Wrapping up on personal leadership – changes, changes…

Change takes time. But it feels darn good to look back and start to see it.

If there’s one takeaway from this quick mental journey over the past 2 years and a little over 1 year ago when I started writing about it, that would be it.

The personal challenge I chose had mostly to do about changing myself and seeing how this change impacts others (if at all) – to add happiness to the sustainability dialogue happening around me, both at work and in private circles. Reading back at this post made nearly a year ago, I’m also reminded on how no amount of read books, absorbed ideas and advice makes any personal change easy – habits, instincts and societal programming runs very, very deep, especially when “push comes to shove” in a situation and we’re supposed to apply a new pattern of speech, behavior or thought. It’s uncomfortable, perhaps a bit scary and a whole lot of confusing at times.

So, the basic question I asked a year ago, lost in thought somewhere on how to make the world better and reading Adam Smiths’ take on happiness , was “What can be added to the happiness of the man who is in health, who is out of debt, and has a clear conscience?”. This came up in nearly every conversation that raised happiness as a question – I’d respond to that, examine how it applies say to developers trying to adhere to the new building code, government entities trying to kickstart installation of solar rooftops on their buildings or district cooling companies working with building owners in an attempt to expand their networks. It’s been an interesting ride trying to tie in likes of “indoor comfort” (health), ways of including the private sector to finance and manage assets (debt) and making things fair for all included (clear conscience) – but it is definitely both possible and makes people listen, since it’s not the same old boring arguments.

Wait, why did I get into this again? Well, Since it’s inception at the World Government Summit held in Dubai in 2016 (oh and another one is ongoing right as I type this out, wondering what interesting ideas are cooking and will come out of this one!), happiness has traveled from being a novelty, to being taken as a bit of an eccentricity to being fully adopted in multiple government initiatives, with developed measurement systems, roadmaps and less obvious offshoots such as customer-centric approach to citizens. See here for example here and here.

Moving closer to the present, about 7 months ago another piece of research and thinking on happiness framed a plan which I have since been pursuing. Looking back, seems all steps from that one have been successfully activated, in one form or another.

Happiness, behavior and sustainability, as ideas and concepts, now appear prominently in the ongoing update of the Dubai Demand Side Management Strategy that I’m managing. Throw it in Google – impact, at least for Dubai is major. Google won’t show you who else has started implementing the exact same programs in the past 5 years… and who will continue to do so after we publish the update.

Nearly nobody around me speaks of THINGS anymore – discussions about real estate and cars gave ways to discussions about experiences, relationships and diplomatic handling of government affairs. Seeking a win-win and engaging our partners has been and still is done in a consultative manner – better then ever, fueled by ideas gathered while diving into the personal leadership opportunity.

The biggest change might be ones to myself.

Things often go sideways with people in many unexpected ways. It’s simply not sustainable to be angry. It’s also not sustainable to put up with things that are wrong. It MAY be sustainable to calmly and openly discuss issues and try to find a way out – since starting to try this, it seems nobody declines to actually work on a solution, regardless of barriers. So, patience goes a long way (more then a complex conclusion for someone who grew up in Eastern Europe where patience is a very rare find :)).

Not sure I’d do anything differently there – no journey is perfect, often (hmmm, always?!) it’s a very convoluted line running from point A to point B, to the point where point B becomes irrelevant and we suddenly clearly see that point C somewhere along the way is exactly where we need to be, right?

Now that’s a change right there… if there’s enough patience to feel it. And then come the feelings of — happiness.

Communicating energy sustainability through the „My Energy My Responsibility“ campaign in Dubai

I must have earned some good karma to have gotten lucky with timing here! The next stop on the journey towards a masters degree in sustainability at the University of Cambridge required writing a blog post on sustainability and communications through an example of a campaign that incorporates sustainability outcomes. Such a request came at a nearly exact time when the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE) where I’m proud to be working, is looking back at achievements in 2018, an important part of which is the exact sort of „conversation with society“ required for this small article – the launch of an Emirate-level campaign that emphasizes the importance of the story of energy efficiency in Dubai, applied to everyday life of each resident and visitor.

As some of the readers here might remember from my student-led knowledge sharing session from the last workshop, building on the previous ambitions in enhancing itself, Dubai government established the Supreme Council of Energy, which shortly thereafter created the strategic and policy framework aligned with the roadmap towards a sustainable energy sector for the Emirate.

On this journey, the Demand Side Management Strategy plays a major role. Execution of this Strategy is what I’m directly involved in from the side of the custodian of the strategy which is the DSCE. The Strategy sets the target of 30% savings in electricity and water consumption by 2030, and integrates actions aimed at decarbonizing Dubai. The innovation at the time the Strategy was adopted (2011) was that it packaged together over different initiatives into 8 core programs with multiple implementation mechanisms, as shown in the following graphic:


With the programs performing in line with annual savings targets and implementation mechanisms supporting efforts in programs, behavioral change of all residents and citizens became a clear area of focus in past 2 years. Up until then, government departments were running their own awareness programs on various aspects of energy efficiency. We wanted to integrate these actions into one platform, which would be both clearer to the end audience (one voice vs. many), and be more efficient from the position of use of government resources (no need for each entity to waste resources on same tasks in launching different campaigns). Expanding on these and other observations gathered since start of the implementation of the DSM Strategy, and supported by the office of the Dubai Energy Efficiency Program called Taqati (meaning „My Energy“ in Arabic), the Integrated Awareness Strategy 2022 was developed as a key enabler for the DSM Strategy with 5 categories of initiatives:

  • A public awareness campaign (the „My Energy My Responsibility“ campaign)
  • Networking events & activities (conferences and workshop)
  • Development and publishing of technical resources in form of guidebooks for energy management
  • Sector specific awards & recognition programme
  • Marketing & outreach actions (development of websites, apps and promotional handouts)

For each program of the DSM Strategy, a survey was conducted to measure the baseline awareness of DSM programs by the end consumers of electricity and water, as well as their willingness to respond to changes the programs aimed to achieve. With some programs ahead and some yet to reach widespread awareness or participation, the targets were set for a 5 year period.

