Systems thinking and design thinking applied to energy and business.

 

I'm restlessly curious, so I'm drawn to many fields and disciplines. But I particularly like to combine them into interdisciplinary frameworks that help us think and address problems in new ways.

 

Here are some of the active topics in my head:

Ecological economics, complexity science, socio-ecological systems, entrepreneurship, social innovation, corporate governance, Earth system governance, renewable energy technology, global energy systems, smart grids, blockchain & p2P systems, design thinking, sustainability & resilience science, societal values & paradigms.


RECENT TALKS

Final PhD Completion Seminar from the Australian-German Climate & Energy College in the University of Melbourne. December 2017. For a higher resolution version of the video go here.


Academic Publications


systems thinking & design thinking for transformative entrepreneurship

work in progress,
intended for:

Journal of Business Venturing

Systems and design thinking are breeds of different cultures of thought.  The former arises from complexity science and is used to understand complex adaptive systems (CAS), whether natural, human, or socio-ecological systems. Design thinking is considered a relatively modern development with increasing interests by the management and business innovation culture, since it proposes a systematic approach to develop innovative user-centric products and services. As more complex systemic problems become evident in our present society, the search for innovative and holistic problem-solution approaches have brought both fields closer together. Their synergy, however, remains largely unexplored in literature.
This work explores the benefits of complementing both approaches, proposes a way to connect their styles of reasoning, and applies it to the field of entrepreneurship. I introduce the term transformative entrepreneurship, which refers to the concept of transformation as described in the field of resilience thinking. While a disruptive business can be understood as one that rapidly absorbs market share, a transformative one facilitates the change of trajectory of the complex system in which it resides.

author: Martin E. Wainstein


the power of sharing for sharing power

work in progress,
intended for:

Nature Energy

 

An energy transition consistent with climate targets entails paradigm shifts in the electricity business. The centralized business system that characterizes the power sector is prone to lock-in, holding high resilience but low adaptability when facing radical changes in its environment. More adaptive business systems for the power sector can draw from interconnectivity features rising in the urban context. Peer-to-peer platforms, the internet-of-things, and trends in social innovation such as purpose- driven business models are hallmarks of this landscape shift. Furthermore, distributed energy resources (DER), including photovoltaics, batteries, electric vehicles and demand-side management devices are also emerging features of developed electricity systems. However, DERs and their owners are still unable to participate in electricity markets due to their small, variable, and distributed nature. Virtual power plants, on the other hand, have been proposed as a way to aggregate large portfolios of DERs and coordinate them to behave as a single functional unit in both the network and the market.

This research narrative proposes that the combination of peer-to-peer networks, blockchain protocols and virtual power plants to collectively manage DERs, is a fertile ground for socially innovative business models to accomplish scale, replication and drive systemic change in the power system. Using a resilience thinking approach, we discuss conceptual foundations and typologies that need to be considered in the design and development of such systems. We particularly distinguish two model archetypes: grid-connected virtual networks in an industrialized urban context, and rural microgrids systems in emerging economies.

authors: Martin E. Wainstein, Adam Bumpus, Roger Dargaville
Australian-German Climate & Energy College, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
Bill Lane Center for the American West, Stanford University, Palo Alto, United States
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia


from corporate governance to earth system governance.

work in progress,
intended for:

Journal of Cleaner Production

Efforts to meet a 1.5oC target set in Paris brings unprecedented challenges to the largest energy business actors —carbon majors. Collectively, majors hold resources that can consume the remaining atmospheric budget in as little at 15 years. An immediate and radical model shift in a business system that holds high levels of inertia and resilience to regulations is highly unlikely under present conditions. The profit maximizing business purpose is a major contributor to this inertia and resilience. Corporate governance operationalizes this purpose in both laws and business culture norms. This work argues that to stay within a safe operating climate threshold, society needs to ensure that corporate governance in the energy sector internalizes a principle of Earth system governance. Whilst this implies a major paradigm shift, we provide social innovation suggestions to facilitate this transformation.

