My Personal Experience Highlights How Brexit has thrown a Spanner into Smooth Running 21C Businesses

In my post of the 2nd February I reported on how I needed to get a replacement for my primary computing device – a Microsoft Surface. I won’t bore you with the details, but Microsoft agreed to take some responsibility for the problem and agreed to give me either a refurbished device or discount on a new one. I decided on a new one and they said it would be delivered in 3 days. It was very shortly thereafter I discovered the replacement would be shipped from the UK and lo and behold the shipping status revealed  “The package is delayed due to a Brexit related disruption. We are adjusting delivery plans as quickly as possible.” After two weeks I spoke to Microsoft and told them I wasn’t going to wait for the UK to hire the 50,000 (sic) customs inspectors needed to get the UK’s import export businesses back up and running. I knew there were hundreds of thousands of shipments sitting in the UK waiting to be cleared. I asked Microsoft to return the device to their warehouse and give me a refund. Then I would reorder a device from another location.

This is condensing numerous calls to the shipper UPS and Microsoft over the last few days to try to get them to talk to each other and for Microsoft to agree to refund me. In the end I went into the online order system and requested a “return”. Even though the order hadn’t been delivered to me, the order was sitting in the UPS warehouse at Stanford-le-hope, and this galvanized the system into action. UPS were notified and the status was reset to “waiting for return instructions”. So, Microsoft then told me what they were unable to previously, that my refund would happen automatically as soon as the device was received back into the Microsoft facility. It was rather obvious from these conversations that Microsoft wasn’t accustomed to shipping problems.

I then mentioned to Microsoft that I would reorder, but would make it a condition that the new device must be shipped from anywhere else but the UK. By this stage, this must have been the umpteenth Microsoft person I had spoken with, and she said. “Oh, I’m afraid we can’t do that! When we take an order there is no option to allow us to specify where the order will be fulfilled from.” In fact, the originating Microsoft location is decided by their shipper UPS, presumably to optimize shipment cost and time.

I was pretty shocked at this. I said, “So do you mean that UPS accepted my order knowing full well that it would not be delivered on time? That the initial 3 day estimate was fiction? Also if that’s the case, is UPS continuing to accept orders to be shipped from the UK to Ireland and possibly other EU countries from the UK?” The answer was equivocal. “Well all I can say is that we Microsoft do not have any control over shipment logistics at an individual order level”.

I should explain. Microsoft has a worldwide sales and support system. You call Microsoft and you can get an agent that may be located in any part of the globe. The system works; from personal experience I can say that the technical and sales expertise is excellent, and it works well. What they have done is created a global logistics system that assumes everything works smoothly. From my own experience I can tell you, no one from Microsoft came to advise me there was a problem with delivery time. Nor it must be said UPS. Microsoft clearly operated on the basis that delivery was outside their area of interest, probably because up until January 2021 the customer supply side did indeed work like clockwork.

The lesson to draw here is that if someone throws a spoke in the wheel of a huge well-oiled system, it’s highly likely that chaos will be the outcome. And indeed, a casual read of media reports (see below) on post Brexit trade confirms this.

My own experience has been purely accidental. I would never knowingly have placed an order for a relatively high value item knowing it was sourced from the UK post Brexit. And from the “Microsoft system” perspective it wasn’t relevant. But now it is.

And my experience is clearly one of at least hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of disrupted transactions. Every one of them is someone’s nightmare. However, I doubt very much that it will cost Messrs Gove and Johnson any lost sleep. And down the line it probably won’t lose them any votes either.  

For what it’s worth, I shall remain a Microsoft customer, but when I get the refund I shall use a local tech retailer. They are selling the same model for just €20 more than my discounted price from Microsoft. And I will click and collect! No shipper needed.

Irish consumers warned parcel delays from UK sites will last months

‘Can’t cope’: After Brexit, UK border customs system hits limit

Logistics giant DPD pauses U.K. to EU parcel shipments, amid post-Brexit customs chaos

Irish freight industry warns of Brexit threat to supply chains

Firms halt deliveries from UK to EU over Brexit border problems

Exports to EU down 68 per cent since Brexit, say UK hauliers

Posted in Brexit, Brexit Britain, Digital Transformation, Personal Technology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Question: What’s the Connection Between Climate Change and Brexit?

Easy, both are man-made problems, they are both slow burners and have been looming for years and they will both cause unpredictable problems that will run and run. Of course, climate change will be many orders of magnitude greater impact, but you get the idea!

