Disclaimer: I am not a hippie
You may say that I have been on the verge of it a few times, but no, I’m not. Hell, you even look at my music choices and some of my political choices, but no, I’m not. Not saying hippies are bad people, I just think they lack some action on their admittedly good ideas, and that’s what I’m going for with all this. I want to define actions I want to take for my career.
I think I’d really like to work on renewable energy longterm.
So why did this come about? First, as anyone who reads these days, renewable energy is a definite need in the future and there will be great interest in it in the future (even after gas prices go back down, as they’re bound to). This in and of itself is not a great reason to change career goals, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that others talking about it got me thinking about it.
Another reason was because of a recent experience I had. My friend Dave took a few people out on his boat on Lake Erie (not the most carbon-neutral experience, but a fun one for sure). As we were sitting on the water, fishing with the setting sun to our back, I had a great view of Cleveland and the Lake Erie shoreline staring back out at me. I scanned the skyline and what do I see? Probably the most disgusting yellow cloud I’ve ever seen, just hanging over the coal fired power plant on the shore. And as we rode around, spewing some of our own fumes into the air (sorry ’bout that, we’ll take the sailboat next time), I could see that these clouds were not contained to around the power plant. They were everywhere. It was a pretty disgusting site (the reason you can’t see them usually is because of the angle of the sunlight and/or proximity to the lake).
The last reason (that I could think of) was when I almost had an anxiety attack the other day in a WalMart. I was there for a fishing license so I could go on the aforementioned boat and fish; as I stood in a line waiting to talk to a customer representative, I looked out over the immense store that they had just constructed. The shelves upon shelves and rows upon rows seem to go on forever. I don’t know if this was a particularly large WalMart in comparison to their other stores, but this one struck me as being gigantic. And I didn’t quite care about the size of the store (though I did think of the HVAC required for it) so much as all the crap on the shelves they were selling. The unspeakable numbers of trinkets and refined sugars that lay in wait, after their long journey from China where they may have been constructed by tiny hands or old hands or no hands at all. And before that, they may have been just oil in the ground, or sugar growing in the field. The effect it had on me is hard to describe, but it hit me pretty hard; I definitely teared up a little (not in the good way) and had a hard time breathing. I’m not one to stand on a soap box about large corporations, and that’s not what I’ll be doing here, but it made me think about a lot of world issues of sustainability and for that I’m grateful.
So why renewable energy?
As selfish as it may seem, I think it would fulfill a lot of my career goals.
- The opportunity for patents (a must-have personal career goal)
- Ability to positively affect the world (A long term personal goal too–who doesn’t want to be in the history books?)
- High likelihood of having my own company (even though this has no hope of me having reasonable hour)
- Working with intricate electronics
So despite my hope to work on this kind of work some day, there’s a long way to go. I know there are already a great deal of solutions out there, but really I would want to work with these people, hopefully from wherever I choose (another life goal). So, why do I think this could work for me?
- Background in test and measurement, a sure need for any electronics involving power storage and monitoring
- Possible association and/or development around Great Lakes Institute for Energy Innovation. This is an affiliate with my alma mater, Case Western Reserve University (Go Spartans!) and I think they will get funding and will be looking for entrepreneurs and possible grad students to work on this type of thing (I’m looking to go back to school eventually).
- Background in DSP, a possible way to improve monitoring capabilities and storage efficiencies
- Engineering and business mindset, as opposed to a scientist. Nothing wrong with scientists, just that sometimes the ability to get a product to market requires a different skillset. Profit is not the all important factor here (though it helps maintain a business model); instead, reaching the maximum amount of people at a reasonable cost is the most important factor (to create economies of scale)
The way I see it, there are a few options available to me in ways of working on renewable energy, some more plausible than others.
- Solar – There’s not a lot in NE Ohio, but there’s enough, apparently
- Wind – Anyone who has walked around Cleveland in the winter can tell you about the wind. The lake seems like a really great source of wind too, possibly the greatest energy resource in the NE.
- Biomass – This I would not be able to work on directly, seeing as my chemistry isn’t that great, but I think I could work out some devices to help monitor and improve efficiencies.
- Cyanobacteria – Again, biology is a weakness of mine, but I have a good friend considering doing a post doc in something in this field. Again, I’d be more of a measurements/instruments kind of designer, but whatever I can do, I will. And yes, that’d be a long way off, but he’s one of the few I’d consider starting a business with.
And now the most difficult thing, the first steps. Babies always start bolting around the living room when they figure out those first couple wobbly steps, and my development as an engineer interested in renewable energy will be similar I hope. I’d like to start with a small scale solar project. I think there are enough resources online and in print media to get this going, not to mention it won’t hit my wallet as hard as some of these projects can. I think a good first project would involve:
a.) Single solar panel
b.) Deep cycle battery
c.) Create a charging monitor device and/or an inverter
d.) Power small devices such as cell phone charger, etc.
This way I can find some of the beginner issues that would affect any new designs. After that I think I would like to move into more intricate re-designs of some of the components and begin constructing larger systems. I would also be interested in constructing a turbine made from commercial parts, as I have seen similar projects online similar to this idea.
My long term goals for sustainable, renewable energy would be a little bit selfish and hopefully a lot of bit helpful for others. I believe that you need to find issues by trying out products on yourself before you try and send them out to the market place. The first thing I think I would need to do is to create a sustainable living situation in NE Ohio. This would include solar panels on my house (still need to get one of those), efficient insulation and HVAC system throughout the house, a turbine in the yard with a self made battery storage system on my property AND have my electricity tied into the grid. Also, I would have a compost pit (hey, you gotta start somewhere). And the real long term goal would be to possibly break off and start a company, either part time or full time, and create products that would help the entire world become a better place to live.
Hey, I know that my goals are lofty…but I do not think they are unattainable. More importantly, I know that a lot of my conservation goals can start a lot sooner with improving efficiencies in my life and using solutions that are already in place. I hope that I will eventually be able to work on these life-altering energy methods and if you’re interested, I hope you’ll ask to help.
“Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler” ~Einstein