Sunday, April 26, 2015

Direct face-to-face verbal communication is the secret of success in international relations. (Moscow 1976)

Dear Readers,

After spending more than 40 years in the business environment, I sincerely believe that “Communication” is an art. “Communication” is everything in business. The ability to communicate distinguishes human beings from all other living creations. It is the key in “International Relations”, and this is why we created shuttle diplomacy. This is also why “indifference” can be an effective weapon in defeating your opponents, and why “precious loneliness” is not a solution in diplomacy.

I was in a 3-month technical training program in Moscow in 1976, during the pure, romantic Brezhnev years. I still believe that Moscow was the real Moscow at that time, not like now, as it has become a city similar to those seen in the rest of the world. People were true believers of their system. I was one of a few westerners in the capital and was trying to learn Russian. However, most Muscovites were eager to speak English with me, hence I faced the same dilemma faced by countless foreigners who try to speak the language of their host country, wherever it may be. Therefore, I had no chance to speak Russian.

I was staying at University Hotel (Gastrinistza Universitetskaya) close to the monumental post-WW2 building that was Moscow University. It was a - very - cold winter, the city was blanketed in snow. But the Russians seemed to be comfortable with the snow and the cold. The city was host to immense stone houses, district heating, an excellent public transportation system, and reasonable accommodation, food, and secure jobs for everyone. Its residents had no idea about the outside world. They had vodka, they had books to read and records to listen to; they were happy.

By the way, they also had extraordinary art, namely ballet - Russian ballet. The very next day after my arrival in Moscow I went to the ticket box of Bolshoi Theatre to check the program and inquire about ticket availability. There was a long line, I cannot recall now exactly how long it was, but people waited day and night for these tickets, whether they were for an opera, ballet, or symphony orchestra performance. I could not understand how people could wait in that ticket line for so long in such cold temperatures, especially considering that sometimes they weren’t even able to get a ticket because they were sold out.

My expectations to see a real Russian ballet in at the Bolshoi Theatre were dashed. It was impossible for me to buy a ticket. I might have been able to buy a ticket on the black market but I didn’t have enough practice speaking Russian to do this.

I checked to see if our hotel facilities could help in any way and found out that they had a service bureau to help foreigners. This bureau was under the direction of (Comrade) Tovarish Nina, and it employed three ladies in its staff, Victoria, Natalia and Galia. Victoria could speak English, Natasha Spanish, and Galia German, yet each also had a fair knowledge of the other two languages that could be used in case of emergency. I communicated well with Victoria and she eventually came to help me familiarize myself with Moscow. She was married with kids and working in the hotel service bureau. I asked her if the service bureau could help me to buy a ticket to see a ballet, opera of concert at the Bolshoi. The answer was a resounding "Nyet!!" It was impossible.

We learnt that the hotel management received a few tickets for every performance and allocated them to special foreign visitors. The distribution of these prized tickets was unconditionally left to Lady Director Tovarish Nina. Yet Tovarish Nina was unapproachable. She was in charge of everything. She had power over everything including the distribution of the Bolshoi tickets. After one month in Moscow, I was completely helpless. I could not get my hands on a ticket to the Bolshoi despite having tried everything, connections, the embassy, even the black market. There was no hope. When it comes to ballet, you cannot bribe a Russian. This artform was more valuable than any other worldly possession. They could stand for days and days in a ticket line just to have the chance to purchase one ticket for a performance, regardless of which performance it was.

I had only communicated with Victoria as she could speak English. Yet one day I had an idea. I could speak directly with Lady Director Tovarish Nina in her own language. Since she was employed in the service bureau, she must be able to speak at least one western language. Yet which one? I found out that she could speak French. She had majored in French at Moscow University. I had taken some French courses at my university but had forgotten almost everything. I had to brush up on these skills as soon as possible if I were to be able to communicate directly with Lady Director Tovarish Nina. I then decided to turn to my foreign colleagues to help me in this endeavor. We had one engineer from a region in Africa that fell under French cultural influence, namely the country of Ghana. He had good command of written French but spoke French in his own local West African dialect. Anyhow, this was only a minor problem and I needed to polish my French as soon as possible. So I asked him to teach me some important French phrases to break the ice with the director. I practiced those phrases for one week in my free time and one early morning, when Tovarish Nina arrived in her office, I entered and greeted her in French, "Bonjour Madame, je m'appelle Haluk d'Ankara en Turquie. Comment allez-vous?" In the conversation that came to follow, I addressed her as "Madame Nina". Madame Nina was very happy that day as during that time, there were no French speaking guests in the hotel, yet today she was able to speak her foreign language with a foreign visitor.