At the start of the year I ordered a DVD drive from what I thought was an Irish supplier. Silly me without giving it a lot of thought, I ordered the drive from a .ie site. I was surprised when I received the delivery tracking details indicating UK origin. I was lucky that time – the value of the shipment was less than €50 and the package arrived as scheduled. Last week I had to order a new PC from Microsoft. It wasn’t planned but I had a hardware failure out of warranty, and Microsoft were good enough to accept some liability and gave me a good deal on a replacement. Speaking to the Microsoft agent she confirmed there were no shipping problems and said the delivery was confirmed for three days from order. Well the delivery didn’t happen, and when I tracked the shipment, I found it was sitting in a warehouse in the UK with a status of, “The package is delayed due to a Brexit related disruption. We are adjusting delivery plans as quickly as possible.” Three days later the status changes to delivery in three days. I’m not actually desperate for the delivery I have good backup, but I have a vision of a warehouse and supply chain in crisis mode, giving customers’ some palliative information to keep the situation from crashing altogether. Before confirming the order, I did discuss with the agent that the shipment would be free of any additional customs, tax and other charges, but that’s now in the back of my mind. And this is not a €50 purchase! See below . . .

But my problems are minor compared to what’s going on in the real world. I give you a couple of quotes from the Guardian 23rd January, . . amid claims from Boris Johnson that its people and its businesses were now free to live and trade as they wished – UK companies that export to the EU, and EU ones that send goods here, are beginning to realise that the reverse is true. And so are their customers. . . . It’s not just the British fishing crews famous musicians, . . . rather it is millions of hard-working people running, and employed in, less romantic and exotic small businesses who are feeling utterly let down and wondering if their companies will even survive.

Take Andrew Moss, managing director of small company Horizon, based in Cambridgeshire. The last three weeks, he says, have been a living nightmare. “Soft Brexit – there is no such thing. This is horrific,” he says. “We celebrated the Brexit deal with champagne over Christmas but when we woke up and realised that this car crash was happening, we thought, oh my God!” The problems he has encountered since 1 January are many, including more forms and several extra Brexit-related charges for exporting into the EU that will eat into profit margins. But even worse, he discovered from customers in Europe that they were being asked by couriers to pay VAT upfront on the goods he was sending to them – as a condition, in effect, of getting customs clearance – and the customers, unsurprisingly, were refusing. I am certainly worried I may get this message any day now, and of course, I will refuse to pay and insist on a credit from Microsoft, or better a shipment from an EU location.

Then in the last 24 hours we have heard that there are emerging problems in the Northern Ireland ports; workers involved in carrying out customs checks are coming under threat from “unknown sources”; the NI government and the EU have withdrawn their staff for safety reasons. Now this feels like it’s a political powder keg just waiting to blow. Let’s hope cool heads will prevail.

Brexit has been part of our lives for the last four years. Like Andrew Moss we might have thought it would go away, and while we would have to adjust to the new realities, this would soon settle down. We did expect some difficulties at Dover but we were reassured that this would be temporary. Little did we think there’s a whole host of issues that are going to emerge; and clearly the full extent of the turbulence is yet to be understood. We have some way to run.

Coda: The delivery date of my Microsoft shipment has now gone out to the 8th February. I spoke to Microsoft Ireland, and no surprise I was passed to a UK office who handle all Microsoft Ireland sales! That’s how close the UK and Ireland operations are. I was told a) the Brexit related shipment issues are a known problem and it will be all down to UPS. Microsoft can do nothing. and b) that the addition of VAT for EU shipments is again a known issue and that Microsoft commit to pick up that cost. When the shipper requests the VAT payment, they are asking customers to pick up the cost and they will credit back immediately. All very time consuming, and while it may not break the Microsoft bank, it might be very serious for smaller companies such as my case study above. I just wonder how long it will take before the Microsoft Ireland Sales operation broken out of the UK and established as a standalone entity in Ireland?

Posted in Brexit, Brexit Britain, Climate Change | Tagged | 1 Comment

Are We Using Technology to Get us out out of the Covid19 Mess?

Here in Ireland we are recovering from Lockdown 3, case load is reducing but the hospitals and entire health service is incredibly overloaded. There is real concern that new variants may be more serious, transmissible etc, and not covered by the vaccines.

Yesterday our government announced new travel restrictions, essentially enforcing mandatory quarantine for arrivals into the country arriving from certain countries, or travellers without a negative PCR test. But there is an outcry from all sides; too little, too late; not sufficiently detailed etc etc. And it’s true it will take time consuming legislation. And various stakeholders such as the Garda are indicating monitoring home quarantine just won’t work. Again for legal and health and safety reasons.

Now we all know that politicians in general are mostly not individuals with deep expertise. And they and their civil servants are certainly not experts in responding to crisis situations with new systems and processes. And I’ll bet this is the same in many countries around the world. And we probably all share the same issues. We need to keep our countries open as much as possible to protect supply chains and essential business. But we really need to stop individuals bringing the virus, particularly increasing numbers of variants into the country. Some countries have solved this by mandating quarantine in a government facility. But here in Ireland there are so many legal and health and safety problems that it would probably take months to establish. So here the government has elected for mandatory quarantine, but at the individuals place of residence or a specific address.

My thinking is pretty simple. We can solve the monitoring problem tomorrow! Implement a second arrival form for all airports and ports immediately that gets the individual to give details of their phone, post code where they will isolate, and credit card and signature agreeing to be monitored and accepting a charge (of whatever the penalty is) if they move beyond the postcode. The government needs to get a very rapid agreement with telecom companies to log movements on those phones and a simple process to securely pass the phone numbers to the telcos. This would be a VERY simple system to implement immediately. Given the individuals’ agreement there are no GDPR or civil rights issues involved.

