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Is Solar Energy THE ANSWER?

Over the past decades, solar energy production has had its ups and its downs. Since the first photovoltaic cell was produced in 1954 by Bell Telephone Laboratories in the U.S., the technology has continued to advance. This first cell, produced in 1954, began with an efficiency of 4%. Hardly anything to write home to your mother about. It was a start though! In 1959, Hoffman Electronics creates the first commercially marketed panel. This panel was 10% efficient. According to the World Economic Forum in the past five years, “commercially available solar panel efficiency jumped from about 15% to 22%, after two decades of near stagnation. In fact, research cell efficiencies now reach up to 46%, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory”.

Not only has efficiency increased, but affordability of construction has decreased. Due to increased manufacturing capabilities, the price of manufacturing solar panels has been reduced by 22% according to some studies. What does all of this mean? According to the World Economic Forum, price per Mega Watt hour has decreased from $600 for solar energy production to roughly $100 per Mega watt hour. In some cases, dipping below this price point. Coal energy production is stuck around $100/MWh.

This is an exciting time we live in and I’m looking forward to the advances in science that will help facilitate a more sustainable future for not only ourselves, but also our future generations here on planet Earth!

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Increasing Natural Disaster Occurrence?

With the recent flooding in the Midwest & Southwest United States and the occurrence of devastating tornadoes in Texas, are we seeing more and more devastating natural disasters? Oftentimes, people in this part of the country say that, “if you don’t like the weather here now, wait 5 minutes.” This is often a poke at the seemingly constant change of weather in the area, but is there more to it?

Yes, in a simple answer. According to the EM-DAT International Disaster Database, Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters, University of Louvain, the occurrence of geophysical disasters has increased three-fold in the first decade of the millennium when poised against the 80’s decade. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, “natural disasters, particularly floods and storms, will become more frequent and severe because of climate change. Organized deadly onslaughts against civilian populations will continue, fueled by the availability of small arms, persistent social and political inequities, and, increasingly, by a struggle for natural resources. These events affect the mortality, morbidity, and well-being of large populations. Humanitarian relief will always be required, and there is a demonstrable need, as in other areas of global health, to place greater emphasis on prevention and mitigation. ”

So what can we do as engineers to mitigate these disasters? Our calculations and designs are already very conservative. What more can be done to protect the citizens in which we serve? It appears that the inadequate calculations used in the past have not been able to keep up with the rate of devastation caused by these superstorms. As the trend continues, engineers like myself will have to constantly monitor our systems to insure that they have not become antiquated and continue to “Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties. ” (From the ASCE Cannon of Ethics).

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First blog post

This is the post excerpt.

Hello All,

As you can read from the title, this is my first blog post. As the name suggest, I am also an engineer. This is probably a little surprising to see a post by an engineer, but I’ll keep it exciting, I promise! If you walk along this journey with me, I promise that I will help give some pointers on how to make your personal and professional lives even more enriched.

My goal with this blog is to discuss the correlations between business and engineering. How you might be more successful by utilizing skills prominent in both professions. As an engineer that is obsessed with business, my hope is that you can observe some of my mistakes and triumphs along the way and learn from them. Let this be a blueprint for the rest of my blog posts. Hopefully you will enjoy this design!

 

Life of an Engineer Wk. 1

As an engineering student going through college, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had little exposure to the day-to-day activities of engineers and especially Civil Engineers. Most of the general public don’t even know what Civil Engineers do either which is why I’m going to write this ongoing series on top of my regular posts.

I think this would be a great opportunity for “outsiders” to get an inside peak at the life of an engineer to clear up any misconceptions that you or any others might have. I would love if more engineers of different backgrounds also chimed in on their day-to-day activity especially for the young highschool or college kids that are unsure of the path they would like to take. On this journey, I’m going to describe what engineering is and most importantly, what it is not.

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So without further adieu, my background is in site development. In other words, I layout private developments such as restaurants, office buildings, multi-family developments, and even the occasional residential subdivision. Basically I design the existing site to allow for the construction of the development. Such design includes, grading (adjusting elevations), utility extension, and storm runoff relief.

