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Sunday Brunch: horses for courses
(Shire Horse using a drag harrow, photo by Martin Pettitt on Flickr CC BY 2.0 DEED, Racehorse image by dreamtemp from Pixabay)

Sunday Brunch: horses for courses

The solution (the horse) should match the problem or desired output (the course).

The phrase 'horses for courses' is a British expression that originates from horse racing where it is assumed that some horses race better on certain courses than on others. For example, a horse that runs well on a dry course will run less well on a damp course.

The solution (the horse) should match the problem or desired output (the course).

For sustainability professionals this is an important concept. Understanding and awareness of it can differentiate them in strategy conversations.

A solution that works in one geographic region may be wholly inappropriate in another.

And whilst one solution may technically speaking work, it may not be even close to being the most effective or efficient. Michael Liebriech describes hydrogen, for example, as mistakenly being thought of as the 'Swiss army knife' of energy. The Swiss army knife is a multi-purpose tool that can be used for a number of applications. It has scissors that can be used for cutting, but should they be used for cutting cardboard?

Why is it that there is this drive to highlight single solutions for everything?

What are the drivers for some of the framing of 'sustainability solutions' that we see today?


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A pilot project in Kenya providing onsite green fertiliser is an interesting example. In this case the customer, Kenya Nut Co needs fertiliser. Fertiliser needs ammonia. Ammonia needs hydrogen. The supplier, Talus Renewables makes green hydrogen to make green ammonia for the fertiliser.

The starting point is the need, not the input. A concern with discussions about a 'hydrogen economy' (or an 'electric economy') is the starting point is this-thing-I-am-producing-and-I-need-to-find-a-use-for-it. That can lead to inefficiencies.

It can also result in powerful lobbying by vested interests. As Professor Maslow (1966, “The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance”) put it “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Let's look at the example of the home, discussing what a resident needs and how the model of how they get what they need could change in the future, but let's start with a quick physics lesson.

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