If we can log individuals’ movements by their mobile phone to track missing persons or criminal suspects, and most countries do, there is no reason why the setup could not be implemented literally immediately because the individual would formally accept to be monitored as a condition of entering the country.

Use the technology.

Posted in Coronavirus, Covid19, Digital Transformation, lockdown, Pandemic, Personal Technology, Travel | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Democracy is not a fragile flower still it needs cultivating.

Well it’s been one hell of a ride! I remember talking to a good friend and colleague almost exactly four years ago. He lives in the greater DC area and does a lot of government business, so I listened hard. He said, “Don’t worry, our institutions are strong. There are many, many checks and balances that stop rogue actors.” And in the last few days I have been mulling over those words. In the end he was right, but you have to conclude that if a rogue president appoints rogue actors at all levels of government, as officials and judges the system only works if those actors have greater integrity than the president. And thankfully in key situations they did.

In the end the judiciary came through. The Supreme and other courts, notwithstanding having been stuffed with Trump appointees, held the line of truth vs wild conspiracy. Like many, I listened to the phone call between Trump and his mad cronies and Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state with amazement. Astonishment that Trump was so ignorant, unprepared, unable to talk detail. Awe that Raffensperger simply held the line of truth and integrity calmly and quietly without bending one inch.

In the end the real problem was the widespread compromise of social media that persuaded a very significant proportion of the electorate that the election had been won fraudulently. As we know it doesn’t take many bad actors to spread lies, and social media inherently reinforces confirmation bias. Conspiracy theories are widespread and if individuals get most of their information via ungoverned tv and social media, plus the president of the USA also provides powerful confirmation, then wild ideas will become de facto truth. Doesn’t matter what the officials, courts or the real subject matter experts say, if all your contacts believe the world is flat, well that’s it. And of course, it’s not just the USA that has been infected with this disease, it’s also in many other countries also.

So, while we can breathe a sigh of relief that the USA is returning to some basic level of sanity, we know the country is still completely divided and holds fundamentally different belief systems. That’s what happens if you put a rogue actor in a position of power.

I have written about the question of social media governance on numerous occasions over the years. While we have seen “self-governance” from Twitter and Facebook based on breach of corporate Terms and Conditions such as incitement to violence or worse, this is clearly not a good or long-term solution. I reiterate the need for a governance and standards body that guides and adjudicates on all aspects of social media services. I recommend we go back to basics; we don’t unleash drugs or automobiles, financial services or other consumer products and services onto the public without trials and regulatory controls in place. Yet over the past couple of decades we have all participated in an enormous social experiment which has had huge impact on many aspects of society, not least the integrity of our democracies. It’s time to ask legislators, social scientists, and technology experts to advise on how we govern both existing and new products and services.

Coda: I stopped using Twitter in 2016. Apart from its most infamous user I couldn’t stand the inherently rude, bullying and trivializing nature of the platform. I don’t intend to return, I can live without it. I believe the world will be a better place if the most powerful person on the planet is not capturing the attention of the world on a minute by minute basis.

Posted in Biden, Democracy, Digital Transformation, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Governance, Technology Platforms, Trump, Trust | Tagged , | 2 Comments

We Need to Talk About (Irish) Agriculture

This morning I listened to a radio clip about the Irish peat industry. Peat harvested from local bogs has been used for centuries for cooking and heating in Ireland. Throughout the 20th century, peat was prized as a source of rural employment and an alternative fuel for heating and electricity generation during disruptions to coal supply in World War I and II. Peat harvesting was viewed as a patriotic endeavour. A way of life rather than a commercial project.

But given well known environmental issues with peat burning, the end down of the peat industry was accelerated last year and the two peat burning power stations shut down at the end of 2020 saving at least 1.25 million tonnes of carbon each year. For the past 80 years the industry has been a major employer in the midlands. Now there is a major effort to rewild the peat bogs and create new forms of environmentally friendly employment and industry. This closure has been a long drawn out, highly emotive process for the entire midland’s community, but it was always inevitable.

The Irish Agriculture industry is in a somewhat similar situation. Whilst the industry accounts for a relatively small (less than 2% and declining) proportion of GDP, it is responsible for over 30% of all Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions and unacceptably high levels of pollution. The industry is of course at the heart of Irish country life. It employs some 110,000 people and is central to local communities countrywide. Whilst closure is not even remotely considered, the agriculture industry will need to accept a similarly dramatic level of change over the next 30 years.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine published a Roadmap towards Climate Neutrality in December. Responding to the report in the Irish Times, sustainability analyst Dr Hannah Daly of UCC commented, “Cows emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a very strong global warming impact. Globally, methane from agriculture and fossil fuels has been responsible for the two-fifths of the 1 degree of global temperature rise that has already taken place as a result of human activities.” She continued, “Ireland is the fourth highest per-capita emitter of methane from agriculture in the world, and emissions are 15 per cent higher since 2011, driven by dairy output and abolition of milk quotas. The roadmap does not even reverse this recent rise in emissions”.