My day-to-day work is very diverse due to the large amount of different people needed to successfully complete a development including; contractors, architects, developers, city staff, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, property owners, citizens, stake holders, and the list goes on. Hopefully you enjoy this series, and please feel free to comment with any questions you may have along the way!

Tri-Attitude

I just did something I didn’t picture myself doing…ever. I competed in a triathlon. After making my way through the race, I can safely say that I have a new-found respect for those athletes that do the Ironmen or even half-Ironmen triathlons. The mental and athletic fortitude needed to complete those challenges is borderline superhuman. From my small intro into the mindset of a triathlete, I have gained some invaluable lessons.

First lesson learned was that completing any challenge that you face is most nearly 80% mindset and 20% skill set. You have to be somewhat athletically inclined to even sign up for a triathlon, but in all honesty, the mindset is what ultimately makes or brakes the completion of the challenge. My favorite quote on mindset and persistence is often attributed to Calvin Coolidge who said “nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Give this a minute to sink in.

The second lesson I learned is that you don’t always know what your limits truly are. There were many times when I thought I was done for (especially during the swim…), but yet I still pushed myself even further. We all have our internal motivations that can push us past our limits both physically, mentally, and even emotionally.  Michael Jordan has a great quote about self-imposed limits saying that “limits, like fear, is often an illusion.” 

So when your facing a struggle that seems to push you past the point of no return, remember that you can complete the challenge if you have the right mindset and that the limits that you think are holding you back are really no more than an illusion!

Nuke Energy: A Way of the Past?

Commissioned after World War II, nuclear energy production for civilian use seemed to be at the cutting edge and the end of our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and coal. In 1946, the U.S. government assembled the AEC or Atomic Energy Commission. After seeing the immense energy generated by the atomic bombs created under the code name “Manhatten Project” during WWII, the government decided to dig a little deeper. By 1951, the AEC had created the first atomic energy turbine to create electricity. In the 60’s, the US demand and interest in atomic energy increased rapidly under the assumption that this was the clean energy we had so desperately been seeking. In 1979, the infamous 3 Mile Island disaster occurred in Pennsylvania. By the early 80’s, growing concerns of nuclear contamination started to disrupt the rosy future of nuclear power. Then in 1986, the famous Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union explosion occurs and contaminates much of the surrounding environment. At it’s peak in the early 90’s, nuclear power accounted for 22% of the nations power production.

Now we are seeing the industry come to a complete halt. Many of the structures planned for production have been shelved. There are stories all over the news about these aging monoliths of our post World War II days being decommissioned. So many of the plants resemble the story of the Watts Bar II plant in the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). THis plant has been “under construction” for 43 years according to the LA Times. Due to it’s extended time line, much of it’s equipment is now outdated. The “newest” plant, other than this one is at least 20 years old. According to the article by the LA Times: “Watts Bar, the so-called 21st century American nuclear plant, defines the crisis facing the U.S. nuclear industry. It’s stuck with outmoded technology and a management culture that exacerbates, rather than constrains, the technology’s safety issues. With every episode like this, the industry moves one step further away from making the case for its survival.”la-ed-diablo-canyon-closing-20160623-snap

Photo Cred. LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-diablo-canyon-closing-20160623-snap-story.html

Will this be the last nuclear power plant to be built? I can’t answer that personally, but after seeing the alternative options like solar and wind energy, I think it is safe to deduce that nuclear energy will pass away like the 8-track and cord-tethered telephone.

Teamwork Building

About a year ago, the finishing touches of a ten-story office building were being made. This tower stood as an homage to the late J.B. Hunt, the founder of J.B. Hunt transportation services. This structure was the tallest of its kind in northwest Arkansas. It still stands as a beacon for development and prosperity to the people there. Most of the people in the area don’t realize the teamwork that took place to make this building a reality though.

