Analog Electronics Blogging Renewable Energy Sustainability

A Slightly Changed Course

Holidays have been used in the past to paste some pictures together for my background image. This time it was a change of role as well. As I’ve once stated, I don’t really like the “sustainability” title on things. It’s much too management whereas I like focusing on engineering. So I stuck to the “renewable energy” stuff, or so I said. In the meantime I’ve realized that I really don’t write about renewable energy anymore. It turned out it WAS a passing phase for me, as Cherish from “Faraday’s Cage is where you put Schroedinger’s Cat” once said in the comments of a post.

Don’t get me wrong, I like renewable energy. I like it a lot. It’s definitely important, especially given the oil snafu’s of late. But in terms of what I can add to the conversation and where I feel I fit best, I think I would choose analog electronics before renewable energy. Anyway, it doesn’t matter much; if I start writing about renewable energy a whole lot more, I’ll just change it back!

In other news, I’ve changed up the headings at the top of each page. I’ve removed some things and added another. As I’ve written about in the past, I’ve been searching for alternate sources of income. I’ve decided to offer my non-day-job time to anyone who needs help on their projects. No, it shan’t be free, but I will promise the first 3 projects 50% off my standard rate. If you have any needs for electronics projects, please look at the services I offer and how we might work together.  Then give me a shout and we’ll start working on your exciting new project together.

Economics Life Renewable Energy

I Have A Million Dollar Idea For Free Energy!

Ha, my title sounds like the beginning of a spam email. I’m actually even willing to have at least one FeedBlitz email that gets sent out to be caught in a spam filter, just to prove my point.

Either way, the title of this post looks ridiculous. And yet it is pervasive in headlines on the internet and in newsprint. Why? Because people are hungry for new ideas, new ways to try and make money and free energy (I guess those could all be classified under the money category). The reason these headlines are everywhere is because they work. They grab peoples’ attention, including my own.

But wait.

There are no breakthroughs, right?. There are, but they’re much more rare than the public is lead to believe. Even those breakthroughs aren’t even that big of a leap from the previous discovery. That’s just not how science works, people. Science is iterative. Science is boring. That’s the way science is designed to be. You think up a hypothesis, you test it, you repeat based on those results. Even if you do have some huge breakthrough, you really need to test it out rigorously to determine if it truly is a breakthrough.

Because of this realization, I’ve decided to create a simple guideline for the news media (who will ignore it, even if they ever saw it) and for aspiring pseudo-scientists, who are probably just people trying to sell the first “technology” they get their hands on.

Step 1: Ask yourself, “Has this been done before?”

I’m guessing that yes, you have asked yourself this; and no, it has not been done before. Why else would you be trying to report on it and/or sell it to people? If this has been done before, go back to the drawing board. No one wants to hear from you. (See, this is like science!)

Step 2: If this hasn’t been done before (and this technology you’re investigating seems like a breakthrough), ask yourself, WHY hasn’t this been done before?”

This is the step that people miss. Either when reporting on a technology or worse, trying to “create” a new technology, they ignore this step. For example, say you’ve figured out that you might be able to harness the motion of trees blowing in the wind. OK, why isn’t anyone doing it now? Have you considered the efficiency of the conversion process? Have you considered the economics of trying to harvest this energy? How long will the payback be for people that purchase such a system?

Step 3: If you believe you’ve overcome the 3 of the stumbling blocks of discovering new energy technologies (efficiency, money, ROI), what has changed?

Be specific. Saying that “it’s never been done before!” will be considered an incomplete answer and you will fail the test. If you are a reporter doing a story on an energy technology that will eventually be the next big thing, say exactly what has to happen and how soon it would have to happen in order for that technology to become viable. If you are “developing” that next big thing, tell us what you overcame and possibly how you overcame it; in the event you are not allowed to divulge that info because it is a trade secret, be prepared for future scrutiny and skepticism. Shrouding a problem does not solve it.

Step 4: Determine: Are you (or the people you’re reporting on) capable of delivering on a consistent basis all of the things that are promised?

Here are some examples of news stories or “inventions” I have heard about but that did not deliver:

  • A new chemical compound that can burn hotter and longer than fuel sources currently used but is extremely expensive to make (process). Since it was sold as a disruptive technology, this could not deliver because disruptive technologies must be economically feasible.
  • A new processing technique that is based upon ideal lab conditions and low volume manufacturing. Data was not based on a large sample size with many permutations of input variables so the promised (laboratory) conditions could not be delivered.
  • A microenergy harvester that was not capable of delivering because the efficiency of the converter was not calculated with realistin inputs and operating conditions. As such, the advertised output power could not be achieved.
  • A device based on permanent magnets that requires less energy put in than can be recovered. NOTE: This can never deliver as promised, see laws of conservation of energy and thermodynamics.

I’m not trying to say that people shouldn’t attempt to develop new technologies nor should they only do research on things that are immediately economically viable. That is short sighted and many past inventions would have never been achieved with that mindset. The people I’m reaching out to are the so called “reporters” out there and the so called “inventors”. Basically what I’m saying is that I too am hungry to hear about the next big thing. I look often and I find the same story each time. There was either a miscalculation or a misquote or a fancy-pants marketer trying to sell his big dumb ultra-capacitor that no one has seen to this day (p.s. it’s 2010. We’re still waiting!).