The My Energy My Responsibility Campaign aimed to encourage and support Dubai residents and visitors to adopt energy efficient practices and behaviors, bring the government’s energy efficiency campaigns under one umbrella and provide a unified voice and consistent messages on energy efficiency in Dubai.

Some examples of created materials, all specific to biggest potential savings specific for Dubai’s building stock and climate throughout the year can be seen here:


Results of the campaign so far:

  • Active participation from multiple government departments and government-owned companies (i.e. Dubai Airports, Emirates National Oil Company…)
  • Since launch in Max 2018, total reach across all programs and campaigns exceeds 6 million views
  • Printable materials are being distributed through customer care (we call them customer happiness) centers across the Emirate
  • Social media campaign is ongoing on a daily basis, with Instagram, Twitter and Facebook posts re-shared by government departments
  • Ongoing annual campaigns such as World Energy Day, Earth Hour and similar are including the campaign in its promotional materials

Some examples of partner contributions:


The campaign, as well as the Awareness and DSM Strategies are also actively being promoted in relevant conferences, workshops, seminars, media releases and social media discussions – as well as, as of now, in the small student community of the University of Cambridge / CISL master degree in sustainability leadership candidates 🙂

The awareness initiatives are well on their way to achieve set targets on awareness and willingness to participate, and yours truly is sure that future enhancements that we gathered from our sustainability coursework will come useful very soon – especially the use of behavioral insights gathered from ongoing actions, aspects of the Nudge theory and integrating efforts with local NGOs and transnational advocacy networks present in Dubai and UAE, who are already promoting very similar messages.

Framing the discourse in everyday communication – less feelings of want, more feelings of happiness

Blogging on personal leadership opportunity here came with some advice – to select “an opportunity where you believe you will be realistically able to (begin to) implement actual change in this area while on the programme”, with the “aim of intervention to initiate/ alter a particular activity or behaviour; and/or to influence opinions/ values/ beliefs”, assuming the role of a change agent. I found it wise words after  setting a pretty lofty goal of introducing the idea of focusing on personal happiness as a way to shift perspective of those around me from things to personal satisfaction. In a city where material property (and public showcasing of it) is quite high on the general agenda and is one of the main differentiating factors between all those that live in it.

While I have already set out on including satisfaction of individuals as a point in everyday communication, two significant events happened to me which helped align the course further since the first blogpost on leadership opportunity in March – one is learning more about what the word “discourse” means (I literally heard the whole idea of discourse analysis the first time in the first resident workshop in Cambridge), and the other is having an accident while on vacation – lesson learned, don’t drive a motorbike in Thailand, especially wearing only flip-flops and shorts.

Life sucks when you’re in pain. Eternal optimist might say there’s a silver lining of pain making all other problems seem irrelevant, but that was one thin silver lining. Similar perspective on a big problem is easy to transfer to anything that dominates your worries right now, Blog Reader. Same goes for any issue discussed in a business or private communication, especially in meetings and exchanges dedicated to planning action (except maybe if its legal action, though there may be some happiness there too!)

After much suffering during the return home (ever tried keeping your foot elevated during a 7 hour flight?) I found myself in care of a surgeon – wound care specialist. As we had multiple treatment sessions every few days, I came to learn that here was a doc who went to study surgery not because things were easy, but because they were challenging, and that made him happy. I learned a bit about his family and way he handled life back in the day of a grueling schedule of studying by day and working by night in Iraq where he was from, to today’s successful work and life in UAE. He would usually start from something that challenged him or a member of his family recently, then how using a proper mindset turned it around to being a good thing and he would always end up saying how “doing that finally lead to feeling of happiness” or “…and that feelings of happiness start to appear“. Have you ever heard your doctor speak about something like that?

Similar principle, I’m starting to discover, can be applied in everyday chats, directly or indirectly addressing sustainability. I mentioned discourse as a concept back there, didn’t I? Well, in musing about this before starting to write this blogpost, and having in mind that my upcoming dissertations will utilize discourse analysis to figure out that the WHAT and HOW someone says things is formed by their specific context and goals and how that leads to a bigger picture (and policy making). Seems fair to say that my, more or less subtle, changes in language used in meetings went to contribute to the agenda already set by leadership of Dubai government of putting happiness first. Someone might think it’s an easy right when set in that context, but for example when one gets into energy, it’s easy and often necessary to slide into technical discussions and ideas on large renewables (we’re building the largest solar park in the world here) or distributed solar photovoltaics (putting a PV on every rooftop in Dubai) and need to push forward for example more stringent water use efficiency standards on appliances.

