Automation Engineers Can Make a Difference in the World

Find a Need, Fill a Need: Technology Is Helping to Energize the World

Jeremy PollardBy Jeremy Pollard, CET

John Mauldin, a financial markets writer of some reputation, stated, "We will need 15-18 million new jobs in the next five years, just to get back to where we were only a few years ago. Without the creation of whole new industries, that is not going to happen. Nearly 20% of Americans are not paying anywhere close to the amount of taxes they paid a few years ago, and at least 10 million now are collecting some kind of unemployment benefits or welfare."
As I write this column, unemployment has risen above 10%.

But wait, that means that more than 180 million of you out there still are working. This is good. Isn't it?

But what are we working at? One of Mauldin's assertions is that most of us are muddling thorough whatever the day brings us. It makes me think perhaps the lack of innovation is a result of this.

There was a climate-change meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December that might have sealed the fate of generations to come. I write this in anticipation of its outcome, but it brings to the surface a few opportunities.

I'd paraphrase one of the key attributes of the Copenhagen accord (COP15) to be that the rich will need to give to the poor. It doesn’t have to be money; it can come about by providing technology and functional climate-friendly processes to help the underdeveloped countries attain some level of life-changing improvement.

Solar devices for power, hot water and sanitization; wind devices for power; and cable TV.

OK, no cable, but the accord might force our hand, and to Mauldin’s comments, maybe a new group of businesses can be created. I think of it as "technology for living." I don't know who or what would finance this, but someone will.

A small company such as Divelbiss (www.divelbiss.com) started the ball rolling, albeit in its own small way.

CEO Terry Divelbiss' son, Daniel, chose to do volunteer work in Guatemala after he graduated from college. He was driven to use his newly minted mechanical engineering skills to design and build water purification systems for communities and taught others how to build them, as well.

Another need surfaced for hot water at a drug-rehab facility in Guatemala City. The facility had a subterranean cistern that collected water—very cold water. We take hot water for granted. The facility wanted warm water—just warm water.

Daniel devised a solar black-hose coil system for water warming, a water pump and a 500-gallon water storage tank, elevated for gravity feed. Daniel needed a controller for the pumping and temperature control, and of course he knew someone in the business. Dad delivered the goods.

Now the facility has warm water for personal hygiene, and life, as the residents knew it, has changed. Daniel says there's a water-heating system at a school nearby that cost 10 times as much and is less stable.

We have the technologies to create community-based solutions for climate-friendly utilities like warm to hot water, delivering 200 gallons a day. We can create wind-power solutions with an inexpensive charging system.

Will the new businesses of tomorrow be in battery technology, wind harnessing, vibration power extraction or something else entirely?

The solutions don't have to be big. A farming community in an underdeveloped country only needs what it needs. We can develop solutions and provide them at very reasonable costs.

Engineered solutions are what we are good at. Where there is a need, we can fulfill it.

A colleague of mine in the late '70s observed that in a mine, the power to drive the hydraulics came from a central power grid. That's 600 V over a cable length of many kilometers.

He hypothesized about taking 4,160 V to a substation that could be moved, which meant less line loss, longer distances and safer because of the lower currents. The portable substation was developed, and the company has been very successful—a community-based solution in a mine shaft.

Copenhagen might force the issue, and new business models could arise in reaction. Necessity really is the mother of invention and innovation.

And kudos to Daniel for making a difference using our existing technology.

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