The era of space conquest: a new frontier in exploration

In recent years, humanity has witnessed a remarkable resurgence in space exploration. Here, I share my thoughts on what we can expect from this new era of space conquest. – Written by Seref Doğan Erbek

The fear of global public debt: a looming economic crisis in Europe

The specter of global public debt has become an ever-present concern haunting economies across Europe. But with recent unprecedented rises in public debt burdens, there’s growing concern that the region’s finances are precariously poised. – Written by Seref Doğan Erbek

When can an investment be considered sustainable?

Given the risk of directing scarce resources towards “greenwashed” projects, it has become important to lay down rules for what projects can be considered green and how to verify their sustainability credentials. – Written by Seref Dogan Doğan

Why greenwashing worries institutions

Greenwashing is a growing concern among consumers, investors and public institutions alike. In my opinion, it is a misleading and dangerous trend that undermines the progress towards a more sustainable economy. – Written by Seref Dogan Doğan

Strikes in the transport sector all over the world. Risks in the production supply chain are growing

Transportation is the single most critical element to functioning supply chains. However, the growing transport sector strikes globally pose a risk to the unfettered movement of goods around the world. – Written by Seref Dogan Doğan

AI Makes Finance Better, But Only When Combined with the Human Factor

While AI is improving finance in so many ways, its growing global acceptance is creating uncertainty about the place of humans in a world that is increasingly machine-enabled. – Written by Seref Dogan Doğan

Corporate devices are bigger climate polluters than data centers

While they are at the heart of the cloud revolution currently unleashing the potential of the internet, data centers are also notorious climate polluters. The sector has received immense scrutiny for years due to its resource-gobbling operations and significant concerns over the ecological impact it has on local communities.

However, a recent report by McKinsey suggests that data center operations, at least in on-premises applications, may be a smaller concern relative to the substantial emissions from enterprise technology.

According to the report, corporate devices flood the earth’s climate with about 400 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent gases. Overall, enterprise tech emissions total roughly 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions – or, to put this in context, the equivalent of the United Kingdom’s total carbon emissions.

I think that with the increasing pressure on companies and large corporations for more substantial action on climate and sustainability issues, the McKinsey report could hardly have come at a worse time. Nevertheless, the data holds an advantage for companies willing to put in the work on climate issues. As McKinsey note, “progress on climate change requires action on many fronts, and enterprise technology offers an important option that CIOs and companies can act on quickly.” I’ll look a bit more closely at this data below and the implications it raises.

Corporate devices are nearly twice as polluting as data centers

End-user devices such as smartphones, laptops, printers, and tablets are the biggest culprit in enterprise tech emissions. Altogether, they emit between 1.5 and 2.0 times more carbon than data centers. There are a few reasons why this is the case.

First, corporate end-user devices are significantly more – and proliferate much quicker – than the servers in on-premises data centers. Employment booms, which have occurred often recently, typically cause device numbers to balloon, often on a one-to-one basis. Meanwhile, companies usually purchase servers and provision data centers based on forecasts of current and near-future use, and therefore need to upscale infrequently.

Seref Dogan Erbek

Second, end-user devices have a shorter refresh cycle than on-premises servers. For instance, smartphones typically get replaced in two years, while laptops and printers have refresh cycles of four and five years respectively. Meanwhile, servers get replaced every five years on average – and one in five companies wait even longer.

Third, and perhaps more importantly, emissions from corporate end-user devices are set to increase over the coming years at a CAGR of 12.8% yearly. This projected rise is driven by growing emissions from manufacturing, transportation, use, and disposal of these devices.

Consequently, taking action on enterprise end-user devices can be an effective way to quickly and sustainably slash corporate emissions. Some levers that companies may adopt include using energy-efficient devices, limiting the proliferation of these devices, exploring refurbished devices, and increasing product life span.

McKinsey also suggests that migrating from on-premises servers to “hyperscale” cloud-hosted computing may present one of the biggest emissions savings opportunities for companies. But can this provide the climate progress that companies need to establish their sustainability credentials?

The “carbonivorous” data center controversy

While the drive towards sustainability through “hyperscale” data centers may yet bear fruit, the data center controversy continues to receive significant attention. According to figures quoted in the MIT Press Reader, the cloud now has a greater climate footprint than the aviation industry. Starkly put, “a single data center can consume the equivalent electricity of 50,000 homes.”

And what is perhaps most frustrating is that the substantial portion of this energy use does not even go to active computational processes – those take up only 6-12% – but instead to redundancies stacked upon redundancies needed to guarantee the now minimum 99% uptime required by cloud users.

