Category Archives: Journalism

How the Humble Sunflower Holds the Key to More Efficient Solar Power

Published on CleanTechnica, January 2012

Regular readers are well aware of concentrating solar power (CSP), the growing technology which uses the sun’s energy to heat fluid (not unlike a steam engine) rather than using photovoltaic cells to convert it directly to electricity. If you’re not up to speed, we recently published a quick primer on CSP and why it could be vital to tomorrow’s energy mix.

But every CSP installation requires hundreds of mirrors to catch the sun’s rays and direct them towards the central tower, where the fluid is stored. The problem is, those mirrors take up a lot of space. That’s why, so far, the majority of CSP installations have been in fairly out-of-town desert locations.

But, now, a team of researchers at MIT have come up with a way of packing the mirrors — known as heliostats — in more tightly, while still efficiently directing the sun’s rays to the central tower. And the solution takes its inspiration from a very appropriate source in nature — the sunflower.

At most CSP sites, the heliostats — typically several hundred of them, each the size of half a tennis court — are arranged in concentric circles. As MIT explains, “The spacing between mirrors is similar to the seats in a movie theater, staggered so that every other row is aligned. However, this pattern results in higher-than-necessary shadowing and blocking throughout the day, reducing the reflection of light from mirrors to the tower.” Good sunlight wasted, in other words.

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Rick Santorum Receives the Least Oil & Gas Money of All Remaining Republican Candidates

…but still vehemently denies the existence of climate change

Everyone’s jumping up and down: who is Rick Santorum? Who is Rick Santorum?!

The former Senator from Pennsylvania seemed all but invisible over the last year as a series of candidates stole the position of ‘person most likely to be the Republican nominee if it isn’t Mitt Romney.’ First Trump, then Bachmann, then Perry, then Cain, then Gingrich. All fell away after a few weeks in the spotlight, and now it’s Santorum — along with Ron Paul — who’s getting all the attention after he nearly beat Romney in the Iowa primary on Tuesday.

We’ll leave it up to The Washington Postthe BBC, et al to give you a primer on Santorum’s general take on things. One particular detail about Santorum caught our attention: he has received the least donations from oil & gas companies of any of the remaining Republican candidates.

That’s according to recent figures from the Federal Election Commission, as compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Santorum has received a measly $5,250 from oil & gas companies and their employees so far in this election cycle, it says. Newt Gingrich has received $18,650; Michelle Bachmann, who ended her campaign after coming sixth in Iowa, $37,290; and front-runner Mitt Romney $313,200. The champion, though? Rick Perry, with a whopping $750,408.

Of course, Santorum has received less donations overall, too, as he’s widely been seen as a minor candidate. But if we divide this figure by the candidates’ overall fundraising, we can see roughly what percentage of their funding comes from the oil & gas industry. The results are striking: Rick Perry has got 4.3% of funding from oil & gas; Romney, just under 1%. Rick Santorum? Just 0.4%.

(This extremely unscientific, as the overall fundraising figures are for only the first three quarters of 2011, while the oil & gas figures reach into November. But it’s enough to get the gist.)

You might think, given this massive disparity, that Rick Santorum might be considerably less of a shill for oil & gas interests than his rival candidates. Sadly, not so much. As Grist pointed out earlier this week, Santorum is a denier of the grade-A class

Read more on CleanTechnica

Is Germany turning its back on international firms?

Published in Chambers Magazine, Spring 2011

The managing partner of a leading German independent law firm said of this article, “I have never read a better researched piece on the legal market in Germany from an outside perspective.”

Note: the large picture of me at the top of the article on the Chambers Magazine website was not my idea.

Ten years ago the German legal market was transformed as its largest firms one by one merged with UK firms. But in the last few years a new generation of German independent firms has sprung up – and some old names have reappeared. Is Germany going full circle?

In February 2000, M&A partner Hans Rolf Koerfer left his office at the German law firm Oppenhoff & Radler, in Cologne, for the last time. Along with several senior colleagues he had spent the previous few months in negotiations with senior partners from London’s Linklaters & Paine to merge the two firms. But Koerfer had developed deep concerns about the deal and had urged his partners to reject it. Now, as the merger negotiations accelerated, Koerfer was getting out: he had secured a position with the American firm Shearman & Sterling.

