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How to Build a New Legion of Sustainability Engineers

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Most of us feel like we live in a fantasy world with how technology keeps progressing. Any kind of food and drink is available with just a short trip to the store; clothing is cheap; any item we can imagine could be on our doorsteps in a matter of hours or days; and we are connected to nearly everyone in the world through glowing screens. For this enchanted life, we must thank the ceaseless efforts of engineers.

Yet, the work is not over ― if anything, it has just begun. Humankind will never stop advancing, but it is becoming ever-more apparent that we direct our advancement toward environmentally friendly outcomes. Therefore, the more green engineers we have working in the field, the better. Sustainability must become a primary focus for the engineers of tomorrow, which means we must work today to educate engineering students to keep environmental impact in mind. To ensure that the future of engineering is a green one, we must cultivate a legion of sustainability engineers.

Establish Values of Sustainability in Engineering Curriculum

The sooner an engineer learns about the importance of sustainability, the more likely that they will be to integrate environmentally friendly practices into their work. Therefore, engineering programs at colleges and universities should compel emerging engineers (or, at least, offer the option) to take one or more classes on sustainability. The knowledge that sustainable materials are available, sustainable practices are achievable, and sustainable engineering does exist will encourage future generations of engineers to consider green options whenever possible.

Established engineers can gain a sense of sustainability by returning to school, perhaps for an online master’s in engineering. Because advanced engineering programs provide training in more than engineering practices, engineers who seek additional education are more likely to receive a firm foundation in sustainable practices. Furthermore, with this credential, engineers can proceed into leadership positions, where they will have more influence in fostering a sustainable engineering mindset.

Encourage Conscientious Thought in Project Development

Most engineers have a simple goal: to complete a project on-time, under-budget, and to the client’s specifications. As a result, not all engineers consider how their projects will impact anyone or anything other than users; as long as the customers are happy, the engineers should be happy, too. There is little reason for engineers to fret about greater responsibilities, perhaps to the economy, society, or the environment.

Yet, as recent history has shown, technological advances are not without broader impact. Every vehicle on the road adds pollutants to the air; every home appliance drawing energy from the grid contributes to climate change. Energy inefficient designs, toxic materials, and other harmful processes are degrading the planet, so lack of foresight is to blame.

Engineers, engineer leaders, and engineering firms in general must consider the impact of their designs before producing them and releasing them to the public. Being aware of potential dangers to public health goes beyond checking for immediate user injury; any creation that can damage the environment will eventually contribute to human suffering.

Promote Critical Thinking for Alternative Methods

Most engineers pride themselves on their critical thinking prowess. It is difficult to be an effective engineer without the ability to problem-solve and evaluate quickly. However, it might be beneficial to tweak how engineers think critically. For example, rather than searching for the cheapest, easiest solution, engineers should consider solutions that offer higher energy efficiency, alternative materials, and are more sustainable ― while remaining cost effective for producers and consumers. After a brief period of cognitive reprogramming, generating alternative, sustainable technologies will be second-nature for engineers.

Compare Industrial and Sustainable Engineering Practices

It is important to note that modern engineers are not at all evil, and past engineers did not actively work to destroy the environment. Still, it is undeniable that left unchecked, current inefficient engineering processes will burn our precious natural resources cause damage to the planet. It is imperative that more engineers modify their methods to become sustainable ― and view this change not as a burdensome pivot away from historical engineering practice but rather a new development in the evolution of engineering knowledge. Future engineers must be O-shaped, concerned not only with client satisfaction but with the relationships their creations make to environments, cultures, and more.

 

Energy

Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?

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The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?

The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.

Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.

The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.

Introducing New Technology

The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.

  • To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
  • Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
  • Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.

How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy

Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.

The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.

The Internet of Things

Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.

Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.

Blockchain Technology

It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”

Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)

The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.

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Energy

4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy

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Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.

However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?

A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.

1.     Boulder Nissan

When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:

  • Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
  • They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
  • Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.

This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.

2.     Valley Electric Association

In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.

“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”

The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.

This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.

3.     Las Vegas Casinos

A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.

“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”

There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.

4.     Boston College

Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.

Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.

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