I know I’ve been guilty of it too, getting overzealous about under-developed new technologies. I’m a far cry from mainstream media though and I’ve yet to start “Gammell Energy Industries” to sell a ghost product. So if you’re a reporter/marketer/inventor/whatever, please be gentle with my hope for technologies that will help solve problems in the world. When you lie about a new product or technologies’ capabilities, it only dashes the hopes of others and removes focus from solving the problem at hand.

Analog Electronics Renewable Energy Sustainability

The Sustainability/Renewable Energy Jumble

I get it. Some of you out there don’t give a hoot about sustainability. I figured that out when people started unsubscribing from email subscriptions to my post feed. Sure, it could have been people switching over to an RSS feed reader, but it coincided with my posts about the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit (I may have gotten carried away with the writing).

For a while I was writing only about analog stuff, electrical engineering stuff and workplace stuff. To be honest, when the recession hit it was difficult to think of much else; when our security feels threatened (job, personal or otherwise), we revert to more basic creatures. It’s funny that we care most about the environment (the population as a whole) only when there is nothing  wrong with the economy. That is, if you don’t include gas prices; it seemed like we definitely felt threatened at $4 a gallon for unleaded. Anyway, I focused a little more on the electrical side of things whereas this site started out more on the renewable energy side of things.

And then I had the opportunity to attend the summit and it was really great. I met some awesome people and really got to see a side of Cleveland I never thought I’d see. It renewed my interest in renewable energy applications/technology and got me excited about the prospects of working on it in Cleveland. But I wasn’t completely satisfied with the summit. I found my experiences a few weeks later at a wind energy talk with Larry Viterna of the Great Lakes Energy Institute to be much more satisfying. Sitting and discussing the technical issues involved in a renewable energy system is much more appealing to me than going out in the community and rallying support for the idea (though I definitely understand the importance of doing so). I always feel that I am getting more done when I discuss the technical aspects of a project than the logistical aspects; it is not realistic to ever ignore one or the other, I just feel that I can contribute more to the technical side, due to my interest.

As a result of all of those experiences, I think I figured something out: I am much more interested in renewable energy and the technology behind it than the sustainability movement and working on how best to implement the methodologies. I completely agree with the concept of sustainability and try to lessen my personal impact by improving the energy efficiency of my house and changing my personal habits. However, I view sustainability as a management field whereas I view renewable energy as a technological field (a simplification I’m sure); right now, I am much more interested in technical matters than management matters.

As for the jumble of sustainability and renewable energy talk on this site and others, it’s important to realize they are different topics, yet intertwined. One cannot exist without the other: sustainable businesses require low cost, non-polluting power and renewable energy has greater demand when sustainable companies want a renewable source of power. As such, I plan to write only about the renewable energy topics, unless there are implications with sustainable business/life practices.

So while I do not plan on going out and knocking on the doors of businesses and homes to start pushing them to adopt sustainability practices, I do want to relay why I think they are important. Moreover, I want to point out the concepts I would embrace when I start my company (someday in the future). And even if I was completely detached from the business world, I feel that the benefits of adopting sustainability are relevant in my personal life and can have some serious implications for the future.

  1. It saves you money — The zero-waste concept is a powerful one; it also can save a ridiculous amount of money for you or your business if you properly plan an execute a plan of action. If you don’t have to pay for waste removal, don’t have to pay extra for unused raw materials and possibly even get paid for recycling some of your spent resources, you can save or net a significant amount of cash.
  2. It makes you less of a burden on the planet — This point doesn’t have any immediate benefits, but makes sense. Look all around you at every living thing: they all give back to their environment in some way. Humans aren’t great at matching this performance, but there is a movement to begin consuming less and being less of a burden on the planet.
  3. It’s not hard — Yes, you will have to watch your production processes and make sure you aren’t unnecessarily creating waste. Yes, you might have to pay a little bit more for clean energy from the electric company or have renewable energy capability installed at your facility/home. Yes, you will have to recycle instead of sending it to a landfill. But once the mindset is in place it becomes second nature.
  4. It saves you money — I can’t stress idea enough. Sustainable business practices make money. That’s why you see corporate giants like Walmart joining the party and delivering added value to their shareholders.

I plan to continue to focus on renewable energy research and applications, as it is where my greatest interests lie in the whole scope of the sustainability movement. I know there are many many more components that I will not be able to contribute to as a leader but will be able to adhere to as an ecologically concious citizen. What do you enjoy more? The renewable energy side of things, the sustainability side of things or none of the above? Let me know in the comments!

Learning Renewable Energy

An Evening with the Technical Director of the Great Lakes Energy Institute

Last evening I attended a talk from Dr. Larry Viterna, director of the Great Lakes Energy Institute (GLEI), titled “Wind Energy Technology and Its Adoption by Industry and the Public”. It was hosted by the Cleveland IEEE, the Case Student chapter of IEEE and the EECS department of Case and it was spectacular.