Coming up with real world examples of how happiness is put into such a discussion without going into boring detail of specifics of what my organization does is a bit difficult so I’ll try to generalize a bit – as a policy making entity, our job is to communicate with a variety of actors representing sometimes opposing interests (even under the same vision, under which government is aligned). After a round of technical exchanges on who should do what in implementing a specific policy or action, or adjusting the course of the same, we usually deal with ways in which different involved teams will react when presented with change – Middle East is a very consultative environment where very few things are imposed. What I do is try to figure out what makes each of individual teams happy (fulfilling their interests while presenting things to align with their character and cultural values), and then try to make it a part of the execution plan.

Moving forward, I’ll try to use a bit more of the knowledge as I pick it up through research. For example, in this report, there’s an interesting quote (abbreviated by me):

 (there is)…potential to use happiness as a motivator. The connection could be emphasized … in civil society. If environmental discourse is changed to include happiness research, the environment versus economy debate could be reframed, with focus shifted from the pursuit of pure economic growth to increased levels of subjective well-being.

So how about to go about change people’s opinion through debate? Anybody ever try to tell you “don’t do this and this”? These kinds of messages (and people!) are really not pleasant – nobody likes to be wrong but even more to be told so. Hostility gets people nowhere. On the other hand, everybody is happy when for example a service provider or product manufacturer offers more sustainable choices to the same consumer we were telling is wrong in the first scenario (making change at the source vs. at demand). Seems like a simple perspective shift but some people seem to have trouble understanding it (including some on our own cohort!).

Another interesting paper looked deeper into this topic and I could not help myself from doing a copy paste, for your but also for my benefit and recollection in next post in this series:

Sustainable happiness is a concept that has the potential to enhance urban planning policies by raising the profile of happiness and well-being, while reinforcing the links with sustainability… In the absence of more explicit discussions regarding public happiness or “Genuine Wealth,” there continues to be tension between sustainability objectives and meeting the more public demands that are embedded in a consumer society view of happiness. Additional research regarding happiness, health and the built environment will undoubtedly encourage such discussions. Fostering an informed discourse about happiness and sustainability will require attention to education.
Sustainability seems to be consistent with behaviour and policies that support high levels of life satisfaction, and sustainable happiness reinforces this relationship. The concept could be used to motivate sustainable behaviour from sectors of the population that are weary of dire environmental messages. One drawback, of course, is that mentioning “happiness” in many academic and policy circles is still met with scepticism. As one transportation colleague suggested, “I don’t care if people are happy, I just want them to get out of their cars!” Another challenge is the current limited set of choices for sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods…Finally, stakeholders who have a vested interest in unsustainable policy and practice are likely to resist sustainable happiness.

So as my own status overview for Dubai, not specific to energy (yet), I’ll borrow and modify the list of steps from this report, now and in the future, in tracking the pursuit of my goal of promoting personal happiness in discourses on sustainability:

Step/Action Status
Highlight the close link between sustainable behaviours and happiness PLANNING
Use sustainability projects as drivers for community spirit and vitality PLANNING
Moderate excessive materialism through happiness ONGOING
Nurture basic psychological needs ONGOING
Incorporate subjective well-being when designing and evaluating policy measures ONGOING
Add happiness as a goal of public policy ONGOING*

* with a lot of help from Government of Dubai which already put happiness on the policy agenda.

And with that, on I go to make all this more specific to daily work in my organization and family life at home.

Leveraging data science to reach zero carbon cities – potential & opportunity

Achievement of global climate stabilization goals requires reduction of carbon emissions in the industrial world to a degree which effectively requires all developed world cities to become zero carbon between 2030 and 2050 (Kennedy & Sgouridis 2011). Such cities will source all energy from renewable energy sources. The operational landscape of electricity, heating and cooling, water and transport systems is increasingly integrating data collection, storage, sharing and analysis to optimize operation and align multiple stakeholders in each infrastructural value chain towards common goals of efficiency and cost-effectiveness (Fleming 2017).

Today’s cities are the engines of the new data economy. The rise of energy trading systems, distributed energy sources, electric vehicles, on-demand transport, intelligent water management and responsive lighting are rapidly replacing the legacy infrastructure and service delivery models that served the cities of the twentieth century (Barns 2018). As a consequence, the millions of interactions and transactions that take place in cities on any given day — from volumes of energy used, movements of people, traffic, water and waste, social media interactions, emails, financial and retail transactions — are now generating huge volumes of data of increasing value to governments and businesses as they seek to apply data-driven methodologies to improve the quality and efficiency of city services (Ahmadi Zeleti et al. 2016).

Both academia and industry are focusing on energy management in cities, with many practical solutions developed at the level of buildings or individual city systems (Ejaz et al. 2017). Integrating these systems requires upgrading the institutional knowledge infrastructure associated with participation in decision making, public and social services, transparent governance, and political strategies and perspectives (Bibri 2018). Data science can empower a city with new insights and intelligence to support the identification of patterns and human relationships, enabling citizens, planners and city managers with smart instruments that support appropriate decision-making, discovery, exploration, and explanation on complex city dynamics (Kourtit et al. 2017).

Data science initiatives such as big data, internet of things, blockchain and business intelligence have the potential to improve implementation, foster greater understanding of social challenges, facilitate collaboration between governments, citizens and businesses, and usher in a new era of digital government services, but more research is needed to explore how best to consider data science in that context (Bertot & Choi 2013). In the energy sector, production and consumption data and energy systems are increasingly supported by emerging information technologies, changing the landscape of traditional energy industry where data science can lead to significantly improved efficiency and new business opportunities. Based on the big data analytics and services, energy is now being saved in ways that were not possible in the past (Zhou et al. 2016).

