The Sahara – Powerhouse of Solar Energy

May 10, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Posted in Business Applications | Leave a comment
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In my last week’s post, I wrote about the introduction and buildout of solar ovens in Africa which was one indicator of my today’s entry. I talked about the advantages and the sustainability of these tools, that surely have a big impact on the African population and ecology but if we take the sun as a source of energy, trust me, it can do way more than what I’ve talked about so far.

It’s based on the right concept that says “start small, grow as you go“. As I mentioned last week, the approach to implement solar ovens in the every day life of geographically remoted and electrically isolated farmers, has turned out to be a huge success, refering to the cost-benefit ratio as well as the added value. If we had to set up an equation for the poor it would be: a little=a lot.

Is Africa suited for Solar Energy?

The introduction of solar ovens is a microsocial and –economical aspect but what I’ve been wondering about for the last week is if solar energy is also applicable tomacroeconomic and -social facets. How can countries and continents benefit from African  solar energy?

Have a look at the following graph.

This map indubitably reveals the potential of solar energy in Africa. As you can seeirradiance of the African continent is one of the world’s highestMeghan Simondswrites about “Africa’s abundance of solar energy“. Though the whole continent seems to face extremely high irradiance, there are two spots that stand out. It’s the deserts. Besides the Kalahari desert which marks the dark spot in the south, it’s predominantely the Sahara that could become Africa’s powerhouse for solar energyDr. Gerhard Knies, co-founder of TREC, believes in deserts:

“we could meet the entire world’s energy needs by covering a fraction of the world’s deserts — just 0.5 percent — with concentrated solar power plants.”

The Foundation of Desertec

Knies’ research and assumptions eventually resulted in a project called Desertec. It’s aiming for a massive network of wind and solar farms that could connect to Europe via high voltage direct current transmission cables. “These cables are supposed to only lose 3% of their electricity per 1000km“, Charis Michelsen states.

An Unattainable Dream?

While others still regard Desertec as an unattainable dream, big companies such asE.ON or Siemens have joined the project establishing the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii). Especially after Germany has announced to dismantle its nuclear power plants, the project seems like the perfect solution in order to gain energy. Is it a German project?

“Yes, the initiative came from Germany. But there are 15 different nationalities involved, including companies such as HSBC and Morgan Stanley. This is just the start”,

Paul van Son, Dii’s CEO, answers.

It’s not a Walk in the Park!

Due to the harsh weather conditions in the desert, maintaining the troughs turns out to be the biggest problem the project has to face. High winds and sandstorms let the scientists hit problems. Bodo Becker, the operations manager at Flagsol, declares tough numbers:

“Due to the dusty conditions, we are witnessing about 2% degradation every day in performance, so we need to clean them daily. We use about 39 cubic metres of demineralised water each day for cleaning across the whole site.”

39 cubic metres, that equals 10.300 gallons of water which is  38.989 liter of water each day. Taking into consideration the general lack of water in deserts, this number seems unimaginable.

Exploitation or Mutual Benefit?

Although the project could be seen as the solution of one of the world’s biggest problems, it encounters resistance, especially by Africans. Daniel Ayuk Mbi Egbe of the African Network for Solar Energy points out why:

“Many Africans are sceptical [about Desertec],” he said. “[Europeans] make promises, but at the end of the day, they bring their engineers, they bring their equipment, and they go. It’s a new form of resource exploitation, just like in the past.”

Despite all that, the truth is Europe does benefit from Desertec, but so does every African country. Since the plans include a massive network, it seeks after a fair distribution of energy.

This project, to me, seems finally like a great and effective approach to cover the world’s demand with natural, sustainable energy. With time, new improvements and methods will contribute to a more effective and efficient production of solar energy which will in fact result in less waste and destruction.

Solar Ovens in Africa – A Shining Business

January 23, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Posted in Business Applications | Leave a comment
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Africa, a Continent of Superlatives

With an increasing population of about 1 billion which equals 15% of the world population and an area of 30.3 million km², Africa is a highly important and big part of our earth. The “poor continent” copes with huge difficulties and is basically depending on our help. More than 10% of its population suffer from malnutrition and only 0,8% receive food aid.

