Energy: Magic or science?
Before I get started, I just wanted to thank ECN Magazine for giving me this opportunity to write blogs for their web page. I hope that you find my topics interesting and that they lead to many thoughtful discussions.
So I do not bore you with a long-winded description of my working career, I will just say a few quick words about what I have done. For the last 15 years, I have worked for various industrial control distributors. The positions have ranged from technical phone support to my present position as a Sales Engineer. When asked about what I do for a living, I tell people that I sell parts that control the machines that build things. Sometimes, having a picture of a control panel makes that conversation quite a bit easier. Enough about me, let’s start with the topic for today.
Energy: It is all around us; we use it every day. But let’s stick with electrical energy. We have many ways of generating this needed labor-saving device. You may question that, but think about it: Everything that we use every day is some type of labor-saving device, and it runs on some form of energy. So with that being said, where does the energy we use to power these devices come from? I asked my oldest son this very question ... basically, his answer came down to magic. I thought about that quite a bit since. In a lot of ways, he is right. How much does the average person even think about where things come from? We just expect it to be there every day.
My son’s answer about it being magic is why I feel we have such a huge disconnect between the people who worry about our future energy needs/production and those who just expect the magic to be there when they need it. Our media does not help this out at all. How many times have you heard the following? Once we build a solar power plant or a wind turbine farm, it is free energy!!!! I have seen and replied to several posts on this web page saying that very thing. If only it was that simple.
As a concerned citizen who is interested in how things work, I have spent countless hours doing research on wind and solar. I have also spent quite a bit of time researching the coal industry, as well. There is little doubt in my mind that the coal industries’ early policies have created huge issues for them today. When I read about studies done on actual solar plants and wind farms, I have the same feeling of impending doom. Reading the stats on new proposed projects is like reading a sales brochure. Instead of giving real information, what is posted is basically a sales pitch. Well ok, what happens when the plant does not deliver? Well, I have a feeling over the next several years we will find out.
While doing my research, I found a very interesting law or regulation that Florida had for wind turbines. I thought it was pretty odd when I found it, but it must have been a big enough problem for the government to get involved. Basically it was this: If any wind turbine is not working for a continuous period of 6 months, it has to be taken down. The article had a picture of a wind turbine that obviously had not been working for a long time. Digging a little bit deeper into it, for some reason, the company that built the wind turbines did not take into account the high level of salt that would be in the air. To put it another way, the magic had left the building.
Magic ... funny how that has crept back into the conversation. Well ... ok, I did that on purpose. Electricians or technicians will say something very specific when either something fails or they do something wrong. “The magic smoke came out.” Once the “magic smoke comes out”, the device needs to be repaired or replaced. So even our engineers sometimes think that the technology we use is magical. I will not mention how many times I have let the “magic smoke out” over the course of the last 15 years. Let’s just say that I am pretty sure that it will happen again.
It is homework time. Your mission, should you agree to accept it, is fairly simple. Ask your wife, your children, or any other person of your choosing this very simple but complicated question: How does the power that is generated at the power plant make its way into your house? I tried this with my children. They made it to the box downstairs and the power pole in the backyard.
The last question is — as engineers, how do we change technology from magic to something that can be understood by all?
My next topic will be this: Technology, our savior or our downfall?