While governments have the unique legitimacy to collect and process large amounts of data generated within their borders and manage basic infrastructure to the benefit of all its citizens, private sector innovations based on technologies like big data, internet of things or blockchain cannot be replicated in the public sector with the same speed as they have in the private since their social impact is much greater (Kim et al. 2014). This may be due to difference in goals. The main goal of the private sector is to earn profits by providing goods and services, developing/sustaining a competitive edge, and satisfying customers and other stakeholders by providing value. In government, the main goal is to maintain domestic tranquillity, achieve sustainable development, secure citizens’ basic rights, and promote the general welfare and economic growth (Deloitte 2016). Most businesses aim to make short-term decisions with a limited number of actors in a competitive market environment. Decision making in government usually takes much longer and is conducted through consultation and mutual consent of a large number of diverse actors, including officials, interest groups, and ordinary citizens (Kim et al. 2014).

As an example of applied data science, big data could potentially transform city governments being more efficient, effective and evidence-based but critics point towards the limited capacity of government to overcome the siloed structure of data storage and manage the diverse stakeholders involved in setting up a data ecosystem (Giest 2017). In the past, city leadership had relatively limited engagement with users of city infrastructure, having to arrange specific public meetings or surveys to get feedback on system effectiveness and gather proposals for improvements and/or policy measures (Fleming 2017). Today and increasingly in the future, cities are able use the data from sensor networks embedded in city infrastructure and, through social media, people’s opinion to more rapidly identify opportunities to optimize all aspects of the city (Philip Chen & Zhang 2014).

In their effort to utilize big data, city governments largely focus on one of two data use models: a centralized structure where a city data centre is established or a decentralized model in which data scientists are integrated into different city departments who then compile data from various sources (Giest 2017). There is a concern that under time pressure, these structures are short term and end up enforcing the existing silos of people, IT and data. They further lead to an overemphasis on technological aspects of big data integration rather than more profound local government reform addressing the collection and use of big data.  The focus on technology also pulls resources from a potential information management system that specifically addresses the ways in which the data are integrated into decision-making (Barns 2018). Adjusting government structure for energy strategy and policy implementation to accommodate data science elements increasingly challenges the existing capacities within the government and processes of evidence-based decision making.

As an example, using data that currently exists in most large cities, it is possible to estimate the annual carbon emissions at a city level, but not yet in real time or in terms of understanding the detail of citizens’ behaviours. There is a lack of both quality and quantity of data to provide a true city-wide picture in real time. Data are also not uniformly available, as data is rather concentrated in clusters (Kourtit et al. 2017). The challenge is acquiring these existing data, extracting useful information and transforming it into actionable knowledge to facilitate implementation of set policies and strategies. How to deal with the variations in availability and quality of data is a key issue for cities not just to address the digital divide but also for the research community to develop new algorithms to help close the gaps in data and knowledge (Creutzig et al. n.d.).


Image from: Frost & Sullivan

Personal leadership – adding happiness to the sustainability dialogue by tracing the legacy of Adam Smith

My personal leadership opportunity is reframing everyday work and non-work conversations to promote personal happiness as an aspiration on top of general discourse of sustainability in the global growth-oriented economy. In this way I want to contribute to a paradigm shift towards living using less resources yet yield more satisfaction for each individual and society.

This opportunity and challenge is about communication – and my role of a project manager in a strategy and policy-setting government organization is to communicate, communicate, communicate. Communication aligns people, and people aligned together do extraordinary things such as build airplanes and tall towers, invent computers and travel into space. Communicating right distinguishes development of nations, today separating likes of growing China, prosperous Scandinavian Countries and excellence-oriented United Arab Emirates from countries decidedly far less-blessed – it’s not hard to argue communication, developed and transmitted in the right way, can change everything.

Following lessons from Workshop 1, I looked into some personal much discussed in that week – stopping eating beef, ending use of bottled water and considering for example where my clothes were sourced from. Results of actions such as these are long term and will be positive if collective action is taken – so in essence all of us aware of the issues behind these initiatives are already, or can be, leaders of change. In seeking my own leadership opportunity I wanted to look at the bigger picture and into the human element of sustainability, moving away from the omnipresent “world is headed to a catastrophe”, “sustainability is complex” and “reduce your carbon footprint”-like discussions, as in my opinion they tend to reduce the focus on solutions and the way forward.

Anybody remember this illustration from Workshop 1 lecture by William Day? Narrative was about us humans collecting more and more stuff, not realizing that eventually that same stuff will cut off our the branch holding our nest. And this is where economy and economics come into the picture.


Adam Smith published his magnum opus “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, generally referred to by its shortened title “The Wealth of Nations” in 1776, providing the foundation for new economists, politicians, mathematicians, biologists, and thinkers of all fields to build upon. The core of Smith’s thesis was that people have a natural tendency toward self-interest (in modern terms, looking out for yourself) and the result is prosperity.

By giving everyone freedom to produce and exchange goods as they pleased (free trade), people’s self-interest would promote greater prosperity than with stringent government regulations. Smith believed humans ultimately promote public interest through their everyday economic choices. In his famous example, a butcher does not supply meat based on good-hearted intentions, but because he profits by selling meat. The point made by the example is one of self-regulation, which in theory ensures maximum efficiency.

Almost 250 years later we may be seeing some downsides and imperfections either in the thinking or the way it was interpreted and grew up to the present moment, but many ideas are very much valid and alive.