 

Money Can’t Solve all Problems

Facts like these, urged countries/organizations/companies and citizens to donate money for Africa. Who doesn’t know the signs and advertisments that call on us to grasp the nettle and donate money for Africa, money that often does everything but help. Money, that is abused by certain groups and people, that supports corruption and that is used desultorily. And even if the donations are used appropriately, there is still one thing they bring in their wake: NOTHING!

Because most donations are unsustainable, they might help a regional group of people to have something to eat, but it’s all temporary. They don’t decrease government expenses and in fact lead to a dependency and a decline in autonomyAfrica needs SustainabilityTyler Suiters believed and went on a trip to South Africa where a new, sustainable form of help has been introduced : Solar Ovens

 

A Lack of Alternatives

Solar Ovens…to inhabitants of a developed country, it sounds like another green, hippie-like project that some might buy in order to ease their conscience. To the people in Africa, the meaning is totally different because their lacking in alternatives. In a place without any accessability to electricity but 320 days of sun per year, people, mostly farmers in rural areas, need to find another way to cook their daily meals. Sibbuseso Mkhize, a local farmer in Umbumbulu, South Africa, explains :”I use too much the wood, I cut it from all my area.

What’s the goal?

The goals and targets are clearly defined. Provide poor people in remoted, electrically isolated  villages, with a way to cook food tapping an abundant source of energy. By introducing solar ovens to the population you can not only reduce emissions but also give people a sustainable and reliable solution, which is easy to operate and does not take any deeper technological knowledge.

On the first day, the womean walk to the nearest place where wood can be gathered. On the second das, they search for firewood. The third day is spent carrying the wood on their backs home to the village – from Chad, Africa

Helping is not easy

It all started out of problems. It’s no wonder that every human needs food to survive. In order to cook you need energy. If you have no accessability to electricity or whatsoever, you use chopped wood to inflame a fire. The demand for wood in areas with a high population density is enormously high, which leads to a continuously progressing deforestation that results in a desertification. Another problem is the financing. In order to supply the regions with ovens, it takes money. We’re not talking about a few thousand affected people but many millions, some might be able to pay a small price but the majority is too poor.

 

How to Solve these Problems

To encounter the deforestation as well as the desertification and to create a more efficient way of cooking(which does not only include the actual cooking but also the acquisition of needed resources, such as wood and stones), scientists tried to find a sustainable solution and eventually ended up with the solar oven. The ovens only need sun which will safe time and resources, that can now be spent on equally essential activities/work. The non-profit organizations undoubtably depend on donations, government support or fundraising in order to finance the ovens.

 

Ways to Finance Sustainability

Hope reposes on the manufacturing costs which are comparatively low. “The solar cooker can be made for a cost of about $17“, David Chandler writes and reveals that it surely doesn’t take much to achieve something big. In addition, the Solar Cookers International organization has established a so called marketplace where people can purchase a solar oven and by that help financing projects. Emily Heskey adds that everyone is welcome to help financing solar oven projects. He also mentiones something that truly helps non-profit organizations. It’s the fact that it’s nowadays inevitable to implement environmental activities and sustainable thinking in a company’s corporate culture. Emile writes:

Many companies are keen to show their environmental credentials, which will mean that financing a project such as yours will be an attractive option.

 

Success or Failure?

So far the distribution of the solar ovens has been quite successful. According to Radha Muthiah, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, there has been between 2.5 and 3 million households, all over the world, that have adopted solar cookers. She discloses the desirable numbers for the future “We’ve set a goal of a hundred million households adopting clean cooking solutions by the year 2020.” Mrs. Muthiah knows that it’s still a long way to go but it’s a start.

 

What a great Invention!

I mean, seriously, it’s such a plain idea, you just take a little bit of metal, have it face the sun and guess what, there is fire to cook. Though I think the distribution and expansion of solar cookers could have already been started way earlier, it’s great to see that it finally picks up pace. I think the more these approaches succeed, the more publicity and attention they’ll get. A lot of aspects currently fit in the concept as “thinking green” is more important than ever before and these cheap tools unquestionably prove themselves. Especially since Africa is probably the sunniest continent on earth, it’s highly effective and sustainable. What we should keep in mind though is that invention such as these cookers don’t solve the actual problem of getting food aid. It’s absolutely senseless to have an oven but nothing to cook.