Authors: Martin E. Wainstein, Jerome Dangerman, Stephanie Dangerman
Australian-German Climate & Energy College. Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Australia.
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany.
Radboud University, Neijmegen, Netherlands.
Saxion University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands.


energy business TRANSFORMATION AND EARTH SYSTEM Resilience:
a metabolic approach

work in progress,
intended for:

Journal of Cleaner Production

At present, lock-in of the energy business system (EBS) hinders an energy transition consistent with climate targets. To contribute to discussions on how to unlock a major system transformation, we introduce a new framework based on understanding the metabolism of the EBS. Drawing analogies with biology, we present a systems analysis tracing cross-scale dynamics; from the Earth system, down to the business purpose level. Our analysis shows EBS directors face unfavourable conditions to make the radical business model decisions consistent with climate targets. First, the intensity of the Earth system feedback signal is significantly reduced by the time it arrives at the corporate decision-making level, primarily due to information filters and corporate law. Second, the profit maximization purpose of companies is found to hold a systemic role in the EBS lock-in and may be incompatible with avoiding dangerous climate change. To achieve a total energy transformation, our discussion suggests focusing on the intrinsic purpose and governance of the EBS, arguing that relying on external market devices alone, such as carbon pricing, may help but could fall short of achieving the necessary shift. Like with INDCs, a bottom-up approach to proposing contributions to climate-consistent business model pathways may facilitate the dialogue.

authors: Martin E. Wainstein, Jerome Dangerman, Stephanie Dangerman
Australian-German Climate & Energy College. Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Australia.
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany.
Radboud University, Neijmegen, Netherlands.
Saxion University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands.


Virtual Power Plant (VPP) have been proposed as an effective way to aggregate large portfolios of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) and coordinate them to behave as a single functional unit in both the network and the market. This research narrative proposes that business models that can combine Internet platforms such as Peer- to-peer networks, with VPP to collectively manage DERs, are ideal systems for socially innovative business models to accomplish scale and replication and drive systemic change in the power system. This project lays conceptual foundations to design and simulate such a system. An urban social electricity-trading network is presented using the City of Melbourne as case study. Modelling is performed by applying an optimisation framework to a portfolio of household datasets with solar, simulated storage and flexible demand capabilities; a local community windfarm and large business buildings. Initial simulations show that internal energy trading between members of such a social energy network is highly dependent on local market conditions. However, having the ability to simultaneously operate as a small-scale generator, retailer and demand response coordinator might be the factors allowing these alternative business models to be feasible under various conditions.

 

authors: Martin E. Wainstein, Michael Schreiber Roger Dargaville
The University of Melbourne, Australia.
Fraunhofer IWES, Germany.

social virtual energy networks: exploring innovative business models with prosumer aggregation

presented at:

IEEE Innovative Smart Grid Technologies.

May 2017, Washington, DC.


Decarbonising the electrical power system holds a critical role in climate change mitigation. Recent developments in technology are helping change the current centralized paradigm into one of integrated distributed clean energy resources. In spite of these developments, radical transformation is not occurring at a speed to effectively meet environmental targets, mostly due to the incumbent carbon lock- in trajectory. We argue that business model (BM) innovation dynamics are key drivers in accelerating the low carbon power system transition, often operating irrespective of the underlying technology. We combine BM theory with the multi-level perspective on sociotechnical transitions to present a useful framework to analyze this potential transition. This paper presents the application of this framework characterizing relevant BM dynamics of niche and regime business actors, and supporting these with illustrative examples. Particularly, we find that new actors in the distributed energy business are achieving market scale by offering financially innovative BMs that do not require upfront costs from customers. Higher penetrations of renewable energy sources in liberalized electricity markets are destabilizing the historical BM of large centralized utilities through erosion of wholesale prices. Furthermore, a shift towards distributed and dynamic energy resources further challenges incumbents and might bring opportunities for BMs focused on active customer participation and social value creation. As these tendencies are expected to accelerate, we find analyses of BMs will have important relevance for future power system transition research.

