Blog 2: STEERing hamsters

In the first blog post (Blog 1: How did we get here?) I briefly mentioned STEER aspects and gave a sports example of what it means. If sport isn’t exactly your thing, let’s dive deeper to this idea through hamsters. Yes, you read correctly, I am going to explain “the Feasibility assessment concept in renewable energy innovation and development” by using hamsters as an example. 

eWEning star focuses on topics related to Renewable Energy Sources, so I use STEER aspects in that field. However, there is no reason why it couldn’t be used also in other industries such as agriculture or other energy industries. 

STEER stands for words social, technological, environmental, economic and regulative. All these aspects need to be assessed and be in balance with each other in order to successfully implement a new innovation or development. The STEER aspects are the main categories and can be further divided to different subcategories (environmental aspect includes topics such as Environmental Impact Assessment, CO2 footprint etc). Sometimes they also overlap with each other to some extent when for example environmental impact of the innovation influences the social acceptance of it. In general, these five aspects should be considered through the whole process of new innovation and development from “theoretical level” to “fully implemented”: 

But where are the hamsters??? Let’s bring them in! 

Let’s look at a hypothetical idea (isn’t that how all ideas are always in the beginning?) of new, disruptive, “out-of-the-box” idea for renewable energy: Using hamsters for electricity generation! Why not!? Anyone who has ever owned a hamster (R.I.P “Hessu” 1993-1995) knows that these creatures spend a lot of time running in the hamster wheel. Why not utilize this for something beneficial such as electricity generation? 

Idea of hamster generating electricity through hamster wheel

So let’s make quick STEER assessment for this idea:

Social: There’s no harm done for the hamster here, so owners wouldn’t probably disagree with a development like this. Maybe they could make light or get their phone charged for free so that they can take more cute pictures of their pet and post them to Instagram! Some more extreme animal-right activists, however, might see this as another misuse of animals. 

Technological: Relatively easy to implement as there are for example hand-rechargeable flashlights commercially available, at airports people can charge their phone by cycling etc. For engineers this would be quite an easy task to develop from TRL 1 to TRL 9. It’s more a matter of how this energy would be used: to generate light, to charge a phone or be attached to a small water pump that the hamster can have fresh water directly from the water pipe after his (now beneficial) run. 

Environmental: This could be seen as improvement from environmental aspect, especially on the energy efficiency side, as so far the generated energy has been completely unused. If the owner has so far been using fossil fuel based electricity in his/her apartment, there are even some CO2 emissions saved here. 

Economic: Hamsters are cheap, but what about the necessary technology? That might be more expensive than the hamster! The payback time of the device should not be more than the expected lifespan of the hamster… 

Regulative: There shouldn’t be anything against this as the hamster isn’t harmed or forced  in any way. 

After we have made the first STEER assessment on the concept which we now named HAMSTERGY, we get busy getting further and make a model with materials we bought from a local hardware and electric store. AND IT WORKS! With full confidence it’s time to make this into a real business, so we take our first model and well-rested hamster in front of the investors. 

Soon we have more work to do as we need to figure out whether people actually are willing to use your innovation. They are worried about combining “hamster” with “electricity” as normally they do their best to keep those very much apart from each other (Social aspect). However, you probably are able to fix this worry by adjusting the technology: wires are covered with hamster-teeth-proof layers or placed outside the cage (Technological aspect). 

We have now also been requested by the investors for a Life Cycle Assessment of this device (Environmental aspect) and cost estimation of the device. For sure we can make the device cheaper if we would start mass production instead of buying the materials from the local store (Economic perspective). 

Last, we also realise that it might be good to get the device patented so that we don’t lose this huge opportunity to change the energy production to a competitor (the neighbour was actually asking way too many questions about our innovation…) who for sure will try to steal the idea we have worked so hard on (Regulative perspective). 

Eventually, one way or another we get to the point scaling up of HAMSTERGY. We have created a complete new market. We have breeders of genetically manipulated hamsters, which have larger muscles that run faster and longer than the original ones. We have large facilities with stacked cages with controlled light-source as hamsters are most active in dark. This way we can control the electricity generation and react on peaks. We even found a producer of proteins that can dispose the “End-of-Life” hamsters. 

Commercialisation of HAMSTERGY

What kind of results do you think we would get when making a STEER-assessment on this last stage development? 

By now, I think you get the point? The level and number of questions of STEER aspects are different depending on how far the innovation and development is. However, those aspects should be assessed in advance in order to make a choice whether to continue with the development or make adjustments to one or several aspects of it. This is a very typical challenge in the Renewable Energy industry where for example implementation of new technologies and innovations can be hindered by unclear or unsupportive regulations. Also, MANY projects have fallen at the last stage due to public resistance.

Because these are the main aspects in Energy Transition, eWEning star wants to develop a platform for information that is also divided based on these aspects. The objective is to ease the desk research part of Energy Transition towards Renewable Energy Sources by dividing the research papers, reports and presentations according to STEER. This will be one of the features of the platform, which others don’t have. 

I hope you have already subscribed to the monthly updates so that you’ll be the first one to hear what’s happening at eWEning star. In case you want to hear more, you can also take direct contact. 🙂 

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