Thursday, 27 November 2014

Hydrogen in Parliament 2014

Almost exactly a year after my interview for my parliamentary internship, I was back in Westminster, but for an event unrelated to POST. The event was introduced by Peter Aldous MP from the All PartyParliamentary Group for Intelligent Energy as an opportunity to see hear case studies on the implementation of hydrogen technologies across the globe, before discussing how the same ideas could be applied to the UK.

Celia Greaves gave an update on the work done by the UKHFCA, who focus on promoting the benefits of hydrogen and fuel cells. An example of this is their work with DECC, increasing the role of hydrogen technologies in their 2050 calculator, a tool used for public engagement with climate change issues (it’s a great tool – check it out!).

Marieke Reijalt from the European Hydrogen Agency, who were sponsoring the networking drinks, spoke about how the first EU article mentioning hydrogen had been approved in the last fortnight.

Up first to present was Robin Hayles from Hyundai, the company that brought the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle into mass production in 2013. To them, the hydrogen fuel cell brings the best of both worlds of diesel and electric vehicles: long range but no pollutants coming out of the exhaust. The challenges they face are a lack of refuelling infrastructure, public awareness of the technology and that their target market will be a small number of “early adopters” to start off with. Easily able to get 300 miles out of a tank of his ix35, Robin encouraged us to place an order – we’d get our own fuel cell car delivered in the next 4 months!

Chris White from the Californian fuel cell partnership was up next, having travelled all the way from the USA. The progress in California is amazing – they have 10 hydrogen filling stations that are used already, with another 41 coming online by 2016. Their challenge was knowing who should make the first commitment: vehicle owners or filling station owners. They initially made a deployment plan, and then looked at how they could fund this. This was followed by an integrated policy plan, which had two strands: vehicles and stations. It also included other community integration, such as fire service training, building regulation and maintenance training. They still face challenges with public perception (is a kilogram too weird for the Americans?) but the Governor’s executive order (look up) for 1.5 million zero emission vehicles is spreading to other states. The use of “zero emission vehicles” is important, as it enable fuel cells to be used (rather than stating battery vehicles explicitly).

Bob Kelly from AFC energy then spoke about the progress in South Korea. Having been there earlier this year for a conference, I knew that they were pretty far ahead of the UK in terms of the application of the technology. This is due to the Korean “Renewable portfolio standard”, which forces energy companies to source a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources. These goals must be met, with severe financial penalties if not. It proves that the economics of hydrogen fuel cells is compelling once the government gets involved. (Korean priority is energy security – they import 97%: Independence, Sustainability, Economic, Environmental: ISEE).

The discussion that followed was chaired by Alex Stuart, and brought Diana Raine from Air Products onto the panel. The initial discussions were about the relative position of the UK and Europe when compared to the USA and South Korea. There was agreement that there is a need for government intervention as has been done in both of the case studies discussed. In California, initially there was a need to push industry with zero emission vehicle regulations, but now companies can see a market emerging. The main tipping point for Hyundai and its UK relationship will be in 2017, when they make the decision whether to mass produce a right hand drive fuel cell vehicle, or delay until a later date.

Another question asked was about filling stations: is it better to have smaller ones in more locations or larger stations further apart? Should they dispense hydrogen at both 350 and 700 bar? The lesson from California is that you need to ask the consumer. Research into how people use their vehicles should be done to determine what would be acceptable. For example, do people want to fill at the same stations as large trucks?

The “greenness” of the hydrogen (whether it comes from renewable sources) was brought up and it became apparent that it is very difficult to define what “green hydrogen” actually is. The consensus amongst the panel was that, because green hydrogen is not widespread yet, we will need to implement the technology with a “darker shade of green” to get the ball rolling, and then make the transition later when it becomes more available. Cue lots of jokes about “50 shades of green”…!

To finish the discussion, each of the panellists were asked what the UK could do to help drive the implementation. Greater recognition came up as a key point: both the public and regulators need to know about the technology and that it works. Rob Kelly believes we should take responsibility for this and spread the word. Chris White spoke of Californian officials being invited to drive a hydrogen car, or even just to touch it because “if you touch it, then it must be real”.