At this point I would like to again reference donations. Obviously, as I’ve mentioned before, there is no way around donations. Now that I’ve dug deeper into the topic I would like to correct my statementDonations are important and effective but donators should always question the flow of money. Supporting organizations that use the donated money to establish sustainable tools and machines, is a great way to help creating a brighter future for other people.

To end my post I would like to quote the Audubon Magazine that once wrote:

“The world can choose sunlight or further deforestation,
solar cooking or widespread starvation.” 

Becoming an Effective Project Manager – Natural Talent or Hard Work?

January 16, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Posted in Project Management | Leave a comment
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About two weeks ago, a friend and I talked about my blog topic Project Management. I remember I told him what I write about and how it really starts intriguing me the deeper I dig into it. The enthusiasm for PM did not seem to be mutual and it in fact didn’t take too long until he made a comment to the effect that he wouldn’t believe it took a lot to become a Project Manager, someone who organizes a little bit here and there. His comment has actually incentivized me to write this post about the required qualities of Project Managers to successfully manage a project.

What is a Project Manager?

It doesn’t take a lot to set up create a plain definition of a Project Manager: A Project Manager is supposed to manage projects. Sounds simple doesn’t it? It, indeed, requires a more sophisticated definition to eventually address and include all needed features, but it’s undoubtably a good platform to build up on. David Litten, accredited Project Management Trainer, encapsulates the important distinction to be made between a PM and others.

“Project managers need general management skills, along with a knack for problem solving. Project managers are there to plan and manage the work – NOT to do it! “

He mentiones the first, vitally important characteristic that indubitably distinguishes a PM from , for instance a specialist. Project Managers’ task is to plan, manage and organize the work, while a specialist creates the deliverables. PMs therefore need what David calls “management skills“, skills that are to some extend inherent or can be acquired in school/seminars etc.

Am I the Chosen One?

Especially a lot of young people that start dealing with the question “What will I be when I grow up?“, wonder if they have what it takes to be in a responsible, high position, in charge of many people, simply able to run a company. It’s a question you can’t answer unless you know what it DOES take to be in that position. Do you? When you ask this question to people they most likely nod their head but then come up with little, doubtful answers. I’ve therefore collected answers from PM experts that absolutely know what they’re talking about when they answer such a question.

What Qualities Do I Need?

Timothy R. Barry, president of InnerChange Learning Systems LLC thinks that an effective PM has a vision of where to go and the ability to articulate it.

“Visionaries thrive on change and being able to draw new boundaries. It was once said that a leader is someone who “lifts us up, gives us a reason for being and gives the vision and spirit to change.”

In order to properly articulate convey his vision, he needs to be a good commuicator and enthusiastically fulfil tasksLeadership competence plays another big role in Timothy’s assumptions of a good PM. Being qualified and having experience are inevitable factors that not only contribute to a well structured and faster process but also arouse trust among employees. Timothy also mentiones, that a good PM has to be able to draw quick decisions and solve problems. He adds :

“In a perfect world, projects would be delivered on time, under budget and with no major problems or obstacles to overcome. But we don’t live in a perfect world – projects have problems.”

What kind of problems are likely to occur?

David Litten calls a spade a spade, as he distinguishes between 7 major sources that possibly result in problems/obstacles and whatsoever.

  • Interpersonal problems
  • Internal sources
  • External sources
  • Technical sources
  • Management sources
  • Communication
  • Opinions or perceptions

Managers need to get down to the root of the trouble and find ways to identify, solve and prevent problems from happening.

How Can I Prepare Myself for the Real Life?

If you are new to PM, a great way to preparedly become a manager is to follow Josh Nankivel’s advices which he presents on his webpage. Josh suggests to go with real-life experience if you have to choose between a formal PM education or real-world experience.

“The optimal in my humble opinion is if you can be in a position where your projects are small enough that you have the flexibility to try out new concepts you are learning in real time.”

His advices remind me of the learning-by-doing concept because he proposes a PM-mentor to future Project Managers and encourages them to exactly pay attention when working with a PM expert. To not neglet the educational aspect, Josh motivates all those interested in PM to listen to podcasts, read books and blogs as well as to know the tools on market and to try to join a PM organization.

Wanna Get in Touch with a Star?

If there are any particular questions that aren’t answered explicitly, you can easily contact almost every PM expert via email or his/her website!