Essentially the report has a vision of “stabilising methane emissions and a significant reduction in fertiliser related nitrous oxide emissions, leading to an absolute reduction in the agricultural greenhouse gas inventory by 2030”. The ICMSA “Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association” were scathing about the report saying, “. . . featured page after page of likely new duties, regulations, and costs on farmer primary-producers without even once mentioning the reformation of margins in what he described as “an economically broken and environmentally destructive supply-chain to the consumers”.

The ICMSA have highlighted the biggest problem with Irish agriculture. Ireland exports about 90 per cent of its dairy and beef and half its pig meat. In 2019, dairy exports earned the country €4.9 billion, beef exports were worth €2.24 billion and pig meat exports €514 million. (Irish Times). Essentially, we are exporting cheap meat and dairy and living with the pollution that causes, especially from reactive nitrogen which pollutes water supply, greenhouse gas emissions, ammonia in the air and eutrophication of lakes and rivers. Yet the Irish farmers are not adequately remunerated.

Farm incomes are highly variable and complex. But the average family farm income in 2019 was €23,933 down 24 per cent on the 2017 average of €31,374. The dairy sector does better with an increased milk output, with an average income of €66,570. However, we are all aware that while dairy farmers have significantly increased herd sizes over the past few years, they have also had to invest massively in robotic milking systems, leaving most of them with considerable debt to service.

The Department of Agriculture roadmap for supposedly for the next 30 years is also very inadequate in that a) it assumes there will be a market for its products and b) it assumes productivity and biodiversity will not be impacted by climatic conditions. We all know the weather is changing. Over 15 years ago farmer neighbours explained to me how the changing pattern of prevailing winds (away from South West) caused them huge problems, particularly in timing herd movements or field management activity. Also, the clear shift in rainfall patterns with longer periods of drought followed by short periods of intensive rainfall which respectively require costly irrigation and soil management as rain dilutes nutrients and causes pollution as nitrates are washed into rivers and the sea.

Buried in the Department’s report is reference to organic farming. There is a roadmap action item to increase the current area under organic production to 350,000 hectares by 2030. The total utilised agriculture area in Ireland in 2016 was 4.8m hectares, which suggests the Department are aiming to establish 7% of farming land under organic management. This should be read in context with the EU guidelines of 25% by 2030.

The change to organic farming referred to by the Department doesn’t correlate the action to the other issues to be resolved. Organic farmers all know that the problems faced by most Irish farmers are because of the chemical intensive practices that literally destroy the soil and make use of massive quantities of chemical fertilisers that kill all the micro and macro organisms in the soil, that leaves the crops defenceless against all manner of predators, pests and diseases, and therefore requires that the farmer use chemical pesticides. Organic farming is not a fad for the trendy; it’s a complete system that creates living soil that facilitates and enables healthy crops and animals and produces the highest quality, pollution free products.

We need to stimulate and encourage a conversation about where farming needs to go. This shouldn’t be about keeping as close to the status quo as possible, rather about how to establish genuinely high-quality farming that is inherently pollution free. The big roadmap questions to be asked are:

  1. Why wouldn’t we aim to make Ireland self-sufficient in food?
  2. What model would allow a self-sufficient Ireland to remunerate its farmers properly?
  3. Would incentives for localisation of food supply, (farmers markets, local produce to supermarkets) provide better income to farmers and reduce overall emissions.
  4. What percentage of existing farmland is necessary to support a self-sufficient Ireland?
  5. What proportion of the 4.8m hectares could we rewild? What level of sequestration and emission reduction would this provide?
  6. Why export food? If we had to pay (2050) carbon tax on the export supply chain, would it still be economic?
  7. Why shouldn’t producers be localised as Co-ops? Give control back to farmers?
  8. Should we not limit output to maintain or increase rewilded areas?
  9. As consumers transition away from meat and dairy, and as rainfall and drought periods both increase, how should we plan to evolve our farming systems?

    Irish agriculture is at a crossroads. The Department of Agriculture is locked in the past and manifestly cannot see beyond the status quo. If it tinkers around the edges of the existing model the industry will emulate the peat industry, shrink and largely die. However, we do have a great resource in the large number of younger farmers who have excellent qualifications and understanding of the science, in ways their fathers never could. They are more than capable of transitioning to a radically different future. It’s vital that leaders are allowed to emerge that can see a roadmap not just to 2030, but to 2050 and beyond. And the EU is encouraging that radical path.

EU Organic guidelines

Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change, Economic Model, Organic Farming | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Spotlight on Climate Bill (Ireland)

The Irish government published it’s first climate change bill in 2015. This was superseded by the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020. This post records my initial review of the combined bills.   

  1. I couldn’t find a single document! There is a 2015 bill and the 2020 Amendment. So, you must read both at the same time. Sounds a little thing, but these are legal documents and it makes it harder than necessary. I suspect lazy civil servants or deliberate obfuscation. Not a good start.

