the green technology boom
“If we get it right, there can be significant efficiencies. But we’ll need lots of communication.” – David Bassett, IEEE
“In all my time here, I’ve never seen any business accelerate as fast as the sustainability business.” – Don Albinger, Johnson Controls
By Dan Margherita
For Don Albinger, VP for renewables at Johnson Controls, Inc (Milwaukee, WI), sustainability means “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Now, he says, is the time to find and/or develop people with green skills.
Technical and industrial companies and their clients are hard at work on sustainability: great ideas like a national grid and something akin to a paperless IT revolution, and humbler but more immediately attainable ideas of power, water and energy conservation in the office and plant. This article profiles some of the techies working “green” at several forward-looking companies. As it happens, in this issue they are all women.
IEEE: moving to set a standard
“Engineers who graduated from college in the ‘60s are getting ready to retire,” notes David Bassett, senior member of the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers (IEEE, New York, NY). This means there is or soon will be a very real need for engineers in companies working in high tech, communications and more. These new engineers will have more and more involvement with sustainability issues.
Among other responsibilities, Bassett is involved with all aspects of the IEEE 1547 standards, currently about half completed, which will offer ways to manage American energy resources more efficiently, ensure the reliability of the electric power system and help meet energy needs during possible crisis situations. The standards provide the technical framework necessary to bring surplus energy from fuel cells, photovoltaics, microturbines and other local generating technologies into a national grid.
Bassett sees immediate opportunities for men and women with degrees as power engineers.
“I can tell you it’s given me quite a good career. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it,” he says.
Sandy Fisher: green transmission and substation design at Pepco Holdings
Green technology has had a significant impact on what Pepco Holdings, Inc (PHI, Washington, DC) looks for in job applicants, says Sandy Fisher, director of substation and transmission design.
Pepco Holdings is one of the largest energy delivery companies in the mid-Atlantic region.
It serves almost two million customers in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland and New Jersey.
The utility is definitely on the green track: its current projects include installing smart grid technologies and constructing the Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway (MAPP), a 150-mile, 500-kV transmission line that will significantly increase the region’s ability to import power. The line crosses three states and could bring enough energy to the region to light an additional 800,000 to two million homes.
Fisher’s department oversees PHI’s substation engineering, transmission, telecom and system protection groups. They include about 200 people: managers, engineers, technicians, drafters and support staff, she notes.
“All the groups are super-busy,” says Fisher, “but the telecom group is currently facing the most challenges.” PHI is installing new “smart” household meters in Delaware that will offer two-way communication with the utility. Customers will be able to go to the PHI website to check their power use and make changes that will lower their energy costs. Another big part
of Fisher’s work is in cyber security.
“The demand for engineers has increased quite a bit. As current engineers retire we need new staff,” says Fisher. She’s looking for tech pros who “also have a business sense,” and are both project and process oriented. “We want to be able to predict how the person is going to behave in different situations. People have to work well with others and demonstrate that they have the communication and conflict resolution skills to do that.
“Today’s engineers need more than just expertise,” Fisher explains. “They need strong PM and presentation skills too.” PHI is so committed to helping its employees meet these requirements that its tuition reimbursement program pays 90 percent of the cost of advanced degrees.
PHI, Fisher says, brings in lots of diverse candidates across gender, race and other backgrounds. “Pepco Holdings wants to attract these engineers, develop them and keep them engaged. The newer generation of technical people doesn’t want a one-track career, and they’ll find that utilities offer a lot of opportunities.”
Fisher has been at Pepco Holdings for nineteen years. She worked for PHI subsidiaries Atlantic City Electric and Delmarva Power, and did a short stint with the state of New Jersey. She has a 1987 BSEE from Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ), and is a licensed PE in New Jersey.
Engineering is a big part of Fisher’s family. Her father is an ME and her husband is a CE. Her eleven-year-old son, she notes, enjoyed “bring your child to work day” last year. “Now he thinks he’d like to work at PHI, too.”
Chair, president and CEO Joe Rigby notes, “Pepco Holdings will see enormous and exciting change as we implement the smart grid of tomorrow. We need an innovative, forward-thinking engineering and information technology workforce to envision, design and operate this new system. Our success depends on our ability to draw talent from a broad and diverse pool of skilled candidates.”
At Boeing, