Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Note to the President Elect

Since off-grid solar systems and bio-fuel home heating are not exactly mainstream, I often use on-line forums as an opportunity to learn from others. I contribute to those forums when I think that others can benefit from my experiences. On one such forum I noted that I’ve reduced my fossil fuel use by nearly 50% over the past three years, and I mentioned that if everyone would do that the impact would be tremendous. Someone followed my comments with the comment “You should tell the president about that.” I believe the follow-up comment was meant to be sarcastic, but then again it sounded like a good idea. Here is my message to Barak Obama, via his website,

Dear Mr. President Elect;

Under your leadership I’m confident that our nation is about to experience a period of unprecedented technological growth, and that we will finally begin to address the energy crisis and the climate crisis. The purpose of this message is to suggest ideas that if implemented, will lead to success. First of all, let me tell you about my own work:

My goal is to stop using fossil fuels and to help others do the same. I’ll not use fossil fuel for transportation or home heating, and I’ll stop using electricity generated by coal-fired power plants. I’ll generate my own electricity, and grow my own bio-fuel using farming techniques that do not rely on fossil fuel. I’ll drive electric vehicles. I’ll do all of these things without sacrificing comfort or my quality of life.

I’ve been working toward this goal for nearly three years, and I’ve already cut my fossil fuel use by almost 50%. I share what I learn with others, via my blog: My accomplishments have been due to conservation, energy-efficiency improvements, the implementation of solar photovoltaics, and home heating via bio-fuel. If everyone would do what I’ve already done, the impact on the economy and the environment would be staggering. I’ve done these things on a modest budget, and without financial help of any kind. That brings me to my suggestions.

Although grants are available in some states for putting solar panels on public buildings, and organizations like the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Colorado receive federal funds, I have been unable to find any source of financial assistance for the important work I am doing. While putting solar panels on a few buildings may result in a good photo opportunity, it does little to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil. State and Federal Government spend too little on renewable energy projects, and money is not spent wisely. Please make money available to people like me who are working on worthwhile projects. I’ve accomplished a lot, but just imagine how much more I could do with funding.

Secondly, I respectfully ask that you put engineers and scientists in charge once again. Engineers and scientists gave us an industrial revolution and put a man on the moon, but things are much different today, now that lobbyists and money managers are in charge. We now have a financial crisis on top of other problems. It’s time for new leadership in important government positions.

And finally, make it easier to buy electric cars and make solar panels and other alternative energy products more affordable. With your help, ordinary people like me will show the skeptics that alternative energy can eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. For many of us this is an effort to build a better future for our grandchildren. We are dedicated, and with your help we will succeed. With your help, eliminating oil imports during your administration is possible.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Look to Engineers for a Change We Can Believe In

How can the new administration fix the problems we face today? Putting engineers in charge would be a good start.

Engineers and scientists gave us an industrial revolution and put a man on the moon, but technology seems to have stalled now that politicians and money managers are in charge. While engineers do things that lead to real productivity, politicians and money managers don’t do anything productive, they just manipulate money. It seems that they’re not even good at that, as we now have a financial crisis on top of an energy crisis and a climate crisis. And, as everyone knows, money managers want the rest of us to bail them out. It’s time to put engineers back in charge. If we’re ever going to replace fossil fuel or solve the climate crisis, it will be because of the efforts of engineers.

Until engineers are in charge once again I doubt that we’ll see substantial progress. Politicians lack vision when it comes to renewable energy projects. You might find a grant for putting solar panels on a library, but nothing for an engineer working to make solar systems more efficient and affordable to the public. While they could be generating excitement about moving away from fossil fuels, instead they solarize a few buildings. It makes a great photo opportunity, but doesn’t really do much good beyond that. We need more money for renewable energy projects, and we need to use the available funds wisely. We need to investigate renewable energy solutions in actual homes, in all corners of the country, not just at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado.

Don’t wait for wealthy industrialists like Richard Branson or T. Boone Pickens to solve the problems. Both claim to care about the environment, and both have projects in the works. Branson seems to love the spotlight, but it remains to be seen if he’ll make good on any of his promises. Boone hopes to recruit others to do his bidding, and it remains to be seen how much he’ll accomplish. I’ve written to both gentlemen about my work. It seems that if they truly care about the environment, they would be interested in what I’ve been able to do. I’ve cut my own use of electricity and natural gas by almost 50%, on a small budget, and without sacrificing my quality of life. It should be obvious that with funding, my work could be duplicated in households across the country, resulting in a large reduction of fossil fuel use and a tremendous environmental impact. This should be of interest to anyone genuinely interested in the environment, but I haven’t heard from either Branson or Pickins. I doubt that I’ll hear from the new president either.

So I’ll keep plugging away at my own projects, with my own personal funds, as will many other engineers and ordinary people who hope to make a difference. Maybe our grandchildren will have a better future because of our efforts, maybe not. At least I’ll go to bed at night, knowing that I did the best I could.