Let me tell you, even though I was excited from the energy in the room at Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit last week, this event really topped it. Perhaps it was just my perception. I was trying to explain why this was a big deal to me to my girlfriend later in the evening and this is what I came up with:

Even though the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit was full of people with energy and great ideas, this was different. This was a group of people all in the same room that spoke the technical language, that knew or were involved in the research behind some of the technologies being discussed…and were still super excited about sitting there. It gave me hope when I had been previously disappointed that there weren’t more engineers at the summit.

Not only that, it was one of those events where the content was things you’ve never heard before because the person telling them to you discovered them. As an example, Dr. Viterna told us of an empirical method he devised while at NASA back in the late 70s/early 80s that empirically defined when a wind turbine would stall out. Prior to that point, estimations had all been based on a 2D model of the turbine blades; past a certain amount of power you cannot accurately predict when a fixed-blade turbine will stall. He presented at a conference but nothing came of it (his words were that he was laughed off stage, though I hardly believe that). It was only years later that he discovered his method was being used regularly in the explanation of how and when wind turbines would stall out; that data can then be used to control the power output of the turbine, especially useful in high wind situation (so it doesn’t bust into a million pieces). Where else would I find that kind of personal content in a talk?

While I could go on from my notes about the detailed talk that Dr. Viterna gave, I will instead bullet point some of my favorite facts and notes:

  1. Denmark decided in the early 80s to move towards a completely renewable energy situation (even after oil prices dropped) because they were importing up to 60% of their oil at the time and were particularly hard hit by the oil crisis of the late 70s. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)
  2. The US just passed all other countries in terms of wind energy capacity. We also have a growth rate per year in wind energy capacity of 45% compared to a global average 25%.
  3. A wind turbine is equally effective with two blades or three as long as the same amount of area is swept by the blades; convention is currently 3 blades as pioneered by companies in Denmark.
  4. Power generated by a turbine is proportional to the area covered by the blades and also proportional to the cube of the velocity of the wind. So big blades are good, but big gusts of wind are better.
  5. The limiting factor of wind turbines currently is the drive train assembly and the stresses that are placed on it. The fluid dynamics (of the wind) around a turbine system and the extreme stresses it places on the turbine are beginning to limit the overall power that can be converted by a turbine without catastrophic failure (see video above).
  6. The first mulit-megawatt turbine was first pioneered in the late 70s into the early 80s by NASA. No turbine had been able to match the power output up until a few years ago.
  7. While wind energy could never compete on a cost basis with dirty coal (even with subsidies), the relative costs are close to the costs of new, regulated, “clean coal” plants (which don’t yet exist).

I was very lucky to be in that room with 50 or so other engineers last night to hear Dr. Viterna speak. I also had the opportunity to personally pitch the idea to him about the Laboratories for Advanced Energy Commercialization (LAEC or “Lake”); he indicated that something would need to be in place, though he didn’t mention whether LAEC would specifically be viable. He also mentioned that GLEI is still quite young and that there is a lot of development that needs to be done on the research side of things to really get money flowing through the region and bring in more research companies.

Cleveland, Case and the whole community is lucky to have Dr. Viterna heading up the GLEI. I belive his leadership and his passion for energy will really help drive development in the energy arena and help boost Cleveland to the forefront of the advanced energy research scene. Please leave any thoughts you might have in the comments, including other facts about wind energy or local research I may have missed.

Learning Renewable Energy Sustainability

Third and Final Day of Sustainable Cleveland 2019

The last day.

It was pretty simple, really. Just collect your brainstormed ideas, distill them down into very few realistic ideas and then focus the best of those ideas into a final product. Once that is done, simply go up on stage and present in front of the 600 or so people that were attending. Simple… right? Right.

As you may remember from my explanation of Day 2 at the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit, I was in a group that focused on Advanced Energy Research. We were a group that had a much more diverse makeup than I had anticipated…I had expected only engineers in my quite limited sight. Instead we got a few engineers, a PR person, a patent lawyer, a stay-at-home mom, the head of financing at a non-profit, a start-up executive, a college student, a PR-person-turned-entrepreneur and a solar array installer. I couldn’t have made up that mix if I tried! But it was really great, the perspectives were unique and very much appreciated. Looking back at the roughly 6 hours of word we did, it’s amazing just how wide a breadth of ideas we covered and how we were able to reduce it to a final product.

So…what did we come up with?

Our group conceived an incubator of sorts, but with many more bells and whistles. Our focus was on the commercialization of technology, as that is probably the most difficult part in making a research concept into a tangible, sell-able product. As a starter name, we decided on “The Laboratories for Advanced Energy Commercialization” (LAEC…pronounced “LAKE”). Catchy, eh? I liked the name a lot. Anyway, the concept would be that eventually LAEC would become the center for all things advanced energy in Cleveland. The pinnacle of achievement would come when we constructed or rehabbed a building (LEED certified, of course) to serve as the center of advanced energy activity in Cleveland. This would include an “Energy Village”, where new technologies could be tested and showcased on model homes, in addition to subjecting it to the Cleveland elements. You think you have a great idea for a new solar panel? Well let’s see how it stands up to Cleveland’s cloudy days and great northern winters. Additionally, there would be a “PowerMart”, where now-commercialized technologies in their final form could be previewed and sold to municipalities and power companies from around the globe; this would help to showcase the region and bring outside investment to the area. Up to and past the point where a brick and mortar location for LAEC exists, the center would also act as a research resource and knowledge hub for all local and non-local researchers. Want to know which companies and Universities are researching or commercializing that new wind turbine technology? Check the LAEC databases or talk to a staff member we would hope to be able to hire. There would be maximum focus on being an independent, yet well connected and informed group that helps to bring all of the research and development firms in the area together around a common goal of increasing advanced energy knowledge.