NOTICE, WHETER THE CALLED QUALITIES GO FOR YOU OR NOT, THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY TO TRAIN AND/OR ADOPT ANY OF THEM. YOU’LL FIND LOTS OF SEMINARS, BOOKS, TRAINING COURSES, AND INDIVIDUAL HELP ONLINE. GOOD LUCK AND KNOW THAT NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE!

Project Management – May I Help You Master Your Challenge?

January 8, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Posted in Project Management | Leave a comment
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Last week I wrote about the biggest challenges in PM. I collected answers of 10 of the top PM experts in order to comprehend what project managers have to be aware of to successfully run a project. I thought it’d been an informatory and adventurous experience and it, in fact, urged me to get once more in touch with the same experts, on a quest to find their holy answers to the challenges.

There is Always Good and Bad

David Blumhorst, Vice President at Daptiv, calls hitting the business target, PM’s biggest challenge. He holds Project Management liable for meeting business targets and believes that a good Project Manager differs from others due to his quality to make decisions about if the project is really on track to meet the business targets.

Get Trained to Triumph

Josh Nankivel criticises bad-defined scopes as they cause schedule and cost overruns. He encourages Project Managers to take their time so as to create a clear and concise definition of the deliverables. Work-breakdown structures are vitally important and need to be well-prepared. He believes that it’s something you can learn and adopt to as he initiated a training program for Project Managers where they learn how to get rid of the lack of their work-breakdown structures.

Stay up to Date with Updates!

Education and qualification are aspects where Jason Westland and Elizabeth Harrin spot defects. They are convinced that PM needs to be a “full discipline“, something that requires a lot of study and training. Due to the quickly changing world, Project Managers should ensure to constantly update their knowledge in order to have a sophisticated view on the different aspects PM includes.

Don’t Forget you are a Human, not a Robot

To Ron Holohan and Mark Horstmann, communication is the biggest challenge PM faces today. According to them, Project Managers should try to implement a well-balanced use of technological and human resources in their projects. A steady interaction and communication with your team members is inevitable and something that can not be replaced by technology. PM-software offers great features that accelerate and often simplify processes and the right use of these features possibly results in an advantage for the whole team. Always be aware though, that Software can also lead to misunderstandings and result in a complication of circumstances. In this context I would like to quote Soma Bhattacharia once more. She says:”no matter what tools we got […] at the end of the day you have to work with your team”, and suggests to know who you work with and what you can do to create a pleasant atmosphere.

A Compliment a Day Keeps the Notice of Termination Away

Ressources Management, as mentioned before, is a big challenge. Margaret Meloni critices the continued push to get everyone to do more with less. To avoid a self-contained and awful atmosphere she advises to take time for employees as well as for yourself. Managers should interact with their team members and show them, that they are appreciated to increase their self esteem.

Pass On Responsibility!

In my last post I furthermore mentioned Tom Mochal’s opinion on the biggest challenge which is a lack of functional reports. He assumes that, in order to prevent this from happening, managers should have assigned people validate the enddate and buy into the enddate. That way they are obligated to tell you if they can’t make it, as soon as they know. Tom additionally entrusts Managers to assure to have reliable, responsible and passionate reporters around them.

How Do you Create Passion Though?

The last challenge I wrote about was Mark Perry’s maintenance of passion. He presents 10 great tips that, in the long run, help you master the challenge!

  1. integrate passion to your work

  2. eliminate irritating tasks

  3. reacquaint yourself with your career

  4. be grateful to all those who helped you

  5. surround yourself with passionate and motivated people

  6. recognize your passion

  7. expect and encounter negativism

  8. “a book a week keeps passion from getting weak”

  9. spread the word

  10. have faith in your passion

All of these essential advices can help Project Managers to overcome challenges and obstacles. Eventually there is a wide range of supervisors and tons of software that aims to solve these challenges in collaboration with Project Managers. But what I have discovered, and what we can also gather from the experts’ answers, is that it only takes a little bit of humanity to master the majority of the problems.

The Biggest Challenge Project Management Has to Face!

January 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Posted in Project Management | Leave a comment
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For the last days I’ve been probing Project Management experts from all over the world in order to get a better idea of what challenges Project Management faces nowadays. It’s been amazingly instructive and informative. Reading and listening to their answers has truly given me a new and clearer view into the complexity ensuing from project management.

