Saturday, November 5, 2011



This blog, Greengineering will be focused on applying engineering calculations on so-called green solutions to environmental problems that are much in the news. Hence the name, a conflation between “green” and “engineering”. I am inspired to attempt this because I have read many newspaper and internet articles about new technologies that will solve pressing environmental problems, but these solutions are put forth as panaceas: if only we would adopt solar power, electric vehicles, wind power, or any other of a number of new technologies, all our problems would be solved.

Not so fast.

Every technology comes with its own set of trade-offs, and anyone who has been around the high tech world long enough is familiar with the concept of “unintended consequences”. But trade-offs and consequences are often not well discussed by the various political pressure groups advocating the solution de jour. I intend to take a look at the trade-offs and consequences by using first order engineering calculations to attempt to determine the practicality of adopting certain technologies. Which technologies? Here are just a few questions that spring to mind:
  • How much more electricity would be required if all automobiles in California were switched electrics?
  • How much land area would be required to replace the entire electric generating capacity of the United States to solar power?
  • Can pumping water into reservoirs for hydro-electric power generation generate enough power to supply California during hours of darkness?
  • How many nuclear power plants would be required to supply all electricity in California?
These, and many other questions, as they occur to me will be subjects of this blog, and my posts will be the calculations I make to come to a first order understanding of feasibility and trade-offs of the problem. Initial conditions will be made, as much as is possible, with publicly available statistics and my calculations will be the heart of each post. I invite any reader who disagrees, or can add to the discussion to add their own calculations to advance the common understanding of the issues involved in each post.

What makes me qualified to write this blog? I hold a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Davis. I have worked in Silicon Valley as a software and test engineer for ten years, and own my own cabling contracting business. Calculation describing physical sciences are not new to me, and the ones I will be writing are not in any way complex. Simply asking the question and computing a few first order numbers can be very enlightening.

Now, a note about units: I will be using SI units throughout this blog. Only initial conditions, and final answers, will be expressed in U.S. Customary units for the benefit of non-technical users. I have decided to do this mostly because I want this blog to appeal to international reader, and partly because the software will be using to make my calculations, SMath Studio, defaults to SI units. A clone of the old MathCAD, SMath Studio is a open source program that makes engineering and scientific computation extremely easy without any programming. I highly encourage anyone in science and engineering field to check this program out.

One other thing: I am not going to discuss in any substantive way issues surrounding global warming, AKA “climate change”. First, I am not well qualified to discuss climatology, and, second, anyone who wants to can find anything they want about global warming in other places. At the most I will mention that global warming is often cited as a justification for many proposed technologies that we will discuss, but that is as far as I will on that subject.