There were many unanswered questions.

First off, funding. We really didn’t know where funding would come from for such a center. It’s possible that there are foundations out there that would be interested in sponsoring a center such as LAEC but never any guarantees. Other funding concerns would come later, if LAEC was ever truly established; how would the center be able to help to bring in funding for commercialization efforts that have always been so scarce in Cleveland in the first place? These are questions I am not sure the answer to.

If we take a further step back, another question remains: Doesn’t something like this already exist? Yes and no. There are many institutions that are serving the entrepreneurial crowd, some that serve the advanced energy crowd and some that serve the university crowd. However, we felt that there was not a central, all inclusive resource or institution that would allow for independent research and assistance in getting more money into the area for the commercialization of technology. Let’s be honest: Cleveland has many fine institutions that are capable of attracting funding and delivering worthwhile research. But while this does exist, the jobs are still not flooding the area as a result of any research breakthroughs. That is what LAEC would hope to deliver.

The summit left us on an interesting note. Our diverse team is now expected to go out and take action on a plan we set forth, including checkpoints at 3 weeks, 3 months and (1 to) 3 years. We are supposed to begin on our own but with some eventual guidance from the Mayor’s office at some point. As to when we will hear from them, I don’t know. What I do know is that I hear more about this summit and the resulting initiatives, I will continue to write about them here. If nothing ever comes of our ideas, I think there are other things that I could take away from the summit that will be equally, if not more, valuable than the plan for the LAEC.

So what did I really gain from the summit?

  1. Connections
    • The people I met at the summit was the first real glimpse I’ve had of the Cleveland working community outside of my company…and these were mostly non-engineering types. If nothing else, I learned that it is my duty to get out and begin networking better. Not for a better job or a higher salary, but because there are a lot of people out there with great ideas.
  2. Perspective
    • Similar to above, I never realized the passion of the people that are in the sustainability movement in Cleveland. There are multiple organizations that meet on a regular basis to discuss issues that are important to them and can truly affect the entire community. See some of the links below that I had just found out were locally run. Who knew there was so much interest in sustainability in a city that had a burning river 40 years ago?
    • More info
  3. Hope
    • It’s hard to explain the feelings most people have about Cleveland. It’s like the quirky second cousin you never tell your friends about. You still like your cousin, especially certain things about them…but you have very mixed feelings towards that cousin when others ask you about them. I have always toted the benefits of Cleveland to friends when I could, but I have felt it drag on me too…the negativity of others can be infectious, especially in the winter. But this summit gave me hope; it made me realize there are other people out there that see the potential and the great things that can be done in Cleveland. And that always feels good, no matter where you’re from. It was refreshing to be around that kind of excitement and I really hope that I get to be around something like it again soon.

So that’s all I have to say about the Sustainable Cleveland summit for now. I think there will be a continuing dialogue among my group, with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, with others from the conference and with outsiders that are not yet participating. If you have any kind of interest in participating in something like LAEC, please let me know, either by email, phone or in the comments. I think we can really make a difference for Cleveland and for progressing Advanced Energy technologies, but we need to work on it together.

(LEED certified, of course)
Analog Electronics Learning Life Renewable Energy

Day 2 of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit

I must say, I’m impressed. My questions from day one have almost all been answered in one way or another. A few things really caught my attention today, some of which I didn’t really expect.

To start we had Ray Anderson of Interface. If you would have asked me what the company was just from the name I would have immediately jumped to technology. However, that’s not the case; Ray is in the business of carpets…and has been for 30 years or so. He also took a pledge, both for himself and for his company about 15 years back. A pledge to reduce environmental impact and do no harm. And they have succeeded so far (I didn’t get the feeling they were planning on quitting anytime soon). Here’s some of their broad stroke statistics on how they have progressed over the past 15 years:

  • 76% reduction in waste since 1996
  • 74% less water used to produce the carpet tiles
  • 44% less total energy used in production
  • 60% less fossil fuels in production
  • 27% use of renewable energy for production worldwide
  • 100% use of renewable energy for production in Europe
  • 24% recyclable or bio-based materials.
  • $405 million saved due to these reductions since 1994

Ray went on to explain the importance on reducing the overall impact of the technosphere on the biosphere (his words). He maintained that if we continue using technology in the wasteful, disposable ways we currently are, the future looks bleak. However, if we bring technology on as a reducer of waste instead of a primary contributor, great progress can be made towards a very low usage, need-driven (as opposed to want-driven) society. If I had to sum up the wonderful presentation by Ray Anderson, it would be this: do no harm in business and you will succeed. The results he has produced with his company Interface are a great example of renewable, sustainable practices producing a better shareholder solution and a better company for customers and the environment.

From there, we went on to explore the next stage of the AI process, the “Dream” stage. I believe this was an important component, trying to postively visualize where we believed the city could end up and finding a creative way of expressing it. There were many bold dreams of a Cleveland of tomorrow mixed in with a many themes that resonated throughout the presentations (more on those themes later). Some were sillier than others, which I have first-hand experience with: I was the captain of the Best Times 2019 boat.