    The documents are not designed to communicate, so I started by developing a very simple concept model. It’s self-explanatory.

2. A couple of definitions:

a. “Carbon budget’ means, in relation to one or more greenhouse gases, the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are permitted during the budget period.

b. Parameters, Constraints and other Matters for Consideration relate to a catch all requirement for “Minister and the Government shall have regard to the following matters” which is a long list of possible constraints. More on this later.  

3. When the term budget is mentioned, the first thing I look for is who is responsible. If you don’t have clearly, legally defined responsibility, it is likely the budget will be ignored. In my revised model below, I have added a link between Budget and Responsibility.

So who is responsible for some element of the carbon budget? I suggest making climate improvements needs wide awareness and responsibility which should include state bodies, semi state bodies, commercial and non-profit organizations as well as individuals. Of course, the responsibility and accountability will be highly variable. But we might have policies such as:

a. All enterprises and organizations over €Nm turnover to publish annual update of their Carbon footprint as a web service that can be accessed as public domain information and in annual accounts.

b. Calculated footprints to be published for each taxable business unit by geography and specific consumer products and services. E.g Electricity companies publish total and per Kw by service type.

c. Individuals to be given tools to understand their carbon footprint and made aware of opportunities and incentives to improve.  

4. The bill identifies just two types of policy, climate and social justice. It’s notable that the social justice policy type was absent from the 2015 bill, and we can imagine that the Green party now in power had a hand in promoting this important category. But, why not go further and identify critical policy types.

First, the very absence of overall emissions reduction targets is astonishing. Simply stating climate neutral economy by the end of the year 2050 is not helpful. Is this net or gross? What intermediate staging? Targets for every 5 years? Why not emulate Sweden and state 2045? Then there are more detailed policy types. I suggest adding at the very minimum: taxation, incentives, governance, etc

5. Section 3 (3) states, “For the purposes of performing their functions under sections 4, 5 and 6 the Minister and the Government shall have regard to the following matters” which is then followed by a list of what I have modelled as Parameters, Constraints and other Matters for Consideration. If these items are sufficiently important to put into legal text, there should be explicit requirements stated. For example “the special economic and social role of agriculture” is a time bomb that, if left unchanged will potentially compromise implementation of the entire plan.   

6. The functions of the Advisory Council are indicative of split responsibility. Lessons might be learnt from NPHET. Also from the UK which has a very strong, independent statutory body. The emphasis of the bill is overwhelmingly about how members are selected and the function of the Council is covered in just a few short lines at the end of a long section.

Revised Model

In summary, very disappointing. I will continue and review some other countries. I note the UK, Sweden and NZ have done good work in this area, and will do some comparisons.

Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change, Governance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Renault Zoe 2020 – Report on EV In General Use

I ordered a new Zoe Iconic R110 50Kw last December. We were extremely lucky to be able to test drive the only new-model car in the country at that time, so we had hands on experience pre ordering. I decided not to wait for the VW ID3 because a) much higher price and b) risk of going with a brand-new model and technology. We were impressed that the Zoe at that stage, was the best-selling EV in Europe. With Covid19, factory closure and all that we eventually picked up the Zoe in early July.

I won’t repeat the generally good comments of all the motoring journalists who have tested the car. It is an exceptionally good car for its size. Fast, very stable and good handling, comfortable, great tech, excellent range. Cheaper than all the competition! We have now done some 4000 Kms and are very familiar with the car and EVs in general. I’ll address the points that journalists doing short tests don’t generally cover or often get wrong!

