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 Politics Supply Chain Sustainability

Is There Room For The Electronics Industry In A Sustainable World?

Even though I’ve stated that I’m not as interested in sustainability as I used to be, it doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. I have been thinking about it in conjunction with investing and my own work in the electronic industry.

Growth is a very important component to the electronics business. It’s priced into many stocks and it drives much of the electronics food chain. Moore’s law has helped for a long time too. Shrinking the geometry of silicon every 18 months really required manufacturers to update their equipment often. This then drives the equipment manufacturers to advance technology to make the new fabrication possible. The analog engineers (ok, digital too) out there utilize the new chips and make requests for the next generation. The ripple effect continues all the way down the line, requiring input from the manfacturers and returning revenue to the shareholders of said manufacturers. Like I said, this growth is an assumption and is priced into how people invest in companies involved in electronics manufacturing.

There’s no denying that electronics are a dirty business. Not oil-gushing-from-a-hole-in-the-ocean dirty, but still, not exactly the most environmentally friendly situation either. The chemicals used in semiconductor manufacturing are not known for their safety nor their easy disposal; I’ve only had training on how bad they can mess people up but it goes beyond that; there are entire departments in semiconductor manufacturing facilities devoted to containing and disposing of the chemicals. Outside of the semiconductor world manufacturers have had to drastically reduce the amount of lead in products (in the solder and otherwise) but there are still elements of boards and parts that are not good for the environment. And given both the amount of turnover in the products that people consume year to year and the fact that very few products are designed for long term use, almost all electronics are bound for a landfill within a 10 year time frame (unless recycled). All of this adds up to a nasty picture for the planet.

A business built on growth and components that are not biodegradable nor regulated in their disposal. Is this model sustainable? Can manufacturers continue making products that are not safe for disposal and yet expect people to continuously update their personal electronic portfolio at home? Can manufacturers continue to crank out new devices ad nauseum and not be held responsible for the impact they make?

I do not believe the long term growth of electronics will plateau. While this may be good for my own career, part of me is very conflicted by the idea that my own success could be tied to the fact that we will have to consume more and more over time. Growth will always be driven by the next “must have device”, updating of previous generation devices and bringing electronics to a greater percentage of the population. But how can we rectify the needs (or perceived needs as it may be) with the very real issues and impacts associated with modern electronics? The material and energy inputs required and the waste from technology churn all make for hundreds of miles worth of disposed and forgotten cellphones and CRT monitors which took large amounts of the earth’s resources to make.

So assuming that growth of the electronics industry will continue unabated for various reasons, I think the question is better asked: Is a sustainable world possible with the electronics industry as we know it today?

I don’t usually say it on this site, but I have no clue about the answer to this question. Do you? Is it possible for there to be a healthy electronics industry when taking the planet into account? How does this affect the business model and should the people that manufacture products be responsible for what happens to the at the end of the products’ lifetime? Please let us know in the comments.

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 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)