She told me about her time at University, her work as a tour guide for French politicians, her meeting with the famous French pop singer Gilbert Bécaud, her current job, her family, her husband, and her kids. She was no longer Tovarish, she was my French Lady Madame Nina and I was one of her special foreign guests in the hotel. The next day I asked her about tickets for the Bolshoi, and even though I was expecting to receive, at most, only one ticket, she gave me one ticket each remaining week of that month I stayed in Moscow. Carmen, Prince Igor, LaBoheme, SwanLake, I had access to them all. Bolshoi Theatre was (and still is) a cultural temple, unmatched anywhere else. You should take a round trip to Moscow, just to see a performance at this site, whether it be a ballet, an opera or a concert.

I believe that face-to- face verbal communication is an art in international relations as well as in international business. Today, one foreign language is not enough. One should learn two, three or more languages. Learning one language does not hinder your ability to speak another. Verbal communication is the key to success in your business life.

Thank you very much Madame Nina after all these years.

Oberstdorf, Germany, 29 April 2015

Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of ODTÜ Alumni and Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How should we choose our new energy minister?

Dear Readers,

One might think that only an MD (Medical Doctor) should be appointed as minister of health, that the minister of justice should be a graduate of law school, that an artist/writer should be the minister of culture, etc. In fact, others might say that this isn’t the case because, in the end, ministerial tasks are management tasks. Ministers should pick good managers and surround themselves with talented technical staffs consisting of knowledgeable individuals in order to make themselves more effective in exercising executive power. Thus, technical issues can resolved by qualified, experienced and educated people that possess the technical competence to come to an informed political decision.

This way of thinking is not true in the field of energy. We have learnt from past experiences that the energy minister should be an engineer. The minister needs to have been present in various power plants, have worked in their operation, and moreover, he or she must have worked in the investment phase. Preferably, the minister should speak foreign languages, English first and foremost but also Russian/ French/Arabic. If the minister holds a post-graduate degree in International Relations/Law, it is even better. Most importantly, the minister of energy should have taken courses on “thermodynamics” throughout his or her studies.

Our current Energy Minister will not participate in the 7 June 2015 General Elections because of his party’s regulation that none of their members of parliament may serve for more than three consecutive terms. I personally appreciate the technical competence of our Energy Minister, who is a graduate of the prestigious Istanbul Technical University and an experienced electrical engineer by profession. When I met him at a public meeting, I asked “Did you take a course on thermodynamics during your college education?”, to which he responded, “Yes, I took the course from one of the best, so to say, a legend at the department”. I was very pleased.

In the past such a technical prerequisite was not necessary for ministers of energy. Technical competence and professional experience were necessary only for the Undersecretary. Our public administration was built in this way. Formerly, if a new minister was appointed, the undersecretary would remain. The undersecretary was not a party member. Undersecretaries were the memory and brain of their respective ministries. Ministers came and left, but the undersecretary was there to stay. Politicians appointed as ministers were able to express their preferences as to whom they thought should become the undersecretary of their ministry, but they didn’t have much say in the end.

Nowadays, ministers have the appropriate amount of education and necessary experience, and when they are appointed, they try to learn everything related to the work of the ministry. Ministers should make every decision based on the commercial and political environment, taking the initiative wherever possible. However, this is not the case in Turkey, but it seems to be this way everywhere else. Public-bureaucrats prefer ministers that do not interfere, but this is not good for the energy markets.

The post of United States secretary of energy also experienced a similar development process as our own. At first, politicians with law degrees were appointed as the US secretary of energy. Now, the Obama administration appoints scientists from outside of politics to this position. Former US Energy Secretary Steven Chu has received the Nobel Prize in Physics and he was a professor at Stanford University. Current US Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz is a professor of nuclear physics at MIT’s Energy Institute.

In Germany, the federal minister in charge of “Economy and Energy” is Sigmar Gabriel, who is also the chairman of the coalition partner SPD party. He is an elementary school teacher by profession. This post is based on political calculations for the coalition in the Bundestag. On the other hand, Chancellor Angela Merkel has a Ph.D. in “Quantum Chemistry” with her dissertation based on thermodynamic calculations. Could you imagine a prime minister with a Ph.D. degree in a scientific subject which mainly depends on thermodynamic calculations?

It is most likely very, very rare for an engineer to be appointed as “Minister of Health” or “Minister of Justice”. Such an individual cannot be expected to achieve success in such a post. Could you appoint a lawyer or a medical doctor as chairman of the Central Bank? No, because they would not possess the economic educational background that would enable them to understand the financial details associated with their field of work. But in the past, anyone could be appointed energy minister in our country.

Law School graduates have held the position of energy minister in the past, and nobody asked why. These individuals learned much of the energy problems facing our country during their tenure, but they made only limited contribution to the resolution thereof.