Once the creative fervor was scaled back a bit, we smoothly transitioned into the design phase. This was by far the most exciting part and really what I had been waiting for. It is the meat of any AI gathering; when stuff really begins to come together and progress is finally made. We first were reminded about good brainstorming concepts. Personally, the concepts and ideas presented on how to brainstorm reminded me that this entire process was a great example of a crowd-sourced kind of activity. Key among the concepts was the notion having a multitude of ideas, so many that your head would spin. The concept is that among a large large group of ideas, a few winners would rise to the top, along with some accompanying themes. From there the groups would be able to identify the favorite ideas, group other thematic elements and begin to focus intensely on the top ideas. Hopefully, they can all be implemented into a single prototype that would later be presented as a final product, at least as a tangible result of the design/brainstorming process. Dr. Cooperrider used Ideo, the design firm and prior client of his, as an example of rapid prototyping and idea generation. I had heard about them previously but plan on finding out more about the world-renowned design firm.

Before going further, I think it’s important to list of the top-level themes that were identified from the “Dream” stage implemented earlier in the day:

  • Advanced Energy Research
  • Advanced Energy Generation
  • Advanced Materials and Manufacturing
  • Communication Campaign and Branding of the final ideas of the summit
  • Engaging 1.6 Million People
  • Fostering Social Capital
  • Green Buildings
  • Health
  • Vacant Land Use
  • Local Foods
  • Maintaining Post Summit Momentum
  • Metrics of Success (for the summit)
  • Public Compact (or Manifesto if you will)
  • Social Entrepreneurialship
  • Strategic Partnerships and Learning
  • Sustainable Business Innovation
  • Transportation
  • Waste to Profit
  • Water
  • World Class Sustainability Education

As new visitors to the site might guess (given the graphic at the top of my site) , I chose the very first topic. As an engineer really interested in renewable energy (and how it can be implemented), I felt it necessary to talk about the research aspect, as opposed to the generation, of the energy. I feel the latter can be left up to others for a time when the energy is cheap enough to be widespread; until it has reached the tipping point of being more economical to use renewables over other forms of energy, the research will never really be done. Past that, once commercial interests begin using renewables on a regular basis, investing in efficiencies will be a self-sustaining activity and one that only adds to the new benefit of renewable energy technologies. I plan on saving the results from today’s brainstorming session for a post tomorrow or the day after, simply because of the length of this post and in order to report on our finished idea, as opposed to an undeveloped seed of an idea.

While day 2 of Sustainable Cleveland 2019 was effective (OK, and a little bit fun, I’ll admit), I think tomorrow will really decide the final outcome of the entire summit. Without concrete action plans, the whole thing is for naught. The fears that the summit is actually just another run-of-the-mill convention will or will not come to fruition. If instead we take action on the plans we have in place tomorrow and the next day and the day after, then we will truly be able to say we have achieved something. I look forward to experiencing and writing about tomorrow.

Learning Life Renewable Energy

Day 1 of Sustainable Cleveland 2019

Today was the first day of the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit, hosted by Frank Jackson in downtown Cleveland. It was a mix of speakers, round-table discussions, breakout sessions and the usual other summit/convention type activities. We are continually reminded that this is not just some conference to be forgotten but instead acted upon later on. Time will tell if that comes to fruition and as I wrote before will require input from everyone in the community, including you Clevelanders out there reading this.

To start, here are some neat facts I learned today:

  1. Van Jones, from the department of sustainability for the white house, reminded us that only 80 Billion dollars of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act were slated for “green” technologies. If you do the math 80/787 = 10.2% of the stimulus dollars are going towards renewable energy jobs and upgrades. Not enough.
  2. Peter Senge, author of “The Necessary Revolution” and professor at MIT, told us of a new(ish) EU initiative whereby cars made by European manufacturers must also be recycled by the same manufacturer. Imagine what kind of dramatic shifts in material usage and intelligent recycling will take place in order to preserve profitability and allow for (valuable) reuse of materials.
  3. Ray Anderson posed an interesting idea from an unknown book (as of right now) of designing systems and manufacturing environments using nature as a model. What would the byproducts of the process be reused as by other organisms? How can the process be optimized to use just enough energy, just as nature intends it? If there are materials pulled from the ground for use in the process, how are those same materials replenished at a later time?
  4. Jeff Baldassari, of The Taylor Companies (furniture), told us how his company has reduced waste throughout and optimized their process to a point that their entire monthly refuse hauling cost is only $1000.
  5. Dr. Senge also told us that we require an 80% reduction in carbon emissions to reduce global warming so it does not cross an irreversable threshold of run-away heating. More interesting, he told us about a project by MIT, an open source piece of software that allows the general public to better visualize what kinds of reductions we need in order to hit theose targets and how much collaborative action is required in the future. More info at

Aside from the speakers we also began the Appreciative Inquiry process, using techniques refined by our moderator David Cooperrider. We’re still in the “discovery” stage of the AI 4-D cycle (below), basically a time to figure out who is there, what individuals are good at and what in the past has worked well and can be built upon. The entire philosophy of the method is to focus on the positive aspects of change (what could be) instead of waiting until things go wrong and trying to fix them (what was). While it can produce some ideas for how to really enact the change, I am only expecting this summit to be a motivational type of event; an event that really makes people want to keep going with developing community and talking to their government leaders.