  1. Normal Range: Most important – the effective range seems to average 350 – 360 in good weather. On longer runs we use Eco mode and you need to get used to it and drive smoothly. Be prepared to kick Eco on and off as necessary. I use the Kw/100 Kms meter a lot – and manage to get the average down below 15 or lower. This allows you to manage the real range and understand how and when to adjust driving style. This might sound a bit geeky, but I can report my wife handles this brilliantly and she’s no geek!
  2. Winter Range: When the temperature is 5 degrees or lower the real range drops drastically. Plan on at least 30% drop.
  3. Reliability: A personal friend gave me a strong recommendation on Renault. He switched to them a couple of years ago and couldn’t be more positive. When we had the car for just a few weeks a driver coming out of a side turning drove straight into the near side of the car. Massive bang! Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the vehicle was driveable. The Renault dealer and engineer were fantastic in response and attention to detail. They took just 3 days to fix the car as good as new. More generally the car doesn’t leak in the rain and is very solid.
  4. Usage: The car is a super mini – it has excellent front seat space. The rear seats would be for occasional use or children only. However, the boot is excellent – it is deep and easily accessed. I often keep the back seats down and that space is very usable for larger loads.
  5. Gear shift: Several journalists have criticised the gear shift. Specifically, they dislike the D (drive) B (Recovery) toggle feature. I can understand if someone is just driving the car for a few hours they might not even realise it’s a toggle operation. In real usage it’s easy to use and highly effective.
  6. Technology: I was worried about the VW ID3 because there were reports that software engineering was a big problem. That’s no surprise – the EV tech is considerably more complex than your fossil fuelled vehicle (FFV) including battery and range management, program setting etc. I will admit it took a few days to get it all on board, but the Zoe tech works, mostly. I don’t use programmed charging as I don’t need it at present, but the app and car integrate very well indeed. At one stage the app gave up and froze. I simply deleted the app and reinstalled. No problem.
  7. Carbon footprint: I had been concerned about the full life cycle carbon load because of the high (carbon) cost of battery materials and production compared to FFVs.  However I understand Renault is actively managing the battery recycling process, not just for rental batteries.
  8. Running cost: I charge from a home charger which is the most economic. Basically the normal household rate of €0.17 per Kw (corrected from original text). I have monitored the metered charging process and it’s unsurprisingly totally predictable cost. I haven’t triggered off peak charging as I now have a smart meter installed and the ESB have announced there will be new plans early in 2021 that take advantage of the smart meter capabilities.  I have signed up with ESB Connect and it works just fine. I am also registered with EasyGo that is a very useful directory (at least in Ireland) of charging points and critically their status and availability. I don’t yet have servicing costs, but the Renault engineer indicated 12 month check costs are very low (think around €100) because of low number of moving parts.  
  9. General comments: Range anxiety does go away very quickly when you have the data. It’s similar to managing gas (diesel/petrol) but different. So, you need different numbers in your head – Kw/100 litre, and forecast range. Having a home charger is really important if you have the space and parking proximity. I normally charge when I get to 110Kms remaining range and charge to 80%, unless we have a longer journey the following day, in which case I will charge to 100%. But this is very much the exception.  Covid19 notwithstanding we are doing early thinking about holidays, meeting up with the family on the continent, and will happily take the ferry (to keep the carbon load down) and drive across Europe. With good planning, the Zoe will handle that happily.   

Overall rating: 4.5. Recommended.

Posted in Carbon Footprint, Electric Vehicles, EV, Renault Zoe | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Remember we still need to save the world. Let’s re-energize and refocus Climate Actions in 2021.

In my blog, Happy XMAS (War is Over?) I discussed how the pandemic knocked the air out of all other priorities, and the pressing need now to reprioritize specifically climate change as the really big impending catastrophe. And I posed the question, “Should we simply return to what was normal in 2019? Or do we have a one-time opportunity to leverage not just the accidental reduction in emissions, but to learn from our experience of disaster?”

This last year we have all been following the Covid19 numbers – the cases, the R0, the hospitalization and sadly the deaths. I’ve no doubt that we will continue this in 2021, but I suggest we need to focus everyone on a new set of numbers. Specifically, we all need to become very familiar with the Carbon Footprint, our own personal load, our family’s, our business, our country’s etc. Not surprisingly Climate matters have dropped off the agenda. Even if we hadn’t been so preoccupied with Covid19, let’s be honest we have all become bored with Climate Change. It’s been going for so long, there’s nothing new to say and frankly until it arrives, it’s not news. And the interminable international meetings that all result in failure to agree because vested interests won’t act leave us cold. And even when there are huge wildfires, floods or hurricanes, the scientists say as ever, well Climate Change has some level of impact on the severity or frequency, but we can’t be more specific.

So, what’s changed? Firstly, we have all become more sensitized to the idea that our lives are not running on rails. It doesn’t take much to thoroughly wreck our lives, our livelihoods in an instant.  Second during lockdowns many of us have been tuned into David Attenborough, whose gentle but persistent demonstrations have shown us how we ourselves are causing the natural world to collapse!

Just stop and consider which type of catastrophe might just arrive into your life without notice – wildfire, flood, drought or absence of potable water, food shortages caused by crop failures caused by all of the others, pollution or unbreathable air, massive increases in migration from affected areas, economic collapse caused by all of the others and so on. Climate change is insidious because it’s happening all the time all around the world and we become desensitized to the news stories. But every day somewhere in the world people like us are being made homeless, sick or dying. You might like to check out the New Humanitarian site on Environment and Disasters.

So, we all need to engage with the new number – Carbon Footprint. We need to use this in our lives to make decisions about whether or how we travel, what we purchase, from where . . . .

Also in my blog post , Happy XMAS (War is Over?) I proposed that we need an app that allows everyone, individuals, businesses, schools, clubs, governments etc to measure their own carbon footprint. The amount of CO2 they are producing on a daily, weekly monthly and yearly basis.  It needs to be reasonably accurate; not like the apps you can currently download that are just puerile. The app needs to integrate businesses, government departments and individuals so the performance of my electricity supplier is reflected in my own personal footprint. And we all need to be able to use the app on a daily basis to record and monitor how we are doing.

I would like to see governments getting everyone energized and engaged in Climate actions. For example:

  1. All businesses over €1m turnover to publish annual update of their Carbon footprint as a web service that can be accessed as public domain information and in annual accounts. Calculated footprints to be published for each taxable business unit by geography and specific consumer products. E.g Electricity companies publish total and per Kw by service type.  
  2. Governments to establish carbon inspectorates to assess and challenge published footprint data.
  3. Governments to develop sector specific carbon incentives and taxes based on carbon footprint targets and achievements. These could be applicable to businesses and individuals.