I started my search based on the question “What is the biggest challenge Project Management(PM) has to face in our modern, technologically advanced world?” I, therefore, got in contact with 10 of the top PM-experts that have provided me with individual answers to the given question which I would gladly like to share with you.

Stay on Track

One thing that challenges every business and every project is hitting the business target. David Blumhorst says that on time, on budget and on scope deliver does NOT equal hitting the business target. According to him, project managers’ biggest challenge is to make sure they’re on track to meet the business targets.

It’s Always Good to Know What you are Doing

If you dont define your scope in clear and concise terms in the begining and really go through that process of working out exactly what the deliverables are that you’re gonna deliver to your customer and then decomposing what exactly it’s gonna take to do all those things […] then you’re gonna be missing things.”, Josh Nankivel reports and refers to a general lack in work-breakdown structures. In his opinion an unpalatably defined scope is the indubitable reason for schedule and cost overruns, which quite often frustrate projects.

Lack of Qualification

Jason Westland takes Josh’s and David’s opinion to the next level as he detects defects in the qualification of nowadays managers. He complains that it’s, in these days, too easy to become a project manager as it only takes a short advanced training to receive a certificate. “Now most managers dont have lots of qualifications. The percentage of project managers that have a formal qualification is getting a lot less”, Jason remarks, claiming to keep PM a “full discipline“.

Comprehensive Schools as a Solution?

And Jason is surly not left alone with his assumption. Elizabeth Harrin urges to introduce a national standard which would enable a universally accepted qualification. But she also addresses a problem: “Project related work and jobs are growing too quickly for our approaches to professionalism to keep up”, Elizabeth notes and adds that this is precisely why it’s become hard for employees and employers to choose their qualifications.

“Two monologues do not make a dialogue”

-Jeff Daly-

Besides a general lack of classification and qualification Ron Holohan comes up with a totally new aspect, the importance of communication. He declares: “We are getting worse at communicating with people on and off of our teams” and refers to the wide range of technology on market. Ron underlines the importance of PMS but also blames it for scope creep, conflicts and misunderstandings. Mark Horstmann agrees as he believes that the real problem is the increasing focus on technology as a solution to more effective projects when in fact the only solution that has ever existed when it comes to projects is people who do good work in a timely way. “Technology is great but it’s worthless without people“, he continues and reasons the success of projects from how well people fit in the project.

People=Resources → Resources=Inevitable

Soma Bhattacharia proves the importance, stating “no matter what tools we got […] at the end of the day you have to work with your team”. In her opinion project managers need to pay more attention to the interpersonal communication as well as the resources management in order to know who you work with and what you can do to create a pleasant atmosphere.

Don’t Forget about People

Resources Management also plays an important part in Margaret Meloni’s view on the biggest challenge PM faces today as her response to the opening question is the continued push to get everyone to do more with less. We get caught up in a hectic paste that we forget about the people around us. While she suggests to make sure you take time for your people as well as for yourself, she argues: “The more that we demand from people, the better we need to treat them.”

The Choice of the Right Underling

Another challenge that deals with human resources and interpersonal communication offers Tom Mochal. Taking his theories into account an obstacle is the problem of trying to assign work and get work done with people that don’t report to their manager functionally. If you’re given inchoate, erroneous or even no information at all, the project is likely to fail. Therefore managers should assure to have reliable, responsible and passionate reporters, Tom suggests.

How Do you Keep up Passion Though?

Mark Perry provides us with the answer. Project management offices(PMO), unlike other organisations that are driven by mission-critical goals such as making a sales quote or achieving a market share target, usually don’t have blatant and public victories but still have to deal with issues, problems and unrealistic expectations by management and stakeholders. In addition Mark complains about a lack of commitment by those that are assigned to a project. In order to keep project management office’s passion he presents 10 great tips that, in the long run, help you master the challenge!

  1. integrate passion to your work
  2. eliminate irritating tasks
  3. reacquaint yourself with your career
  4. be grateful to all those who helped you
  5. surround yourself with passionate and motivated people
  6. recognize your passion
  7. expect and encounter negativism
  8. “a book a week keeps passion from getting weak”
  9. spread the word
  10. have faith in your passion

As we can see, the assumptions of the importance of different challenges vary a lot and every expert has an individual view on the biggest challenge but one thing they all have in common is to make PM as effective as possible.

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