And although I have enjoyed my time so far, I’d like to point out some things I’m a bit skeptical about and questions that are yet unanswered:

  1. Will this really work? I believe my skepticism is based on the fact that we haven’t done anything yet. I’m told that happens on day 2 really, so I’ll have to find out more tomorrow.
  2. One of the things pointed out in some pre-summit literature is that to really drive change in a region, you need a critical mass of contributors in a given sector of a given region (i.e. wind turbine development in NE Ohio). Even if we do have some of the highest concentrations of engineers in the country (according to Van Jones), are they capable of working on renewable energy type systems? More importantly, are they driven to work on those types of applications? Finally, will there ever be enough business interest in those industries that would bring even more people into the region?
  3. Can we walk the walk? As a group of 700 succesful leader-types gathering at a conference/summit on sustainabilty, will we be able to go home each night and practice sustainability and not just talk about it? To be honest, I do what I can on the simpler side of things (CFLs, recycling, etc), but there needs to be more action and accountability by us first before we can ask others to do the same.
    • As a corollary, I wonder if it is ever possible to ask human beings–especially those that aren’t interested in the ideas we are working on–to consume less/sacrifice/etc. I know that we can be told to do something (reluctantly, I’m sure). I know we can be pressured into doing something because of super high taxes or prices. But the question is: can we drive people to realize that the typical American lifestyle is dangerous to the environment and can we make them care about it? I think this is a major hurdle and a topic I hope is brought up again and again at the summit. I’m skeptical that the general population will care about some of these issues; that is, until sea levels have risen past their doorsteps.

So far I have met some wonderful people, which if it came down to it, would be reason enough for me to attend this summit. Making connections with people that are enacting change in Cleveland really allows me to step outside the bubble of my world and to see what is important to others. In some cases technology doesn’t factor into their thought process at all, something that is hard for me to imagine. On the same note though, some of those I have met and am sure to meet more of are spectacular at working with people, something that is also not my strongest suit. I think there can be a mutual exchange of ideas among all of us that will allow me to grow as a person and as someone that will hopefully be able to drive change in my hometown.

What about you? Do you have any questions about the first day of the summit? Are you attending the summit and have somehow found this page? What is your take on the summit thus far? Let me know in the comments!
Analog Electronics Economics Politics Renewable Energy

Sustainable Cleveland 2019

I will be attending Sustainable Cleveland 2019 later this week. It has given me a renewed interest in renewable energy and has really been great motivation to learn more about my city.

The summit will be a gathering of more that 600 people from different walks of life in Cleveland, all trying to figure out what we need to do in order to become a leader in various fields of sustainability. The 2019 part of the title refers to the Cleveland 30 year from now, when all of the areas of sustainability will hopefully have been achieved. These sustainability initiatives could include:

  • Renewable energy production
  • Advanced energy (infrastructure)
  • Advance material fabrication and advanced manufacturing operations
  • Sustainable, local food sources
  • Green buildings (LEED certifications)
  • Stringent environmental policies, especially to protect our water source, Lake Erie
  • Sustainable Business Practices

So what can we do as a group of non-policy makers to actually drive any change in this city? A question I’m not completely sure of the answer. At the most basic level, I think this summit will give the citizens and drivers of change in the city a chance to tell the administration what they think. In fact, the entire summit is being hosted by the mayor, Frank Jackson, so I am guessing that’s exactly what he’s looking for. Beyond the basics, there is a methodology being implemented known as Appreciative Inquiry; I’m not into organizational behavior, but from what I’ve read it’s a popular method. The leading researcher in this field, David Cooperrider, will also be present at the summit to lead and guide us. I was surprised to later learn that Dr. Cooperrider is a sitting professor at my alma mater, Case Western Reserve University. From what I have learned about the method so far (which in all honesty seems a bit touchy-feely to me), it is about bringing people together while they are still excited about a prospective idea, instead of after problems have developed and that same group is only trying to fix the problem. It has proven successful for many groups thus far so I am eager to learn more about it.

Although this was the first time they decided to host such a summit, the organizers required an application for entry, to ensure people who were signing up were serious about their pledge to attend (the summit requires a 3 day commitment). I thought including some excerpts of my application would help illustrate why I think attending a summit like this is important (Warning: I was very interested in attending, so I felt it necessary to toot my own horn a bit. You’ve been warned) :

Describe what draws you to this summit.

I understand that a 10 year plan is only as good as the people that are writing and later following it. I want to be an integral part of the planning progress so I can help shape a future city that is sustainable and one that I can continue to be proud of. I am interested in meeting others that are passionate about moving Cleveland  towards a future that is sustainable, successful and forward-looking. The people at this summit will be the leaders of the next phase of Cleveland’s evolution and I would like to start working with them as soon as possible.

What unique aspects will you bring to the summit (education, life experience, etc.)?