In effect I’m proposing that there needs to be both carrot and stick. If we, particularly businesses, but individuals also, reduce our carbon load we should benefit from lower taxes or rebates. And if particularly businesses increase carbon load, we should be taxed more heavily.

The carbon load should also be, excuse the pun, “fully loaded”. In other words, let’s take the example of a meat producer that exports meat products to China, the producer should be responsible for the carbon load incurred by the entire supply chain. In this way we are changing the Climate Agenda – to engage individuals who adapt their spending to reward companies that are reducing their carbon load and enabling individual consumers to do same. And at the same time raising the level of attention and awareness that causes governments to introduce new policies, incentives and taxes to encourage climate friendly behaviour and highlight climate damaging behaviour.

Finally, we should be deeply sceptical about the much heralded COP26 Glasgow Climate Conference, postponed from 2020 to November 2021. Apart from the nauseating sight of Boris Johnson pretending to save the world, we should expect the big countries to agree on some compromise that is a) way too late to stop the world exceeding 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and b) allows them to kick the can down the road yet again. We need to energise climate actions in a highly effective way, engaging ordinary people that causes and enables governments to make more courageous longer term decisions.  

Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change, COP26 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Happy XMAS (War is Over?)

It’s way too soon to say the pandemic is over, but as we approach the end of the year it’s a good time to think about what’s next. And we all know that while the pandemic has knocked the air out of pretty much all other priorities, the big impending catastrophe hasn’t gone away! I have just finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s book The Ministry of the Future. I strongly recommend it. Robinson is primarily a science fiction writer, but this is more of a future scenario strongly based on current climate science.

The book opens in 2025 in India. There is a catastrophic heat wave in which the daytime temperature is at least 38 degrees and 65 per cent humidity. People are dying in their thousands. Boiled, poached or roasted, some 20 million die. This figure is just an estimate because there are no supports possible for the suffering and dying. India is of course very traumatised and there are harsh words spoken about the first worlds’ carbon footprint being responsible for third world disasters. Of course, the whole world is shocked by this event, but as with so many climate events, return to normal happens very swiftly thereafter.

A few years later there is an event that becomes known as Crash Day. Some sixty passenger jets are downed by drone attacks. Thousands of passengers from all over the world die. Several terrorist groups claim responsibility for the attacks, but in the end no clear responsibility is attributed. Again, the world is very shocked, but very quickly gets over the event and continues to fly just as before. Then just a few months later the Crash Day is repeated. And then the message is very clear – do not fly. All types of travellers, businesspeople, tourists etc all stop flying. It has become too dangerous. Airlines fail and airline and airport infrastructure become redundant. There are intermittent, smaller attacks subsequently, sufficient to maintain the pressure.

After this most countries recognize the need to reduce their carbon footprint. Of course, it’s not a straightforward process. The polluting industries keep polluting and use their financial muscle to slow and frustrate transition to sustainable futures. Dark forces are deployed on all sides. Captains of polluting industries become susceptible to sudden and usually fatal accidents. But similarly thought leaders in sustainability are also threatened. But gradually the world changes. And here the book presents a highly realistic picture of how the monetary system is linked to carbon footprint and how central, wholesale and retail banks are brought into the act to change business and individual behaviour. In the end governments have to at least fund the massive infrastructure investment, but it’s the financial world that will reengineer the monetary value of sustainability.

Over the past year we have observed the syndrome whereby we don’t change our behaviour until existential threats are literally unavoidable. The scenes from the Pacific Islands, California, Australia and other parts of the world have been extraordinary. People have lost their livelihoods and their lives. And while we are all hugely sympathetic, it doesn’t really affect us, so we carry on as usual. Of course, the pandemic taught us (well with notable exceptions) that we had to change our behaviour. But now we are seeing the route to the exit, we can all anticipate the rush to return to normal. Everyone is desperate to travel, to see their families, to do business, to go on holiday etc. Similarly, everyone misses their social life in all its forms. But we must ask, should we simply return to what was normal in 2019? Or do we have a one time opportunity to leverage not just the accidental reduction in emissions but to learn from the experience of disaster that literally stopped us in our tracks.

Let’s not forget, climate change will be several orders of magnitude greater impact than the Covid19 pandemic. But the reason we haven’t responded to the climate change threat is because it’s only impacting on a relatively small minority of the global population. But now we have all have the common experience of 2020 and perhaps will be more inclined to be less selfish?

In 2020 we have also observed that governments have been subservient to other disciplines – medical, scientific and public health. And while we all have opinions on the experts, in the main we can’t help but be impressed with their sangfroid in the face of disaster. And that has been a good thing because governments are generally very slow to respond and deal with change. Whereas experts are on their own territory and have at least some of the answers. So, in context with climate change, we shouldn’t expect governments to make the running. They quite simply don’t have the expertise, even to ask for the help they clearly need.

