsions and die. "Globally, the construction industry is one of the lowest performing industries in terms of its safety record," said Edirisinghe, who has a background in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and smart technologies in construction research. "Construction workers in extreme temperatures and humid environments, confined spaces and near radiant heat sources are vulnerable to risks." Edirisinghe said her smart vest kit takes the guesswork out of heat-related workplace safety by alerting construction workers or their supervisors before such problems arise. Data from the vest can be sent direct to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. Edirisinghe's project is believed to be the first of its type in the construction industry in the world. "While there are researchers working on anti-heat stress smart T-shirts using advanced fabrics, these have no sensors embedded so are unable to monitor or provide instant health data," she said. Edirisinghe has plans to extend the smart vest system to include smart glasses, enabling wearers to "see" warnings about the state of their own health and wellbeing projected right before their eyes. Explore further: Study sheds light on prevention of heat stroke for outdoor workers