Thursday, June 28, 2007

Not a number

Last weekend, during a break in partly-sunny Snowdonia, we spent an afternoon at Portmeirion. This, of course, was the main location for the wife's favourite TV series, The Prisoner.

Here's some photos we took, in between shaking our fists at the oppressive sky and declaring our existential liberties.

The Bell Tower, seen in many episodes.

Here I stand where Halifax's own Eric Portman stood, to deliver his election address as Number Two in the Free For All episode.

And here's where Number Six delivered his address: "You will all die like rotten cabbages!"

The Old Peoples Home (in real life, the hotel) and the Stone Boat.

Thanks go to Catherine Nemeth Frumerman for her On the Trail of the Prisoner booklet.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tinsley greens

News in the continuing saga of the Tinsley towers - landowner Eon has unveiled plans for a new 'green' power station on the site of the old Blackburn Meadows station. According to the Star:
The firm is to submit a planning application to Sheffield Council later this year to build the £55 million biomass plant, one of the first in the country, which would produce enough power for 40,000 homes and be 'carbon neutral'.
It would burn recycled wood and specially-grown crops such as willow and elephant grass.

A pretty welcome development, even if it does mean the demolition of the iconic towers which are, apparently, not suitable for incorporation in the proposed station. But what of art?
The company also announced that it has put aside "a substantial sum" for a landmark piece of artwork to stand somewhere in the city[...]
Derek Parkin, managing director of business services at E.ON UK, said: "We'll hopefully be able to bring the Blackburn Meadows site back into use and also to create a landmark piece of artwork somewhere in the city that local people can have input into."
"Our only caveat is that the artwork has to have energy as its theme," added Derek. "Apart from that, the sky's the limit."


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Serial thrills

The new issue of Real Business is now out, including a feature by myself on the strategies and psychology of serial entrepreneurs. You'll have to get the mag to read it, as the online version has been somehow horribly mangled, starting and finishing rather abruptly mid-par.

Part of the feature was looking at the climate in the UK for serial entrepreneurship. It's heartening to hear that the successful guys are pretty happy with the financial, cultural and regulatory state of affairs, despite the incessant whinging from the CBI, IOD, etc, about 'red tape'.

I also liked, in the same issue, this piece by Charles Orton-Jones on family brewers, part of a special section on family firms.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Clean Ventures blog

I've just launched a new blog, Clean Ventures, focusing specifically on clean technologies and cleantech venture capital. There's a number of US blogs on a similar theme of course, but I'll be doing it from a UK and European perspective. I'll be documenting VC deals in cleantech companies, new research and analysis on the sector, and policy news of interest; pointing to emerging technologies, companies and services; and exploring issues such as the possible investment bubble in listed cleantech businesses, and what that might mean for companies and investors. It's starting out quite modestly, but I'm aiming to introduce new services and content as things develop.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed an increasing number of posts on cleantech and related concerns in recent months. If you've found these interesting, I hope you find the new blog to be a welcome addition to your personal blogosphere - and if you've not been that interested, it's also good news as there'll be less of that here.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Solar scale

Good feature in Business 2.0 on the (mostly US) companies pushing big solar power projects:
This is not Jimmy Carter's energy crisis, when government subsidies ran ahead of market realities and launched a thousand solar projects that never saw the light of day. Their rusting hulks can still be seen scattered around the test fields: 1970s-vintage solar dishes, a 200-foot solar tower, parabolic mirrors surrounded by the detritus of bygone experiments.
This is the real deal. This is industrial-strength solar energy, sold to public utilities in 20-year contracts measured in gigawatts.

Author Todd Woody is putting up extra information that couldn't fit into the main feature on his blog, the unfortunately named Green Wombat. There's a very good point raised in his initial post focusing on Stirling Energy Systems:
[Stirling VP Bob Liden] argues that scaling up from the six dishes the company currently operates in New Mexico to tens of thousands of dishes isn't as daunting as it seems. "If you’re talking to a finance guy, he might take a look at it and say this going to be absolutely impossible to make happen," says Liden. "But if you take someone who comes out of manufacturing, like at Ford or GM, they say, hey, we do this all the time. Yeah, you have to start some place, with some hand-built units. That’s what they do when they build a new car. Once you figure that out, you turn it over to the guys who know how to do the manufacturing engineering, the industrial engineering, and before long, bango, before long you can put these things out pretty darn fast."