Oppenhoff and Linklaters merged the following January. Over the ensuing years, Koerfer watched as Linklaters absorbed and reshaped his old firm. Then in November 2007, Koerfer received word from his colleagues in his old office that they, too, were leaving. Linklaters was closing the office in Cologne where Oppenhoff & Radler had been born. Eleven of Koerfer’s former colleagues were starting a new firm. Its name? Oppenhoff & Partner.

Now, Koerfer has come full circle. Having left Shearman for Allen & Overy in 2008, he rejoined Oppenhoff in September 2009. “I realised that the time was right to go back to the old business model,” he says.

And Oppenhoff is not alone. The last few years have seen a host of new independent firms spin off from the largest international firms in Germany. Ten years after the great British invasion of Germany, are the Germans fighting back?

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Motive goes digital with Spanish deal

Published in the Daily Express, September 2010

Around 18 months ago TV production investment outfit Motive Television was forced to close or sell most of its business.

Now, after a major change of strategy, it is using a £4.75million fundraising on Aim to transform itself into a global player in digital television.

Motive was founded in 2005 by Mick Pilsworth and floated on Aim in 2006. It went on to make a string of five acquisitions – including a major stake in Brown Eyed Boy – until the credit crunch derailed its investment plans.

Pilsworth said: “The timing was wrong. We didn’t have enough cash and then we hit the recession.” Last year Motive decided to start afresh, selling Brown Eyed Boy and closing three other companies.

The decision to move into digital followed a chance meeting between Pilsworth and American TV strategist Len Fertig.

He was fresh from a meeting with Spanish firm Adecq Digital, whose software allows broadcasters to provide video on demand over a normal terrestrial aerial. Adecq had deals in Spain and Italy, but was looking for backers with TV industry connections.

After being signed up as chief executive, Fertig inked a global distribution deal with Adecq. Now Motive is using its Aim funds to buy 67.7 per cent of the company, which has launched its services in Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Motive, which has been advised by Merchant Securities, has also bought Scottish firm NXVision, whose software allows users to watch TV on their mobile phones.

Songbird Estates gains value

Published in the Daily Express, September 2010

Songbird Estates, the majority owner of Canary Wharf, announced solid half-year results yesterday in the wake of rising demand for commercial property in London.

The past two years have been turbulent for the property business, which counts Qatari and Chinese investors among its biggest shareholders.

Its portfolio lost more than a quarter of its value in 2008 as the financial crisis struck but began to rise in late 2009 as activity in the financial sector picked up. Songbird said its portfolio had increased in value by 4.3 per cent in the first half of 2010 to £4.8billion.

Profits before tax fell to £13.1million for the half-year, against £89.7million previously. After taking into account the rising property valuation the group made a bottom line profit of £14.2million against losses of £110.9million for the same period last year.

Songbird also announced a £140million fundraising to repay a loan taken last year to buy an increased share of Canary Wharf Group. This follows an emergency £620million fundraising last year to help the company repay a £880million loan.

Shares fell 11dp to 146dp.

A brief contribution to the Guardian’s ‘Smarter Cities’ supplement

A smart city should use technology to help people move around, reduce energy waste and tackle crime by constantly collecting and analysing information about how people use the city. Up-to-the-minute information on traffic and bus and tube services should be available online, on mobiles and via a 24-hour digital radio station.

Read more at the Guardian

The Trials of Clifford Chance

Published in Chambers Magazine, Summer 2010

David Childs spent seven years quietly striving to modernise Clifford Chance and raise its profitability. Then Lehman Brothers collapsed.

David Childs recalls the moment Lehman Brothers collapsed like it was yesterday. “It was horrific seeing a house like Lehman go under. But then to realise that Morgan Stanley or Goldmans could be next – that’s when life got very scary.”

For the managing partner of Clifford Chance, the financial crisis that broke in September 2008 was a direct threat. Just over half of Clifford Chance’s business was done for financial institutions. The turmoil on Wall Street meant an immediate reduction in the firm’s business. “We had grown during the boom times, as our clients had grown,” says Childs. “After the demise of Lehmans, it was clear the firm was too big for the marketplace.”

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