Hopefully, moving to hyperscale data centers will markedly reduce the resource requirements of cloud computing. But only time will tell whether that will be the case.

Eco-Airship – The transport project of the future creating 1800 new jobs in South Yorkshire

A Bedford-based company has made history after signing a deal to produce and deliver ten 100-passenger helium airships. The deal, concluded between Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) and Spanish airline AV Nostrum, is expected to create 1,800 jobs in South Yorkshire and contribute to the UK’s sustainability goals.

The Airlander 10 airships will be built at a recently constructed green manufacturing cluster in South Yorkshire and are expected to provide an employment and financial boost to the local economy.

Beyond this, the Airlander 10, which HAV says will have less than a tenth of the carbon footprint per passenger of a traditional jet plane, represents a leap forward in the race towards a cleaner and more climate-friendly aviation industry.

Responsible for roughly 3% of global emissions, the aviation industry has long been a target for a green revolution. But climate-friendly air travel has remained largely within the realms of experimentation, until now. While various options including clean aviation fuel, electric planes, and direct capture devices have all received varying levels of consideration, the industry had shown little promise of a viable and scalable option that could drastically cut C02 emissions.

However, HAV’s futuristic Airlander 10 airships can potentially move the needle on climate progress within the industry. Acknowledging the progress that the company’s deal with AV Nostrum represents, UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said, “hybrid aircraft could play an important role as we transition to cleaner forms of aviation, and it is wonderful to see the UK right at the forefront of the technology’s development.”

Kwarteng also noted that the local jobs being created by the deal was just as satisfying. “It is more proof of how the UK’s businesses are embracing new technology to drive growth and support high skilled UK jobs.”

Seref Dogan Erbek

The promise of helium airships

There are many promising aspects to the Airlander 10 deal, but I believe industry players would be most interested by the multiple applications to which the aircraft may be put. HAV initially designed its airship as a surveillance and reconnaissance vehicle during intelligence missions in Afghanistan since it is less noisy than a helicopter and can stay in the air far longer. But it also has interesting applications in commercial travel.

With a 400km range and a rigid body that can land or lift off from any surface, the craft does not need a runway or pressurized cabins. Therefore, airship stations can be more space-efficient, while the aircraft itself can provide more windows and cabin space for passengers. According to Rebecca Zeitlin Head of Marketing and Communications at HAV, the Airlander 10 presents a more enjoyable, and potentially more luxurious, passenger experience. She says that “every seat will be a little bit like a business class experience. The whole experience will be more restful.”

Helium airships can also make an impact in disaster relief operations, such as combatting wildfires and effecting evacuations during emergency situations like tsunamis, flooding, industrial accidents, and earthquakes. The craft can carry more than 200 people per trip and potentially delivers four times the amount of water – up to 300 tons per day – traditional firefighting planes carry.

I think there’s a lot to anticipate from the blossoming rigid airship industry in the coming years. It would be to see how the aircraft performs in real life situations, and with AV Nostrum set to take delivery of its Airlander 10 airships by 2026, we may not have long to wait before we get to see them in action.

The human factor is essential in the financial relationship and can coexist with the digitalization process

With the rise of robo advisors, automated portfolios, and intelligent algorithms, artificial intelligence (AI) is making an effective (and intimidating) incursion into the financial sector. Tasks that would have previously fallen to hordes of analysts are increasingly being turned over to digital processes, with remarkably efficient results. And unsurprisingly, this reality is fuelling a growing sense that finance jobs may soon fall to the implacable advance of AI.

Buttressing these fears, a recent study predicted that 230,000 jobs in the financial sector could vanish by 2025, swallowed by “artificial intelligence agents”.

The shift seems to have begun already as the Bank for International Settlements reports. An increasing number of high-profile financial institutions are moving routine processes to digital workflows and cutting down on staff sizes to support a leaner, smarter operation.

But is AI here to take all the finance jobs away? I think not. While it’s unquestionable that AI helps refine, accelerate, and improve certain previously manual processes, it’s equally important to recognise that human agents bring indispensable qualities to financial relationships, and this is what digital transformation and AI experts call the “Human Factor”.

Seref Dogan Erbek

The Human Factor in financial relationships

I believe that the increasing presence of AI in finance is primarily attributable to the sector’s specific characteristics. For instance, accounting, audit, and finance are largely focused on numbers and rationality, and these are qualities that AI currently replicates with little difficulty. Consequently, studies conducted up to a decade ago – when AI had not reached the developmental stage it currently occupies – projected that up to 54% of jobs in finance could be lost to AI.