A little over two-years ago, my previous firm got the civil engineering contract to handle the site work on this 9-acre campus. A local architecture firm would be handling the building interior and exterior. A local structural engineering firm would be handling the building support and foundation. A local mechanical engineering firm was brought on to design the utilities within this behemoth. After the team was assembled, collaboration too began. Each participant was using their unique skillsets to bring this structure to life. Each member had a stake in something that was much bigger than themselves.

After the design was completed and the construction company was selected, the discussions continued. The meetings were held at regular intervals. Each member of the team were called upon for their expertise. Often times, there were problems that came out of construction that affected multiple disciplines. In this case, the members would utilize their individual strengths to discuss the issues and how it would affect their designs. Then the team would discuss ways to remedy the problem without affecting another element of the design. Each team member respected the experience brought by each of the other members. Although each member brought a unique skillset, the common goal of building the structure, brought us together.

Oftentimes, there was disagreement between disciplines. This regularly happens when you have several people from different values and backgrounds adding input into a certain process or problem. Our group was very diverse, so disagreements happened all too often. It’s what we did with these disagreements that made our group, and thus, our project successful. Collectively, this was the first “high-rise” structure that this group had designed. With this designation came many unique requirements not normally seen with smaller projects. Most of the disagreements came from conflicts associated with different aspects of the mechanical systems with certain architectural and civil features. Each party involved in the conflict would discuss their need for the space or location and then all parties in the construction meeting would give input on alternatives as a whole. This gave each designer a different viewpoint to see the conflict through.

After about 18-months, the tower was completed. The structure was constructed on-time with very few complications. The design team exhibited collaboration, communication, accountability, and the team member’s individual strengths. Collaboration was necessary to ensure that each piece of the puzzle would fit into place. Communication was utilized at every step of the way. If effective communication was not in place, this story could’ve ended badly. Communication was necessary to transmit the ideas of each discipline to each other in a language we could all understand.

Accountability was paramount in this project. If a certain member or firm did not take accountability, the results could be disastrous or even deadly in the case of a ten-story office building. Each member maintained a sense of ownership on the project. The construction company even created apparel with the finished product for their tradesman to wear. It gave them a sense of possession on the project. They became proud of the work they were doing and would understand that it was much bigger than their individual tasks. Individual strengths were exploited often in between disciplines to make this project a success. Each team member brought their own individual knowledge to the table. This allowed the team to identify conflict that might have been overlooked.

That office building still stands as a testament to success for the individuals in that region, but for me, it stands for much more. It stands as evidence for the effectiveness of interdisciplinary teamwork.

Look Good, Feel Good

When you look good, you feel good. The same rings true for your performance at work. Studies show that a healthy worker is a productive worker. A study from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), the Center for Health Research at Healthways, and Brigham Young University (BYU) reflect that employees who maintained healthy diets throughout their day were 25% more productive than their peers that didn’t. The same is true for those that maintained 30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week. The participants that maintained an exercise regimen were shown to be 15% more productive. I try to exercise at a nearby gym at least three times a week at lunch time. If you can’t be guaranteed a lunch time to work out, mornings are a great time to get it done. That is usually the only time I can guarantee without interruptions.  While this is not a blog on health and nutrition, there are many other great resources to be found on the subject. A few of my favorite nutrition and exercise books include; Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, Strength Training Anatomy, and Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. In addition to a healthy diet and exercise, sleep is paramount.

According to a 2008 National Sleep Foundation poll, one-third of all Americans say that daytime drowsiness affects their daily work activities at least a few days of each week.

I can admit to the fact that I probably don’t get the recommended amount of sleep (7-9 hours for adults). It’s hard to find time in the day to reach all your goals and sleep for nine hours. There are ways to get more sleep. I’ve listed a couple habits below that can help regain time for sleep and make you more productive and alert. These habits below require discipline like every other habit listed previously, but like the rest, they can be very rewarding when followed.