Smith also explained the counter-forces of monopolies, tax preferences, lobbying groups, and other “privileges” extended to certain members of the economy at the expense of others, resulting in imbalances. These imbalances or rather inequalities have other consequences as noted in for example Rasmussen’s paper. Economic inequality leads people to sympathize more fully and readily with the rich than the poor, and this distortion in our sympathies in turn undermines both morality and happiness. The poor strive to imitate the wealthy and the wealthy imitate celebrities and other icons. The focus on the rich leads the less rich to want more, bringing us to a consumerist society and the illustration above – reflecting utter unsustainability of this way of thinking and living.

Even before studying Smith I had a feeling that there was a lot of merit in following some core philosophies on Buddhism – that the way to bliss is removing wanting (desire/cravings)… but that may be another blogpost.

Capitalism may not be the greatest system ever designed… but so far nobody has established a better one. For Smith, the reality was shades of grey. He believed corporations don’t corrupt our world – they simply serve our appetites and supply whatever it is we demand. The answer to society’s problems does not lie in getting rid of capitalism, but instead in learning how to make better use of it.

The father of modern Capitalism wrote another great work which is seldom discussed – Theory of Moral Sentiments (link to full book). It provided the ethical, philosophical, psychological, and methodological underpinnings to Smith’s later works, including the Wealth of Nations.  Since the original work is written in 18th century style of English, to facilitate better understanding I took an indirect approach to reading it through the excellent work of Russ Roberts in “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life”.

At the core of his work, Smith was driven by a desire to discover the best ways to make individuals and nations happier.

His Wealth of Nations was really an extension of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. As analysed here, the self-interest of the market players (buy and sell side) needs to be pursued by people of conscience and with a clear moral capacity; he argues that sympathy is required to achieve socially beneficial results. The self-interest Smith speaks of is not a narrow selfishness that allows whatever market transaction, but involves sympathy. Pure selfishness he declared inappropriate, if not immoral. Therefore, self-interest of any actor includes the interest of the rest of society, since the socially-defined notions of appropriate and inappropriate actions necessarily affect the interests of the individual as a member of society. If this sounds philosophical and convoluted, grab a copy of Roberts’s book, it’s an easy and inspiring read.

A blogger noted that Smith’s famous metaphor of the invisible hand is only mentioned once in The Wealth of Nations, and presented as the same idea in The Theory of Moral Sentiments – so we cannot really have any misunderstanding about that. The Sentiments presents the psychological mechanisms behind the workings of the invisible hand. And it places economics in the broader context of life as a whole, a society in which morality and a wide range of virtues matter. The difference is that in the economic domain we place a little more emphasis on certain virtues, in particular ‘prudence’ – acting wisely with a view to your own interests.

Smith argues that morality promotes our own happiness. He gives two descriptions of why people are happy, one circumstantial and the other internal. As far as a person’s circumstances contribute to their happiness:

“What can be added to the happiness of the man who is in health, who is out of debt, and has a clear conscience?”

Smith makes this observation, not to suggest that someone could not be made happier once he met those three conditions, but that any addition would be relatively small in comparison to what he already had. This paradigm easily reminds us of various independently developed theories such as the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (which was published about two centuries later).

How does one tie these thoughts on global economy with sustainability and make it a personal challenge? The first part has many examples, such as commoditizing greenhouse gas emissions as one of the large consequences of current unsustainable economy, as established by the Kyoto protocol. There’s also some further creative ideas to be found online such as a GHG currency in a justice framework. These very lofty ideas can be superimposed with technology to make things a bit less institution centric (i.e. take out UNFCCC from Kyoto Protocol idea) – try the omnipresent idea blockchain for example, with some implementations have already been developed, such as ClimateCoin. It would be easy to go on with this, but the second part, making it a personal challenge, is a bit more tricky but involves knowing and promoting all the protocols, frameworks and technologies related to sustainability.

As a general “silver bullet” to utilize my opportunity is gradually incorporating a simple question when discussing plans at work or at home – “Why do we need it?”; the “it” being any goods, service or action. Putting things into perspective of cause and effect by answering “why” and linking it to a need, which can then be examined in the perspective of sustainability. See here about the importance of “why”.

Anything that contributes to goals and sustainability is needed and therefore contributes to happiness as Smith stated, whereas everything else doesn’t – providing the basic three necessities are taken care of – health, being debt-free and of clear conscience. All three I’d take in a broader sense then just their literal meanings – good health isn’t only physical, but also psychological/emotional – involving family, friends, exposure to new cultures and ways of thinking… but even maintaining relationships and traveling can be done having in mind basic principles of sustainability.

How to bring about this change?

In his book, Russ Roberts highlights an interesting thought: “When you can trust the people you deal with – when you don’t have to fear that your trust will be exploited for someone else’s gain – life is lovelier and economic life is much easier. How does trust get created? By the myriad of small interactions we have with each other when we honour our word and pass up the chance for opportunism.” Trust is also one of the key deficits we have in many organisations, and possibly, in nations. In fact, on a daily basis, we have more than 20,000 interactions (words we speak, our body language, our facial expressions etc.) with people around us. These 20,000 moments define our leadership, influence and levels of trust in us.

Smith seems to have figured this out almost 250 years ago.

For those who want to know more and have an hour of free time, here’s a great video interview with Russ Roberts:

Just as it’s difficult to measure if a society is moving nearer of farther from sustainability, judging whether I am succeeding in being a leader through this opportunity will not be a straightforward exercise, and can only become apparent after a longer period of time. What gives me assurance on this path is the example of successfully introducing the paradigm of monetizing energy efficiency savings as a better communicational tool for communicating benefits of optimizing energy performance. Money speaks louder than kWh of electricity or imperial gallons of water saved – an idea now widely used within the UAE government, which I like to think originated from the small team I’m a member of. Perhaps starting to ask “why” in the right way and in the right moment in daily interactions can start to bring about positive change as well?

Making sense of Blockchain and its use for energy systems (2): Relationship of cryptocurrencies and blockchain and their link to contracting in energy systems

Since the first post, I came across a great little book on blockchain, cryptocurrencies and bitcoin among other things – it’s short, fun (feels more like talking to a knowledgeable buddy in a bar then a guide, yet is ultimately a guide) and cheap, so it’s a good trifecta for a reference book: The Sceptic’s Guide to Bitcoin, Cryptocurrencies and the Blockchain. Both opened my eyes quite amd made me understand the key limitations and uses of blockchain, so I’ll borrow from it a little below.

Cryptocurrencies and blockchain

Let’s start with some quick definitions:

  • Blockchain is the technology that enables the existence of cryptocurrency (among other things).
  • A cryptocurrency is a medium of exchange, such as the US dollar, but is digital and uses encryption techniques to control the creation of monetary units and to verify the transfer of funds.
  • Bitcoin is the name of the best-known cryptocurrency, the one for which blockchain technology was invented.

90% of stuff being said out there about these three is hype and is used to “wow” people by promising the “train of the future so you better get onboard”. Forgetting that, let’s think about what this particular piece of technology is actually useful for – a technology can do many things but one question everybody seems to forget to meaningfully answer is “why do we need this?”.

To see what the use is, it’s helpful to keep in mind some limitations of this technology in its currently most popular use. Borrowing from The Sceptic’s Guide:

“While technically, Bitcoin’s transaction records consist of a small piece of code which is used to verify the transactions, this code is deliberately extremely limited in what it can do. Effectively, the only thing which is worth doing with it is the original idea: transferring coins…… Now Ethereum is a completely new thing. Here, the transaction of coins is almost a sideshow to the fact that almost arbitrarily complex computer code can be attached to the transaction… the Ethereum developers had a good, long sitdown, and after much soul searching, finally decided that, you know, that original rule that the blockchain is immutable, yeah… that one which is the reason all these things exist… well, it’s only computer code, we can modify it as we want.”

Then let’s see about some limitations. First one I came upon is the size of the blockchain.

BitInfoCharts.com is a treasure chest for data junkies – while it’s nice to scroll through, my eye catches on the blockchain size – measured in Gigabytes… with growth of any given blockchain, it will grow by order of magnitude. Now, in today’s world of fast net links, shouldn’t be that much a problem surely? Or not? Well, open your dictionary (yes!!) after you see this conversation for example, as it mentions:

  • For blockchain scalability they build sharding
  • For data storage they build swarm
  • For fast processing a team build raiden (offchain)
  • For contract execution computing power a team build iexec (offchain)

If one thinks of payment, it boils down to the issue of the number of transactions (as we can assume human ingenuity will solve other issues):

“For the version of Bitcoin in use at the end of 2017, this is around 2500 transactions per block. No matter how

many people want to pay their coffee with Bitcoin in the entire world, only up to 2500 of them will actually

succeed within 10 minutes… The human population is nearing 10 billion, and Bitcoin can sustain 4 transactions per second.”

Here’s a nice little text on why it’s ultimately ridiculous to think of bitcoin as an awesome silver bullet that’ll solve all the world’s payment problems.

A banknote’s value is purely an agreement between people that they will respect the Central Bank of a country, and value is guaranteed by signature of the Central Bank Governor. For cryptocurrencies, value is determined by pure demand and supply, pretty much like stocks, which you’d never use for payment of anything, right?

Some other issues with governance and what cryptocurrencies were made for and how it works out in the real world can be read under a really bad title for an excellent article here.

So, letting go of value and focusing more on usefulness, we have two things to consider – use of tech for making a transaction and the speed of it.

Blockchain and contracting

Blockchain is a decentralized database which chronologically and securely records transactions. The transaction can be of cryptocurrency, but it can also represent the transfer of value on systems like Ethereum and others. Value might be a service, a product or an approval in the form of a Smart Contract.

The four potential uses of blockchains are:

  • Recording Value Exchange (as described briefly above)
  • Administering Smart Contracts
  • Combining Smart Contracts to form a Decentralised Autonomous Organisation(DAO)
  • Certifying proof of existence for certain data (for instance, providing a securely backed up Digital Identification)

A Smart Contract is a computer program that works on the if / then principle. In this way the contracts are administered. So if the painter has painted the wall then he requests it’s inspected. If the person responsible for inspecting the work agrees it’s acceptable quality then the painter gets paid. Smart Contracts can be used for each of these if / then scenarios and recorded on the Blockchain (and can be collateralized with cryptocurrency). This all happens securely because of the use of cryptography in Blockchains to store transactions in Blocks of data that are replicated on multiple servers/computers around the world.

Another example is the delivery of goods allowing clients to buy directly from the supplier because the Smart Contract can provide more trust in the transaction. Payment to a supplier can be staggered and liability transferred to different parties. Take for example a piece of a solar photovoltaic plant. A client could purchase direct from the supplier, pay a portion of the cost when it’s verified the panels have left port in the origin country, transfer liability to the shipping company, release further payment when the plant arrives on site, again transferring liability, this time to the contractor responsible for installation. Then final payment can be issued once the plant has been installed and commissioned.