But concerns that AI will replace human financial advisors are premature, due to the unique and indispensable value-add that people bring to the financial sector. Yes, accounting and finance are mostly numbers-led, but they also require non-linear attributes, such as the gut instincts that precede placing a winning bet on a losing stock or the imagination to try an original approach and succeed where no one else has. And this, in my opinion, is the Human Factor that AI does not possess.

As described by AI experts SAP Insights, “AI is brilliant at automating routine knowledge work and generating new insights from existing data. What it can’t do is deduce the existence, or even the possibility, of information it isn’t already aware of. It can’t imagine radical new business models. Or ask previously unconceptualized questions. Or envision unimagined opportunities and achievements.”

AI lacks what physicist Michio Kaku describes as “intellectual capitalism” – “activities that involve creativity, imagination, leadership, analysis, humor, and original thought,” and this creates a world of difference between what AI and humans can do.

AI makes finance better, but only when combined with the Human Factor

Like most industries, AI has facilitated the financial sector’s most valuable and influential advancements in recent years. For an industry struggling beneath the weight of billions of daily transactions, all with hundreds of spinoff processes, the addition of automation has unburdened and liberated many financial operations. Resultantly, AI unleashed greater possibilities in the sector and is potentially leading finance into the future.

But it would be a mistake to assume that AI can do it all on its own. As one expert puts it, “AI can make decisions, but not subjective choices. Humans, on the other hand, are still the best at judging intangibles and superlatives amongst options that are objectively equal.” Therefore, combining the mechanical efficiency of AI with the intellectual capitalism of human agents presents the best opportunities to unlock the possibilities in the financial industry.

Green Economy: how international investments are financing renewable energy projects

After a minor COVID-induced drop, global energy investments rebounded to pre-pandemic levels in 2021 ($1.9 trillion) – an increase of 10% over 2020 – reports the International Energy Association (IEA). And in what will be music to the ears of policymakers and green energy advocates, much of the investment attention shifted from traditional fuel production to power generation and end-use sectors, with electricity attracting the lion’s share of renewable energy funding.

Amidst the tumult and uncertainty of the global pandemic, a strong theme advocated by governments and international agencies was the opportunity the crisis provided to “build back better.”

Indications from 2021 energy investments suggest that has been the case, at least as it concerns renewables. Here, I briefly discuss the extent of those investments and how they augur for a move towards net-zero and green economy.

Seref Dogan Erbek

Performance of global investments in renewable energy

Following projections that global energy demand would increase by 4.6% in 2021, energy financing experienced a general uptick as interest in infrastructure, and new projects surged during the year. Noting the upward trend in financing mid-2021, the IEA proposed that “the anticipated upswing in investments in 2021 is a mixture of a cyclical response to recovery and a structural shift in capital flows towards cleaner technologies.”

The IEA reports that global power sector investment accounted for a large chunk of 2021 energy spending, increasing by 5% to over $820 billion in 2021. Most of that financing ($530 billion) was directed toward new power generation; renewables accounted for over 70% of this amount. Asides from this, investors also saw more bang for their buck, with a dollar spent on wind and solar photovoltaic installations producing four times more electricity than ten years ago.

“Electrification was also a major driver of investment spending by final consumers,” says the IEA. “Electric vehicle sales continue to surge along with a proliferation of new model offerings by automakers, supported by fuel economy targets and zero-emissions vehicle mandates.”

In the same vein, BloombergNEF reported in January 2022 that the previous year saw a 27% rise in low carbon energy investments, with nearly half emanating from renewables investment in Asia. As a result, total yearly spend on energy transition was $755 billion, a new record in sustainable energy spending.

However, I must say that despite the encouraging short-term news, global energy investment has yet to breach the levels required to forestall climate disaster. The IEA also agrees, noting that “clean energy investment would need to double in the 2020s to maintain temperatures well below a 2°C rise and more than triple in order to keep the door open for a 1.5°C stabilisation.”

The big question, though, is where will that money come from? Blended finance might provide an answer.

Blended finance in green energy projects

Blended finance, a type of public-private partnership, combines public concessional funding with private investment to de-risk certain project types. As the World Bank puts it, “blended finance, which combines concessional public funds with commercial funds, can be a powerful means to direct more commercial finance toward impactful investments that are unable to proceed on strictly commercial terms.”

Renewable energy projects are frequently “constrained by investors’ perception of high risk and low returns,” Consequently, the flow of private capital into these projects is often halting. However, concessional financing in the form of debt, equity, or grants, appropriate risk-mitigation measures, and suitable seniority in terms of loss protection and the security of returns can make these projects attractive to investors.

The World Bank reports that blended finance could be vital in attracting larger investments in clean energy, and sub-Saharan Africa provides a model for how these partnerships can work.