I currently write a blog that discusses electrical engineering and renewable energy. I write on topics relating to my profession (analog electrical engineering), my generation (Gen Y) and I tie it into content about emerging renewable technologies. I also have a unique perspective, being a student that left the area for a job after college, thereby contributing to the “brain drain” that has affected much of Cleveland; I have since been one of the few that has returned (in 2008) so that I could help contribute to the city and pursue my passion at a company that is a leader in the measurement industry. My work at Keithley Instruments has given me insight into the needs of renewable energy producers and allowed me to work with some of the finest engineering minds in Cleveland.

I feel that I bring a fresh perspective on the technological aspect of building a sustainable Cleveland. As someone who works in an industry that serves renewable energy and as someone who aspires to work more directly in the renewable energy sector, I feel that I can help define where Cleveland will be able to best capitalize on new technologies and strong business opportunities. These will drive the future growth of Cleveland as both an economic hub and as a model for hosting sustainable and eco-conscious companies.

What do you think are Cleveland’s biggest strengths or best assets?

I believe that the students graduating from local Universities will be the foundation upon which the next phase of Cleveland will be built. Enticing them to stay in Cleveland and encouraging them to create new companies will generate revenue and jobs in Cleveland. The technology and companies that are created will drive local development and help bring in more residents and investment. Furthermore, I believe the Universities that are producing these students are an asset and that they should be assisted in post-graduate retention and building businesses out of commercialized research efforts.

A second more obvious but yet untapped resource is Lake Erie. In terms of energy, I believe Lake Erie can produce a great deal of clean and sustainable power for residents in Cleveland and surrounding areas. From a sustainability perspective, the availability of fresh water must be considered and protected, as this will become an increasingly scarce resource as the world warms. Additionally, the wildlife and food sources the lake provides must be taken into consideration when planning for a more sustainable city and region.

What do you envision for Cleveland in the year 2019?

I envision a vibrant job market based on renewable energy companies that have sprung up over the past 10 years. More importantly, I see educational and research hotbeds such as Case Western Reserve being used as a launch point for multiple new industries and technologies. I see renewable energies being harvested from Lake Erie in the form of wind turbines and wave harvesting. I see axillary industries such as test & measurements adding even more to local economies and highlighting what Cleveland has to offer the world. I see tight-knit communities encouraging conservation and recycling and teaching these concepts in schools. I see programs in place to help every city have affordable recycling. I imagine local and regional governments encouraging restructuring and consolidating existing infrastructure as opposed to creating new sprawl. I see those same governments encouraging outside investment in the newly reconstructed and consolidated areas and in the new companies that have helped revitalize it . And hopefully, I see my own renewable energy company creating products that change the way we consume energy or how we cleanly produce it for use in energy efficient devices.

I feel that if nothing else, I will get the opportunity to meet others interested in sustainability and renewable energy in Cleveland. That alone could provide a great foundation for forming companies and coalitions later to help advance the city towards a sustainable future. On the other hand, I am hopeful that our work using Appreciative Inquiry will help lay a groundwork for where the city needs to go and what we need to do as a community to achieve our goals. I know there will be many planned follow up activities and I plan on discussing them more on here later. I would hope that my albeit limited audience might help to publicize the actions the city will take in the future.

Are you attending the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit? If you are, please let me know! If not but you have ideas that you think I should try to talk about while I am there, please let me know in the comments. I am interested to share what ideas I already have and if I can bring more voices than my own to the summit, I think it could be beneficial for everyone.
Engineering Life Music Renewable Energy

Engineering the Perfect Day

I don’t get too personal on my blog.

  1. My blog is about my professional life (mostly)
  2. It’s just the way I am

But on the way home last night I was thinking about how I might define a perfect day and thought it could be a good insight into who I am. You might not care but Chris-ten-years-from-now might, so I’ll write it for him. I think the exercise is healthy as long as it’s not taken too far (ie. I don’t plan on arranging my whole life around constructing this day exactly); but in general believe that this image should be used as a guide towards what I would like to be doing with my life and what I would like to accomplish.