All these stages can be stored on the Blockchain and provide more opportunity for direct transactions without the need for (often costly) middlemen.

A group of Smart Contracts can be used to create a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO), an organization ran by rules encoded as computer programs using smart contracts. For example, with the Internet of Things (IoT) and the amount of metering and monitors that can be put into buildings, that the building itself cannot be set up as a DAO at the beginning of a project, through the construction phase and beyond to the in-use phase.

Integration of Blockchain and the Building Maintenance System (BMS) could lead to a building’s DAO placing an order for a new light fitting, accepting delivery and liability for it, calling out someone to install it and paying both the supplier and installer. Payment would be made from the DOA’s wallet (bank account) which is connected to wallets of those that live in the building. It’s not a far jump to see that rents could be collected, body corporate fees, and insurance payments all managed autonomously by a building’s DAO. Some Dubai-grown application of this right here.

Project governance can also be captured on the Blockchain. Records of approvals in pre-construction phase but also during the in-use management of the building for voting on various issues requiring approvals. The DAO’s transaction record of money, insurance, voting and ownership are captured by the program rules and are maintained on a Blockchain.

Finally, the creation of a Digital ID allows people to share relevant information that is validated by an authorizing body. Identities of people and/or vendors could be securely recorded in the Blockchain, and additionally used to build reputation for work or contracts over time. This identification and reputation system would allow for people who don’t necessarily know or trust each other to be able to do business. In construction, for example, we can think of having proof of membership to relevant professional bodies to be able to self-certify work, also police security clearance to work at airports, schools and on government contracts.

Blockchain, contracting and energy systems

When a renewable-power plant generates a unit of electricity today, in most of the world, a meter provides data that gets logged in a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is then sent to a registry provider, where the data gets entered into a new system and a certificate is created. A second set of intermediaries brokers deals between buyers and sellers of these certificates, and yet another party verifies the certificates after they are purchased.

Such a byzantine system racks up transaction costs, while leaving plenty of room for accounting errors that can range from honest mistakes to outright fraud. The lack of transparency also scares many people off entirely.

What if the meter wrote the data directly to a blockchain instead?

The electricity sector is still mostly based on massive, centralized power plants that generate power sent long distances over transmission and distribution lines. Only in the last 5-10 years a growing number of smaller “distributed” power generators and today also storage systems, like rooftop solar panels and electric-vehicle batteries, have been connecting to the grid.

The owners of these systems struggle to maximize their value because the legacy electricity system is so inefficient.

Then there’s the issue of payment for using part of a grid, taking care of who sold what to whom… and in general raises interesting questions as examined here, near the end of the article.

The potential cost-saving and process efficiencies are too compelling to ignore. Some energy companies have calculated the savings of 30 to 60 percent on their structural costs. These savings come mainly from reduced labor costs, reduced manual and semi-automated process-related efforts, reduced capital costs through faster settlements, and reduced technology costs by reducing the dependency on multiple systems.

A cup of common sense for the end 

I remember an article about a smart refrigerator – it would monitor what’s inside him, what’s being put in (oh wait… or did you have to put it in and then find it in a menu on the fridge itself, doubling the amount of time for a seemingly simple task?), and when something was running low it would tell you so and/or try to order items from an online seller?

I am as tech-oriented as one can be, yet I like having my wife letting me know we’re out of eggs or bread, taking a walk to the grocery and emptying the bag of grocery items onto shelves of the fridge without even thinking about it. Any why for goodness sake would I for example want my fridge to have my credit card (for online ordering)???

Not all tech is useful nor is it needed (but if you buy now, you’ll get a set of steak knives!!). Are cryptocurrencies needed? Sure, for specific purposes, and I’d agree that due to severely cut transaction costs, if bandwidth (block size) is solved to be on par or beyond i.e. Visa credit cards, for micropayments of articles in newspapers, parts of a book and similar, done seamlessly so as not to bother the user who just wants to i.e. read – it’s totally on point.

This is not a cryptocurrency blog post. This is a blog post identifying cryptocurrency as applied blockchain technology, and other uses of blockchain technology which can potentially be meaningfully used in the energy sector.

“Smart” contracting (who hates general adjectives like “smart” used without context? Anyone else but me?) – it’s always been and always will be “goods or services for goods or services”, where at least one of the goods is usually (but not necessarily) money, or some form of value which can be used to exchange for further goods and services.

Blockchain is simply a way of utilizing technology to make this centuries old system more efficient, consequently a lot cheaper and faster and in the end run more applicable to transactions which have previously been deemed to small and/or too important/rare to be executed either with payment involved or without a whole bunch of different people (each adding cost) involved.

Technology implementations of this concept will surely be an exciting thing to see, not just from tech standpoint but from awareness standpoint – as transaction processes get redefined, we’ll get to remember that transaction processes were there in the first place (nothing like breaking a habit to blow one’s mind!).

In the next edition, let’s see what can and should be done to ensure this area is regulated in a way which will be a motivator instead of a deterrent, which can spur innovation and creativity while ensuring user safety and minimizing any potential for misuse.

