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IEEE Getting Greener

By Patrick E. Meyer, Ph.D.

Last year, when I attended and covered for Today’s Engineer the First Annual IEEE Green Technologies Conference, I knew that it was the beginning of something new, exciting and long-lasting for IEEE. Now, having attended the second annual conference in April 2010, I know that this conference series is here for good. The Second Annual IEEE Green Technologies Conference was held in picturesque Grapevine, Texas, just outside of Dallas, and presented some ingenious research on sustainable engineering.

The conference included four tracks, focusing on: (1) energy generation and storage; (2) energy resource utilization and water conservation; (3) green architectures and sustainable design; and (4) environmental, legal, social, economic, and political impacts. Simultaneous to these tracks, four topic-specific tutorials explored the areas of: (1) sustainable energy sources and practices; (2) energy for developing countries; (3) wind turbine architecture and control; and (4) alternative energy and telecom infrastructure.

The two-day conference featured a number of high-profile speakers, including Alan Haggerty from Lockheed Martin, Richard Mora from Landis+Gyr, and Jim Greer from Oncor. The keynotes, as well as all other presenters at the two-day event, demonstrated the commitment of IEEE and its members to green technology and the environment. The first keynote speaker was Alan Haggerty from Lockheed Martin. Haggerty provided a discussion on the role of Lockheed Martin in the realm of green technology, and confirmed Lockheed’s devotion to making their products and services greener at the core. According to Haggerty, Lockheed is looking to diversify its operations and sees green technology as a primary route for new business ventures. While many large companies have already ventured into green technology, Lockheed is playing catch-up, but seeks to do so rapidly by setting aggressive 2012 targets for green development. With 140,000 employees in 75 countries, the company is certainly positioned to take a leading role in green engineering.

Haggerty presented an interesting concept, stating that his company would become a leader by beginning to report carbon emissions this year no matter how bad those emissions statistics are. The results will certainly reveal that Lockheed is in need of improvements — improvements that Haggerty indicates will be made through efficiency and energy management, smart grid implementations, renewable and alternative energy deployment, advanced monitoring and mitigation, and other advanced concepts.

After the first keynote, my personal interest in green transportation led me to the fourth track where Dr. Kimberly Newman from the University of Colorado at Boulder presented on the design and evaluation of a green ambulance. Newman explained that in Denver, Colorado, the city began to analyze efficiencies in public fleets and, specifically, the Denver health medical center wanted to look at the efficiency of thirty emergency vehicles that are operated twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week. The research team experimented with outfitting ambulances with solar panels to reduce fuel consumption during idling.

Newman’s research found that in the worst-case scenario, during idle for three hours in the summer with the air conditioning running, an ambulance would burn two gallons of fuel. This equates to ten gallons per day on average wasted to idling. The goal of the solar photovoltaic system is to provide enough power to operate fundamental equipment while idling so that the engine could be turned off. Interestingly, Newman explained that one of the primary challenges with the project was breaking through the mentality of the emergency medical technicians and convincing them that the photovoltaic system was reliable enough to turn off the gas engine when in idle.  Newman presented a unique and compelling story on green technology deployed in the field, and the associated challenges.

Meanwhile, Jeff Taebel, Director of Regional Planning on the Houston-Galveston Area Council, presented on large scale sustainable development. A city planner, Taebel argued that today’s decisions have a huge impact on how sustainable the future will be. Stewardship of natural resources, culture, energy, equity, prosperity, health, and safety are all embodied in sustainable development. Taebel argued that molding a sustainable future through city planning is extremely difficult, but now is the time to start considering what we want our future to look like. Do we really want our land packed to the brim with strip malls, freeways, and suburban sprawl?  In Taebel’s job, he emphasizes economic competitiveness, proper housing costs, local autonomy, maintaining property rights, and social equity — all of which he argues are part of a sustainable future.

Shifting gears to the subject of the smart grid and smart metering, keynote speaker Richard Mora, President and CEO of Landis+Gyr North America asked: what is the role of the smart meter today and how will it help lead to a greener tomorrow? Mora’s company, Landis+Gyr, has been around for more than 100 years and has deployed a total of more than 25 million meters. As the smart grid and smart meters evolve, Landis+Gyr will be undertaking a tremendous replacement program, upgrading its customers to the new technology.

There are three major components to the Landis+Gyr approach: (1) technology; (2) policy support; and (3) behavior change. Number one and two have been quite successful, but number three has proven to be more challenging. Yet, Landis+Gyr has found that consumers are more likely to conserve when they have more information at their disposal. Consumers think in terms of dollars, according to Mora, not kilowatt hours, and overall consumers have very limited understanding of energy markets. To sell this technology, we must promote benefits and keep it simple.

Mora insisted that the smart grid is here today and it delivers value now. But we must all keep in mind that success will be measured in the ability of the consumer to engage, understand, and take in the technology.

The tutorials that ran parallel to the tracks were an extra fee for attendees, but were well worth the money in that each provided a hands-on up-close session on a subject matter of particular interest. Presenter Soon Wan Gim’s tutorial on Energy for Developing Countries, for example, focused on the many ways to address the energy needs of different countries. Gim explained that developing countries that lack strong industrialization, infrastructure, and sophisticated technology and that have low economic standard of living, are perfect candidates for renewable energy deployment.