authors: Martin E. Wainstein, Adam Bumpus
Australian-German Climate & Energy College, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
School of Geography, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
Bill Lane Center for the American West, Stanford University, Palo Alto, United States

business models as drivers of the low-carbon power system transition:
a multi-level perspective

published in:

Journal of Cleaner Production

March 2015


Renewable energy is increasingly replacing carbon-based technologies worldwide in electricity net- works. This increases the challenge of balancing intermittent generation with demand fluctuation. DR (Demand response) is recognized as a way to address this by adapting consumption to supply patterns. By using DR technology, grid withdrawal of DSM (demand side management) devices such as heat pumps, electric vehicles or stationary batteries can be temporally shifted. Yet, the development of an accurate control and market design is still one of the greatest remaining DR challenges.

We present a range of flexible price signals that can address this by acting as effective demand control mechanisms. The different tariffs consist of combinations of flexible energy and power price signals. Their impact on the unit commitment of automatable DSM devices is tested for a set of German households. The financial outcome for the respective stakeholders are quantified. Our results suggest flexible power pricing can reduce overall demand peaks as well as limit simultaneous grid withdrawals caused by real time pricing incentives. Furthermore, we prove that inefficient designs of flexible power pricing can lead to undesired bidding of automatable devices. We propose a specific tariff design that shows robust network performance and reduces energy procurement costs.

authors: Michael Schreiber, Martin E. Wainstein, Patrick Hochloff, Roger Dargaville
Fraunhofer IWES, Germany
Australian-German Climate&Energy College, The University of Melbourne, Australia

Flexible electricity tariffs:
Power and energy price signals designed for a smarter grid

published in:

Energy

October 2015


Microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology has enabled newinsights into the mechanisms of electron transfer from dissimilatory metal reducing bacteria to a solid phase electron acceptor. Using solid electrodes as electron acceptors enables quantitative real-time measurements of electron transfer rates to these surfaces. We describe here an optically accessible, dual anode, continuous flow MFC that enables real- time microscopic imaging of anode populations as they develop from single attached cells to a mature biofilms. We used this system to characterize how differences in external resistance affect cellular electron transfer rates on a per cell basis and overall biofilm development in Shewanella oneidensis strain MR-1. When a low external resistance (100 Ω) was used, estimates of current per cell reached a maximum of 204 fA/cell (1.3 × 106 e- cell-1 sec-1), while when a higher (1 MΩ) resistance was used, only 75 fA/cell (0.4 × 106 e- cell-1 sec-1) was produced. The 1 MΩ anode biomass consistently developed into a mature thick biofilm with tower morphology (>50 μm thick), whereas only a thinbiofilm (<5 μm thick) was observed on the 100 Ω anode. These data suggest a link between the ability of a surface to accept electrons and biofilm structure development.

authors: Jeffrey S. Mclean, Greg Wanger, Yuri A. Gorby, Martin Wainstein, Jeff Mcquaid, Shun’ Ichi Ishii, Orianna Bretschger, Haluk Beyenal, and Kenneth H. Nealson

The J. Craig Venter Institute, San Diego, CA, The Gene and Linda Voiland, School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering and Center for Environmental, Sediment and Aquatic Research, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, and University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

quantification of electron transfer rates to a solid phase electron acceptor through the stages of biofilm formation from single cells to multicellular communities

published in:

Environmental Science & Technology (2010)


affiliations

2018 Open Innovation Fellow, Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale, Yale University
Research Associate, Department of Electrical Engineering, Yale University
Research Affiliate, Digital Currency Initiative, MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PhD at the Australian-German Climate&Energy College of The University of Melbourne, Australia.
Energy business model advisor to the Energy Transitions Hub, a bilateral research collaboration between Australia and Germany.

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