Making some sense of blockchain and its use for energy systems (1)

Integral considerations

So, buzzwords… you got a loving or a hating relationship with those? As a kid, deeply into IT and all the abbreviations & huge concepts (anyone remember „robust“ as a buzzword?), I used to be full of them. About a hundred conferences, seminars and discussions later, I’ve grown to learn people who use them generally know very little about what they’re talking about, and smartest ones almost make it too simple – because knowledge is in explaining complex things in simple terms.

I’m a master of electrical engineering, majored in power systems. The most boring topic ever. There’s the power plants, power lines, transformers, get to the wall plug, turn on your hairdryer, i mean what is there to talk about for crying out loud?! Throw in some physics, math, a teaspoon of economics, a bit of people management, and it still turns out electrons follow the path of least resistance, Ohm’s law can’t be changed, supply matches demand at all times or lights go off and in general people just don’t care about the whole thing – until they need to charge the new gadget’s empty battery that is.

Then one day your favorite news outlet reports that some guys made 34 million dollars in an initial coin offering (ICO) on something called a Power Ledger, an energy trading application for peer-to-peer energy trading. Eh, what’s going on? When I included „making sense“ into the title here, it reflects the same issue the Power Ledger team had – it takes them 10 pages of their excellently written whitepaper to start explaining what they’re doing, and seemingly every blockchain discussion starts with about half hour explanation of what a blockchain is, leaving little focus & room to get to talking about applications of it.

Oh well, at some point back in horse carriage days, I bet talks of cars looked about the same, yet today it’s exotic to talk about horses, isn’t it?

Other leading blockchain players in the energy industry include Grid Singularity, Grid+ and LO3 Energy. Then for a bit of an exotic try the “Earth token”. But before all that…

Grassroots knowledge – demystifying Blockchain

Blockchain in its conceptual essence is really not that complex – the technical execution is, but that’s okay, Windows are also really complex yet it’s not difficult to explain what an operating systems is.

Here’s the basics of the market below.


Figure 1 – Concept of blockchain-based local energy trading between residential (source)

Remind you of say stock market trading? Owners of shares (in this case electricity) exchange stocks (in this case electrons), and do it through a physical channel (through power lines) and a virtual one (the market). The difference with introduction of blockchain is that the whole thing is done through a sort of a public ledger instead of through a central stock exchange database.

Next two illustrations below go a bit deeper. Traditional intermediaries, e.g. a bank, are no longer required under the blockchain model, as other participants in the network act as witnesses to each transaction carried out between a provider and a customer, and as such can afterwards also provide confirmation of the details of a transaction. All relevant information is distributed to the network and stored locally on the computers of all participants. So it’s like one huge town square where everybody knows everybody’s business.

Where a provider and a customer agree to enter into a transaction, they specify the recipient, sender and size of the transaction, as very basics. All information relating to an individual transaction is then combined with the details of other transactions made during the same period to create a new block of data. This is comparable to sending emails, which are also split into separate data blocks.



Figure 2 – The blockchain process (source)


Figure 3 – Traditional transactions vs. Blockchain (source)

From here on it can get technical, just like the simple 1+1=2 can be mathematically proven over a couple of hundred pages. So hang on and let’s do a reality check & plan a bit first.

Everybody’s talking Blockchain today – even about things which are really not Blockchain but a database-based system, it just sounds cooler and few people know the difference. Before approaching things deeper, it’s useful to refer to keep a bit of a skeptical eye to all this, having in mind the following:

  1. The most widely known blockchain implementation – cryptocurrencies – in reality still have a limited success as well as use. Yes, about 14 million people use or have used Bitcoin, and about a million are using Ethereum, the two most known currencies. Altogether, this is less then the population of say Mumbai or New York. And it’s been years and years and loads of media hype. Looking purely at prices one could argue 15 million people are either making killer returns or playing a fools game of “musical chairs”, waiting for the superpeak after which something will trigger the real-estate-market-like bubble burst & bust.
  2. If you ever traded bitcoin, you may remember how long it took for the first transaction to happen. In my case, it was nail-biting 30 minutes, during which I had absolutely no idea what’s happening to my money or when the transaction will be finished (I still remember googling like a mad person to troubleshoot the delay and only then learning this is an ongoing issue… this is before all the forks that happened recently). Then there’s the issue of various little fees to pay on entry or exit from any trading platform… not that accessible, is it?
  3. Since we’ll be talking about energy and blockchain, it doesn’t really make sense that bitcoin consumes enormous resources – check this graph out… is it going exponential? Yup. So in a day, about 2.6 million households could be in the dark because bitcoin is being processed… or looking at it another way, you can power a not-so-small American city instead of computing Bitcoins. That’s quite a steep price just to begin with… and governments are catching on the the model of putting data centers in countries with underpriced electricity. Not exactly sustainable yet, is it?
  4. It’s a new technology, sure, but some problems come with a high risk and high price to those who are on the losing end – have a look here, and also here. There was even a link to the wallet on which the stolen money was stored, like here– imagine being able to literally see where all the money went by the hacker/thief and being completely unable to do anything about it. Nuts.

Okay, so it’s not like when cars were invented people had answers to road congestion issues, security of vehicle or ideas on emission standards… but it may come for Blockchain too. Just that possibility makes it worth digging deeper.

To understand more, and set myself a plan of research & blogposts, these would be the bullet points:

  1. Relationship of cryptocurrencies and blockchain and their link to contracting in energy systems
  2. Initial coin offerings and how they work for energy projects
  3. Regulating for Blockchain success in energy systems
  4. Communicating 1-3 to executives (probably the top challenge right now!)

Plan is to cover one point per week. Research is on!