Thermodynamics” is a mandatory course for undergraduates studying Mechanical and Metallurgical Engineering, Chemistry, and Environmental Sciences at our technical universities. Other engineering students may take it as an elective course.
It is thought to be a very difficult course, however, if the student works in a systematic way, consistently attending lectures, completing the daily homework and studying every day, it is not at all difficult. It is for certain that those who procrastinate, waiting to study until the day before the exam, will not be successful in such a course.

The highest public office responsible for energy should be occupied by somebody who has taken thermodynamics courses during their undergraduate university education. Public office is not a place to receive an education. If a politician is appointed to head such a ministry, that politician should have achieved a sufficient level of university education and have gathered a significant amount of professional experience, both in advance.

It is not our responsibility to teach each newcomer to the energy market that a “volt” is not a “watt”, that there is no such concept as “teravolt” or that a “megabyte” is not a “megawatt”. We should not have to teach them the differences between thermal power plants and renewable energy resources, nor should we have to inform them of the details of the Kyoto Protocol. A stadium “tribune” and steam “turbine” are not the same thing.

Newcomers should know the current EIA criteria before coming taking this public office. Public decisions should not ignore environmental sensitivities. Wind and solar energy cannot replace base-load electricity generation in the long-term as they have intermittent production, and they need new specialized and expensive high-voltage transmission line investments that utilize expensive “Pumped-Storage Hydro Electricity (PSHE)” for load balancing. They should know that these specialized state-of-the art investments and their operations are not so cheap.

Nuclear power plants are basically thermal power plants. Our local market has not managed to build a nuclear power plant or a thermal power plant for over the last 50 years. Basic design and the fabrication of major parts for these facilities have always been curtailed due to the lack of local finance. Here, we are forced to buy obsolete, old technology to equip inefficient thermal power plants with low availability as they are financed by Eastern European or East Asian suppliers and supported by their export-import banks.

Our new minister of energy should know about global warming and environmental impact assessment norms and should take care to not build fossil fuel-firing thermal power plants on agricultural land, forests, land with olive trees, ancient archeological sites, or in the close proximity of touristic regions. Our minister of energy should realize that that environmentalist/popular slogans such as “Wind- solar energy is enough for us”, “Nuclear energy solves all our energy needs, if we could have started construction in 1970s then we would be building our own plants by ourselves by now”, “There is oil in our land, but foreigners are preventing us from exploring and utilizing it”, “Shale gas reserves will solve our energy needs within the next 5 years”, or “We found oil off our shores in the Black Sea”, are all urban legends with no applicable practical or technical basis whatsoever. We must build fossil fuel firing thermal power plants by ourselves completely, covering basic-detail designs, fabrication and site installation domestically. We are suffering from unemployment, yet we allow semi-qualified foreign workers, convicts and soldiers to construct power plants within our borders.

EIA reports are to be prepared in detail, submitted properly and evaluated carefully. In order to have the EIA reports approved and certified for their new power plants, investors commit and promise everything to the local people, whether employment, prosperity, low emissions, or no water, land, or air pollution, but when they receive approval, they forget their promises. This is not a problem specific to Turkey, it happens all over the world. Investment control mechanisms should be continuous, not only enforced by public servants, but also by local NGOs. From time to time, we notice political pressure being exerted for positive EIA results so that investments can be approved and commenced. Yet, how should we approve the ever increasing amount of requests to build new imported fossil fuel-firing thermal power plants, when they are expensive, their prices are floating, the fuel price remains unreliable, and they increase our current account deficit (CAD), which is already at intolerable levels. How can we just give investors the license to proceed?

Energy’s role in economic policy is a serious and crucial business. Energy investments, energy studies, petroleum explorations, pipeline constructions, domestic coal production, scientific and economic exploitation of domestic fuel sources, finding finance, and finding jobs are all very serious issues. To ensure our country’s prosperity we need to have experienced well-educated ministers with tested public staffs.

Haluk Direskeneli is a graduate of METU’s Mechanical Engineering Department (1973). He has worked in public and private enterprises, US-Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP, Entergy), and in fabrication, basic/detail design, marketing, sales, and in project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as a freelance consultant/energy analyst of thermal power plants, and utilizing his basic/detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities, and research institutions. He is a member of METU Alumni and the Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

Ankara, 21 April 2015

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The 31-March-2015 Turkish Black-out is not the end of the world.