In Robinson’s future scenario he focuses on making change socially, commercial and financially attractive on many levels. And I suggest that to capture the prevailing mood and transfer this smoothly to addressing the climate crisis, we need to do the same. And we need to give “everyone” a mechanism that they can a) see how they are helping and b) how they can benefit.

I suggest we need a mechanism (an app would be good) that allows everyone, individuals, businesses, schools, clubs, governments etc to measure their own carbon footprint. The amount of CO2 they are producing on a daily, weekly monthly and yearly basis.  It needs to be reasonably accurate; not like the apps you can currently download that are just puerile. We need to bring AI to bear on this problem. The app needs to integrate businesses, government departments and individuals so the performance of my electricity supplier is reflected in my own personal footprint. And we all need to be able to use the app on a daily basis to record and monitor how we are doing.

The app should also allow us to plan, to understand the carbon load of decisions such as holidays, air travel, purchases of appliances etc. And all around the world we have millions of enthusiastic young people who, until this year were taking Fridays off school to protest about climate inaction. So, here’s an opportunity for these young people to become involved. To be able to engage with their parents, friends, schools etc to understand the science better and to become genuinely part of the worldwide effort.

Governments of course have a major role to play, particularly in creating incentives. Many governments have established grant systems to fund sustainable infrastructure including EVs, chargers, solar panels, heating and insulation systems etc. But governments can go much further, by creating climate transformation plans that guide individuals on decisions that will help them to progressively reduce their carbon load, and to reward individuals for achievements in tax breaks etc. And of course, the app will provide empirical evidence of the individual’s performance.

My scheme outlined here is crucially a bottom up scheme. I would recommend the app is “open sourced” by non-profit enterprises, funded by governments all around the world. We really don’t want to reward yet another technology giant enterprise with this task. Rather this is an opportunity for individual and collaborative creativity, and to encourage tens of thousands of individuals to get involved in this virtual enterprise and show governments what they need to do make progress.

Let me know if you would like to collaborate on specifying this app.

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson review – how to solve the climate crisis.

Posted in Climate Change, Covid19, Digital Transformation, Economic Model, Personal Technology, Technology Platforms | 1 Comment

Split up Facebook? No! Enforce Open Social Media Interoperability Standards to enable real competition.

I see today in the Guardian that “The US government and a coalition of 48 states and districts have filed parallel lawsuits against Facebook in a major antitrust offensive that accused the social media behemoth of anticompetitive behavior and could ultimately force its breakup.”

In 2017 I posted “It’s time to exert governance over the the Global Tech Leaders!” In this post I discussed how 20 years ago I and my research colleagues identified the problem with “platform companies” and the likelihood of market domination. In 2017 I said, “All enterprises require some form of governance, internal and external. In the past external governance of corporations has been about ownership, assets and financial probity. More recently there has been some moves to implement more qualitative forms of governance to require corporations to report on issues such as climate change and social responsibility. Clearly, we now need strong governance over the technology companies and their customers use of the platform. I am speaking specifically about Facebook, Twitter and Google as priorities, but I fully anticipate the requirement will be much broader

Frankly splitting Facebook is insufficient. Particularly if the split just separates out WhatsApp and Instagram. Facebook will continue to dominate the market.

In 2017 I proposed some simple remedies as follows:

a. Establish limits over individuals’ or enterprises’ use of the social platforms. Require named tech companies to make an account charge of $1 per month for every follower/friend over say 1000.
b. Require platforms to highlight paid adverts and accounts to other users.
c. Require named platforms to provide open standards for interaction between social platforms to reduce monopoly behaviors.
d. Require user ownership of personal data and rights to opt in or out of profiling based messaging and advertising.
e. Require message privacy to be subject to external governance by approved security services.
f. Recommend country level taxation systems that claw back excess profits supplementary to corporate tax regimes.
3. Charter the UN governance board to establish communications with country level governance boards and facilitate coherent implementation of policies at global and country level.

The most important remedy is point c. – to open up not just Facebook, but all social media platforms, to enforce open standards that allow standard approaches to platform interaction. This one remedy will encourage and enable agile competitors to enter the market and be successful by providing both extension and superior capabilities to the core platform(s).

Let’s remember how legal challenges take forever and ultimately fail to achieve the desired objective. Consider United States v. Microsoft Corp – and how the American antitrust law case in which the U.S. government accused Microsoft of illegally maintaining its monopoly position in the PC market primarily through the legal and technical restrictions it put on the abilities of PC manufacturers (OEMs) and users to uninstall Internet Explorer and use other programs such as Netscape and Java. In the end, the DOJ reached an agreement with Microsoft to settle the case. The proposed settlement required Microsoft to share its application programming interfaces with third-party companies and appoint a panel of three people who would have full access to Microsoft’s systems, records, and source code for five years in order to ensure compliance. The states regarded the outcome as just a slap on the wrist.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it! George Santayana-1905.

Posted in Digital Transformation, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Governance | Leave a comment