A key, according to Gim, is realizing that solving energy challenges requires more than one solution. A portfolio of alternative energy options should be deployed in developing countries. And the available portfolio keeps expanding as innovative technologies are invented, such as the Humdinger Windbelt. Gim provided numerous case study examples of renewable energy deployment in developing countries, including Morocco, China, Namibia, Rwanda, and Jordan.

In another presentation, Chandrabhan Sharma from the University of the West Indies presented on renewable energy economies with a case study on Trinidad and Tobago. According to Sharma, Trinidad in particular is in a very interesting position when it comes to renewable energy. Considering that Trinidad is 98 percent electrified, electricity costs only 4 cents per kilowatt hour, and it is a net energy exporter, there has not been much push to diversify into renewables. But as an island state that would be impacted by sea level rise brought on by global climate change, the government of Trinidad and Tobago has begun to implement policies to ease the transition to renewables in the name of environmental preservation. Socially, the policies have been a hard sell, but it is encouraging, nonetheless, to see a nation that is fortunate to have an abundance of fossil resources attempt a shift to renewables solely in the name of environmental impact, rather than economic alleviation.

Jon Hagar presented a case study on tire-bale housing, that is, a home made from tire-bales as a green construction alternative to non-renewable construction materials. Hagar himself built his house, which uses tire-bales as the foundation of the house and also as structural supports. A tire-bale is made by a machine that compresses 100 to 120 tires into a solid brick of rubber, weighing between 2000-2500 lbs, and then wrapped with a steel containment strip. Using these bales, Hagar constructed a green home which heats and cools itself, utilizes “beetle killed wood products,” and smart house features. In total, the house uses 17,000 tires in 170+ bales. Although the bales were free for Hagar, hauling them was not. The lessons learned, according to Hagar, are that these sorts of projects take longer and cost more than expected, but the environmental and personal rewards are well worth the time and cost.

Finally, Jim Greer, Senior Vice President in Oncor’s Asset Management and Engineering department gave the concluding keynote speech, focusing on what companies like Oncor can do to deliver higher quality, reliable, low cost energy focusing on renewable energy and empowering consumers. Oncor is deploying advanced technologies such as smart switches, which improve reliability by 40 to 60 percent. The CREZ Project, of which Oncor is an integral part, will build a “Texas renewable superhighway” and more than double Texas’ wind power generation. In combination with the CREZ project, Oncor works on stimulus grants that focus on advanced technology allowing for the study of capacity on lines with the aim of increasing reliability.

Although the Green Technology Conference was wrapping up, the IEEE events were far from over. During the two days following the conference, there was the IEEE Region 5 Business Meeting, the IEEE Region 5 Robotics Competition, and the IEEE Region 5 Student Ethics Competition.

The task of this year’s robotic contest, was to construct a land-based robot capable of autonomously transporting expended nuclear fuel rods from a central location to remote processing areas. In this scenario, due to the high risk of human exposure or environmental damage, it was required that the spent fuel rods be transported from the simulated power plant to the simulated remote processing locations via autonomous unmanned transport. In the simulated power plant environment, there were wind turbine obstacles that had to be avoided by the robots. The teams of students constructed their autonomous robots, and then sent the robots on the task of retrieving a small item (the spent fuel rods) from the center of a platform and delivering them to the proper location (the remote processing locations). The room was full of excitement and genuine enthusiasm as the teams competed and one team emerged victorious.

Also on that day was the student ethics competition, which involved multiple teams of students competing to present the best solution to a hypothetical ethical dilemma facing a practicing engineer. Teams were given a case and were allowed only two hours to devise a solution, and then present the solution to a panel of judges. The team with the best solution was given a cash prize.

Attendees of the Green Technology Conference and/or the Region 5 Business Meeting were allowed to observe the robotics and ethics contests, which certainly served as added value to an already-stellar conference experience.

Keynote speaker Jim Greer, while concluding the Green Technologies Conference, contested that “engineers are positioned to make it happen.” He insisted that there is no better group of people in the world to take on the challenges of environmental preservation, smart energy use, and the deployment of green technologies. Through events such as the Green Technologies Conference, IEEE members can band together, share ideas, and make it happen! The 2011 Green Technologies Conference will be held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Don’t miss it!



Dr. Patrick E. Meyer is Principal at Meyer Energy Research Consulting, Newark, Delaware and Research Associate at Energy and Environmental Research Associates, LLC., Pittsford, New York. Holding a Ph.D. in Energy and Environmental Policy from the University of Delaware, Meyer specializes in alternative energy, electricity, and fuel technology policy analysis; global sustainable energy systems; and energy and environmental systems modeling and analysis. Meyer is a member of IEEE and the IEEE-USA Communications Committee, is IEEE-USA Today’s Engineer Energy, Environment & Sustainability Editor, and has recently been selected to participate in the 2011 IEEE-USA Congressional Fellowship Program.

Comments may be submitted to todaysengineer@ieee.org.

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