Dear Readers,
During the winter of 1991 I was working at an American-Turkish joint venture company in Ankara. We prepared a proposal to build a thermal power plant for a reputable Istanbulite firm. The company evaluated all the proposals submitted by interested parties and in the end it invited us to their head office in Istanbul in order to take part in negotiations on the final price that would be outlined in the contract. If a consensus was reached, the contract would be signed.On the day that we were scheduled to go to Istanbul we were experiencing heavy snowfall around Ankara. Commercial aircraft could not fly that day and we had made reservations for an overnight stay at the Hotel Pera Palas in Istanbul in advance.
When we inquired at the sales office of Ankara Intercity Coaches, we were informed that buses were still running. We bought tickets and were scheduled to leave Ankara at 17:00 on a nonstop bus to Istanbul. We set out under heavy snowfall. I had a big briefcase with me full of thick files and other documents of great importance. I didn’t stow this briefcase in the baggage storage below and it didn’t fit in the overhead compartment. I kept the briefcase just at my feet the entire journey.I was traveling with our company’s General Manager Jeffrey Green and we chatted the entire way to Istanbul. It was here that Jeff said: “People always make mistakes, they always make wrong decisions. Something may also go wrong that is out of one’s control, and it is futile to place blame. It is not important to express regret. The important thing is to take corrective action to eradicate the error that was made as fast as possible. Quick recovery is key in business.”
After stopping at Taksim Square at about 23:00, the coach continued down the road to the old city. We asked to be let off opposite the Hotel Pera Palas so that we would only have to walk a short distance to get to the hotel. We got off and the bus drove into the night. After a short moment I noticed that I forgot the briefcase on the bus.
I told this to Jeff, and without any sign of anger he said, “Let's take a taxi and catch the bus.” It was late, midnight, but within a few minutes we were able to find a taxi. We could estimate the bus’s route, so went in the Eminönü-Aksaray-Bakirkoy direction, and in about half an hour, close to Ataköy, we caught the bus. Upon retrieving the briefcase, we returned to the hotel and went to sleep. The next day, after long and tiring negotiations, we signed the contract.
The moral of the story is that when these misfortunes happen in business life it is important to amend the wrong by quickly taking the necessary corrective initiative. It is also important to learn from the mistake so as not to repeat it again. If you lose something valuable, you have to focus on finding it, and take away a lesson from the experience so that it is not repeated. In the worst case, you put everything on hold and renew the system completely. It is not the end of the world.

On 31 March 2015, we experienced such a misfortune, namely, a nationwide black-out which lasted almost eight hours. We now more or less know the reasons for the interruption. We are sure that the black-out was not the result of a computer virus or a cyber-attack on the computers of the national electricity transmission center.We know that the mismatched frequencies of high voltage electricity transmission lines could not be compensated for, as we had a break in the country’s main east-west high voltage transmission line. The system frequency fell in the western regions of the country and it rose in its eastern regions. We faced difficulties in loading and unloading demand.

On Turkey’s southern coast, a new and important thermal power plant with a generation capacity of 1200 MW was unable to resolve the ongoing feed pump failure that had become apparent the previous night. The same failure happened the following morning at 10:36, and the power plant was shut down entirely. With this, the national power system lost a great source of generation capacity and its frequency fell below the tolerable level. As a result, in the west, two more large base-load thermal power plants with capacities of 1034 MWe and 799 MWe were forced out of the system due to this fall in the nationwide frequency.
Turkey’s national electricity transmission company (TEİAŞ) dispatchers were unable to interfere as the available software at the main control center was ineffective in engaging in corrective intervention on existing transmission lines. The national grid fell piece by piece like dominoes, one after another in only a few seconds, until the system experienced a complete power outage that plunged the entire country into darkness. In order to protect itself, the European common energy pool (ENTSO-E) removed us from the system.
After an 8-hour interruption, the black start was realized. Yet before this,  fast trains, underground metro lines, traffic lights, airport control towers, hospital emergency rooms, and elevators could not be operated if they had no emergency power supply.
This chaos lasted 8 hours.
What would have happened if we had had nuclear power plants running during that period, producing more than 5,000 MWe each? What would have happened after our transmission lines transmitted no more power? How would we have protected our high capacity power plants?
We understand that there are weaknesses in our current energy transmission lines, as well as in our national control center. And we need to take corrective action.
Privately-owned thermal power plants with high capacity base-loads have the tendency to respond slowly when it comes to loading and unloading electricity generation. Due to their expectations for high profits, they are reluctant to obey directions.
Turkey’s public electricity transmission company needs greater staff training, and funding to update their software in order to control the overall system. When a situation occurs such as the recent power outage, certain members of the staff must be granted protections so that they are able to take urgent action.There is no need to place blame. Yet, now we see that instead of supporting the corrective staff, most of our energy is focused on individuals that have now become scapegoats. We do not find this correct. It is not right to ask that the general manager of Turkey’s national power grid resign, nor is it correct to dismiss the staff. An eight-hour power outage is not the end of the world. Nonetheless, we must learn from this unfortunate occurrence to prevent it from happening again.
Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of ODTÜ Alumni and Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

Ankara, 15 April 2015

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