I managed to catch Chris during the networking, and spoke to her about any challenges they had faced with public perception. The impression I got was that as soon as people understand the technology, they are very accepting. She also mentioned vehicles that had been in service for much longer than they were designed to be that were still working remarkably well. The key barrier to implementation at the moment is cost, with the cost of carbon fibre compressed gas tanks being more important that the cost of the fuel cell itself.

Having attended a similar event last year (and the yearbefore!) and it was really good to see that actually progress seems to be being made! The fact that hydrogen cars are now available to the public in the UK is a massive step forward. Although we are still well behind California and Korea, I hope that the UK can learn from these areas when considering how to drive forward the implementation.

Friday, 7 November 2014

POST Big Data seminar and annual reception

Yesterday I went back to parliament for the POST Big Data and Governance seminar followed by their 'Information Age' annual reception.  It was great to be back, although a shame not to have my all access pass! It was good to see all the fellows that I had worked with, and catch up with the rest of the staff. The event itself was really interesting, and was definitely a #throwbackthursday for me, reminding me of all the research into big data I had done while I was working with POST to create my POSTnote. This combined with Tim Berners-Lee speaking at the reception and the science museum was showing off some pieces from their 'Information Age' exhibit made for a great afternoon!

Adam Afriyie MP opened the seminar, emphasising the importance of POST and the potential opportunities of Big Data. The POST director Chris Tyler was chairing the session, and directed a question towards each of the panel before opening the discussion up to the floor. 

Chris Fleming, from the Government Office for Science, thinks the government has a role to play in maximising the opportunities that can be gained from big data whilst minimising the risk by building skills and infrastructure and enabling debate. He reminded the audience that technology (e.g. the car) has driven social norms in the past, and the same can be expected from big data. 

Dr Susan Grant-Muller has experience in the transport sector of the benefits that use of data can bring, and also about how the public feel about their data being used. As I found when writing my note, people are willing to share their data if they can see personal value from doing so, but are uncomfortable if companies benefit financially. 

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, agreed that the data protection directive was very out of date, but that the principles remain valid. The future important regulation is likely to come through the EU, but it is proving difficult to get agreement at a European level. He later reminded us that a country's history may greatly influence their views on data sharing and governance. 

However, with many companies operating globally, there is a need for harmonisation across national borders. Matthew Rice from Privacy International agreed that better business practices will come from harmonisation of regulation. 

Professor Carol Dezateux gave lots of great examples of the use of linked datasets in healthcare but explained that it is not always evident to a patient what is for the public benefit. It is also important that all demographics in society have the same level of education about how their data is used. 

Professor Amanda Chessell (Master Inventor - best job title ever!!) spoke about data security, and how important it is for no damage to occur, so that data can be thought of as trustworthy and misinterpretation reduced. 

The concept of people offering up their data for free was discussed by Carl Miller from Demos, who had strong views on the need for increased transparency and control by the public vs the internet giants. 

Dr Emma Uprichard made an interesting point that when delivering education to the public on the subject of big data, it is not just important to focus on the those who are usually considered 'vulnerable', as we are all vulnerable if we do not have the correct information. 

When the discussion was opened to the floor, a common view was that 'Big Data' is not just about technology, but also communication of this technology with the public. However, there is nothing cheap about public engagement! Privacy is likely to become more important, with companies showing a higher level of care for customer data likely to take the lead.

The seminar was followed by the POST annual reception, this year with links to the Science Museum's 'Information Age' exhibition. Opened by Adam Afriyie, who warned that science is often used by politicians as a lamp-post: not to illuminate but to lean against, but that the work of POST was helping to change that. 

The speaker at the reception was Tim Berners-Lee (of www fame) and he was very engaging and entertaining. It was interesting to hear how the web was developed and how it got used just because "people thought it was a good idea, so they used it". He said his next aim was to de-centralise the web, and that search engines and social media sites were just the latest in a long line of monopolies that have dominated the web. 

The formal part of the event finished with speakers from Cubic Transportation and the Science Museum introducing their exhibitions. During the rest of the reception, I caught up with the other POST fellows whilst playing with the exhibits the science museum had brought along. 

The event was a great opportunity to hear the views of a variety of experts on Big Data and highlighted the challenges faced when trying to govern such large and complex data sets. It will be very interesting to see what happens to data use in the future.