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Low AMPage

Official word on another addition to the Advanced Manufacturing Park on the Sheffield-Rotherham borders, and another sign of an increasing appetite for all things cleantech -
Yorkshire Forward has announced plans to begin construction of its £8.7 million incubator building to support businesses entering the emerging low carbon energy technologies market.
The Environmental Energy Technology Centre (EETC), to be built on land adjoining the Innovation Technology Centre on the Advanced Manufacturing Park, with investment from the European Regional Development Fund, and will support more than 30 enterprises engaged in the development of products that will aid the transition to a low carbon energy economy. Work is expected to start on site in the next month, and be completed by Autumn 2008.
Companies located in the building will be able to tap into the expertise in cutting edge manufacturing techniques and other technologies that exist within the Advanced Manufacturing Park. The EETC is also planned to be the home of the Dti’s Environmental Technology Institute (ETI) should the University of Sheffield’s bid for the ETI be successful later this year.

All good stuff, but hardly a great leap forward for the AMP. As noted in this feature I wrote in 2003, the AMP aimed to attract £650 million of investment from private and public sources by 2007. That hasn't happened. It's got the hub of research centres, and already has a small business centre (sorry, 'innovation technology centre') backed by public money. But the big private sector investment that the AMP was meant to attract is still conspicuous by its absence. Informal word says that's not entirely due to lack of inquiries, but perhaps more to do with issues with the scheme's handlers at Yorkshire Forward. One awaits news to the contrary.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Deep in wonder

At The Deep, Hull.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Environmental economics blog

Here's a good blog, simply called Environmental Economics, by a couple of economics profs who get their teeth into many of the issues I've been nibbling at recently - not least the relative merits of carbon trading versus carbon taxes. A good overview of recent developments is here:
I really don't get the debate by economists between a carbon tax and marketable carbon permits. At the first level, as economists, we've won! We've convinced nearly everyone that regulation using economic incentive-based policies is a preferred approach. The squabbling amongst us over the best economic incentive-based policy can't help get one of these policies implemented.
I understand the squabbling by others ... since there is a lot of money at stake.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sustainable chaos

Interesting short paper by Jacques Nihoul of the University of Liège on the role of chaos theory in models of sustainable development, which ties in with a number of subjects recently mentioned here. From the journal press release:

Current approaches to sustainable development do not fully involve complete methods and techniques for using, recycling, and replacing natural resources. Moreover, they do not take into consideration the effects of ongoing economic policies and fluctuating human populations. This is where the butterfly effect of chaos theory fame must be resurrected, says Nihoul [...]
Chaos theory is a major component of the computer models used by climatologists and weather forecasters as well as economists seeking patterns in the rise and fall of stock market values. However, Nihoul explains that while these models can provide useful information to feed into a global sustainable development policy, they must also take into account those butterflies on the periphery too. "Models of sustainable development on the ten-year and century-long timescales, must take into account both the diversity and the ‘turbulence’, the fluctuations on much shorter and more local scales," explains Nihoul.
Nihoul has developed a new modelling approach to climate, resources, economics, and policy, that sees the world system as interconnected local happenings rather than taking the smoothed global view favoured in much simpler studies. The earth cannot be modelled as a whole, he says, but rather as a mosaic of different systems, each with its own network of smaller systems and so on. Such an approach recognises the importance of global effects but also of the tiny deviations, the exquisite flapping wing of a butterfly as having a potentially enormous effect, chaotically speaking.

Jacques C.J. Nihoul, "Chaos, diversity, turbulence and sustainable
development", Int. J. Computing Science and Mathematics, 2007, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp 107-114
available here.

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