  • 7:00 – 7:04 am
    • Wake up to kisses from my girlfriend and two puppies. Lie in bed thinking about what I can accomplish that day. Smell the pot of coffee brewing on a timer downstairs.
  • 7:04 – 7:47 am
    • Watch the Daily Show from the previous evening while drinking a cup of dark roasted, aforementioned coffee and noshing on a scone or waffle. Check on the status of my house and see how the renewable energy storage system is holding up after a night of not being able to collect energy.
  • 7:50 – 8:00 am
    • Walk to my own business/workshop/office just down the street. The weather in my dream-world would of course be beautiful all year round and would never have rain or snow (except on days I’m free to go sledding). Be greeted by my employees/co-workers/friends at the office.
  • 8:00 – 11:32 am
    • Work the whole morning on a new device that will allow people to better harvest energy from the environment in a friendly way (energy scavenging perhaps?). I don’t have more details about this part of my perfect day because the device hasn’t been invented yet.
  • 11:32 am – 12:13 pm
    • Lunch with everyone around the office. Bounce ideas off of people on how to better improve the energy device and how to get it to places people need it the most.
  • 12:13 – 2:34 pm
    • More work. At 1:24 pm I get that awesome feeling you get when you realize you just discovered something no one else has ever discovered (I have had that feeling many more times than it has ever been true…in this case it would be). The product still needs some development, but it’s at that moment that I know it is a viable solution and something that can be made and sold to people who need it.
  • 2:45 – 3:45 pm
    • Celebratory massage (Sometimes you just gotta chill out).
  • 4:00 pm – 5:47 pm
    • Soundcheck and a light rehearsal with my band. It goes flawlessly and everyone is very excited about the show. We decide at the last minute to include a cover of a song that we think will be a crowd pleaser (for all ages).
  • 6:02 – 7:47 pm
    • Dinner with family and a small group of friends at the local bistro. We have some kind of a duck dish paired with a few Great Lakes brews. It is absolutely delicious. The entire meal is complimented by intellectually stimulating conversation and friends getting to meet family.
  • 8:01 – 8:53 pm
    • Relax with bandmates backstage. Visit from tech/nerd/music fan who wanted to meet us and we all hang out.
  • 9:00 – 10:45 pm
    • A night of jazz and funk in front of friends, family and fans. The fans are people that are genuinely interested in the type of music I play. The friends are from all over the country and have come back for this show. The pianos and organs and pedals and amps have all been inspected, repaired and sometimes created by me. I also get to debut a new effect that has never been used before in music production. In lab tests the new effect makes people want to get up and dance 46% more than music played without it. I had previously decided to call it a danceofonium.
  • 10:47 – 12:30 am
    • Hanging out backstage with all of my friends that were nice enough to come to my show. Friends from different parts of my life get to meet and get along really well. Everyone there enjoys good music, food and beer, all of which are being served up liberally.
  • 12:56 am
    • The day ends as wonderfully as it starts: a kiss goodnight from my girlfriend and puppies. I drift off to sleep dreaming of tomorrow.

I know someone out the might ask “But if you feel like music is such an important part of your life, why do you do engineering?” A valid question. First off, I think engineering is an even more important part of my life. I don’t think our chosen work should be taken lightly, as it’s 1/3 of our lives roughly, and because of that I sought out work that continually challenges me and allows me to try different things every day. I think that engineering allows the part of me that wants to impact the world and leave a legacy behind that has much further implications than music. Engineering (and specifically electrical engineering) is collaborative, creative and can have a very positive impact on millions of people. While I feel that music can do the same, I don’t feel like that’s the reason I play music and I’m not sure I would want to play music to try to change the world. In the end, I play music for myself and for my friends and if other people enjoy it, that is an added bonus.

I’m curious, what is your perfect day like? Have you ever thought of something like this before? I think it really can give you and those around you great insight into what you aspire to be and do with your life. I would love to see what you have in mind in the comments on this page or a link to a post you write about your perfect day.

Analog Electronics Renewable Energy

What the heck is a Smart Grid? (Part 1)

First off, a smart grid does not yet exist. It’s not exactly dumb, but it’s unwieldy and needs some help getting itself under control.

So let’s think of the electricity grid as an elephant.

It’s big, it’s powerful and it takes a ton of work to get it moving in one direction or another. It’s also really expensive to get it from one place to another. If you want to move an elephant over a distance of hundreds of miles, it’s going to want some peanuts, after all.

A Smart Grid in this analogy is the trainer that controls the elephant.  The consumer is a person off in the distance, holding a peanut. And elephants love peanuts, so they will naturally go where they are. The trainer might be able to guide the elephant towards the people willing to pay the most peanuts. The trainer might also be able to tell the consumer to save their peanuts because getting the elephant at certain times of days will be expensive. And for the health of the elephant, he can say “enough is enough” and start to scale back how many peanuts the elephant is really allowed to eat that day. In the end though, the trainer is only guiding the elephant. The things that truly are controlling the elephant are how much energy he has and how many peanuts people are willing to offer him.

So how does an elephant relate back to the actual power grid? Well, think of a typical coal power plant. The coal is used to heat water, the water turns to steam, the steam turns a turbine and then the water is cooled and recycled to be used for another cycle. The AC power is distributed to transformers that step up the voltage of the signal to thousands of volts before the power is pushed through transmission lines. When you flip a switch in your house, you allow current to flow into whatever device is “requesting” power, thereby utilizing some small portion of the total energy on the grid. Now, if there were 10,000 people trying to turn on their clothes dryers simultaneously, the system will likely not be able to keep up. More power stations could come online, but the instantaneous need would instead likely cause blackouts and brownouts to occur, leaving customers without power. So what they do is try to curb everyone turning on their clothes dryer at the same point every day by charging a lot of money for using the power then. They say, “Why not run the dryer at night? We’ll make it worth your while!”. The Smart Grid/Trainer is there to try and balance the needs of the consumer and the ability of the power generators. It will hopefully save people money and allow power generation facilities to avoid turning to readily available energy (coal, natural gas) to fulfill the demand.

A smart grid has a potential to bring a lot of engineering jobs, especially in waning job markets such as the US. I plan to write more about the Smart Grid because I truly believe it will bring some innovation and employment to whoever jumps on the technology first. There are a lot of pieces to the eventual solution–some more interesting than other–but all deserve analysis and consideration in determining what will result in the most efficient eventual system.

Do you know much about the Smart Grid? Have you experienced any development or funding activities for it yet? Please let us all know in the comments!

Thanks to exfordy for the photo