  • Manage your time well
    • This goes without saying but the reason you might not be getting enough sleep is that you aren’t managing your tasks efficiently throughout the day.
  • Set hours that you will not work
    • This habit goes along with the aforementioned item. Set hours from 7-9 PM for example that you will not work.
  • Reduce your stress
    • Oftentimes, stress at work causes you to stay awake late. Try adding some stress busting techniques like meditation or yoga to your schedule. I’ve supplemented yoga into my schedule on occasion. It does wonders for my sleeping hours.
  • Establish a bed time
    • I know you’re not 10 years old anymore, but setting a bet time (and sticking with it) can be liberating. Having a schedule for your bedtime allows you to schedule your evenings for maximum production so that you hit this time.

These habits are just examples of ways that you can regain your precious sleep time. I challenge you to come up with some more ways to get your 7-9 hours of recommended sleep. I can guarantee that you will notice the benefits of this habit soon after you begin.

PERSISTENCE

As the marathoners plan to beat the two-hour marathon record, I reflect on a trait that will make this possible. No trait was ever as important as this last one that I learned in Engineering school. Persistence. Engineering school is tough, period. If you’re going through it right now, I feel for you. It does get slightly easier though as you delve more into your interests and applicable studies. Persistence, grit, determination, perseverance, whatever you want to call it. This one attribute became paramount.

Before I started school in 2008, my dad and I drove up to Fayetteville for the Freshman Engineering Orientation. This was an exciting time for both of us. My father got to send me off to college, and I was more than happy to experience college. When we arrived, they maneuvered us into one of the large auditoriums in the Bell Engineering Center where we would be having most our classes. We found a seat among the hundreds of other eager prospective students and their parents. After they described the various engineering disciplines and courses, they laid it on us hard and heavy. They described that most of the forthcoming students would not make it out of the University with an Engineering degree. Wow! This was tough to hear for many of the kids and parents alike. There was a lot of nervous shifting in chairs and anxious coughs while everyone digested what the Engineering Dean just stated. This is exactly what I needed to hear though.

Like most engineering students in college, high school came easy for me. I studied rarely, but never really knew how to study. I hadn’t had to understand how to study in high school. I would say that I learned quickly when I made the leap to higher education though. With classes like Chemistry 2, Calculus 2, and Physics 2, I had to learn quickly. I began to enjoy the grind associated with getting decent grades. Not everybody had the same affinity for the “grind” as I did though.

As I continued through the freshman and sophomore years of the engineering school, I began to see what the Dean was talking about. Many of my friends that I encountered in classes started to slowly drop out. They decided that they didn’t quite enjoy the pressure of maintaining good grades, while the classes got tougher and tougher. Not to mention the fact that a lot of the engineering classes took place in the “early” morning. Guess they figured the engineering students wouldn’t be partying as much! I’m not going to say that I took the hardest classes on campus, because there were far harder ones in the Chemical and Biological engineering schools. Most of the ones that dropped out, did so in the first two years though, when everyone in engineering takes the same core classes. After this two-year period, you start to branch off and become more specialized in your degree.

Throughout the program, your moxie was tested. There were late nights studying, missed parties, and missed social opportunities. I did my best to balance my scholastic life with a social life. I joined a fraternity my freshman year, in hindsight, this might have been a bad idea. I did my best to maintain my educational standards while enjoying the social activities involved with the Greek system and succeeded. I maintained my grades and had a good time doing it. Needless to say, sleep came at a premium freshman year. Throughout all the struggles, including thermodynamics, I came out on top and graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering. Azim Premji, an Indian business mogul and engineer once stated, “You have students in America, in Britain, who do not want to be engineers. Perhaps it is the workload, I studied engineering, and I know what a grind it is.”

I am grateful for my experience at the University because of the skills I learned along the way. The hard work and determination needed to pass the classes was probably the biggest take-away from my education.  The classes were meant to teach about the various aspects of engineering, but they ended up teaching much more than that. Once I graduated from school, this became ever more apparent. I would like to restate the quote I inserted at the start of this chapter because it has meant so much to me and my goals. Calvin Coolidge has been attributed to this “persistence” quote but has never actually been confirmed to have written it. Regardless, the words of this familiar quote resonate with all those who are working toward a seemingly unobtainable goal. The quote goes like this “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” I challenge you to reminisce on these words when you need them most. I guarantee that they will help through the “tough times”.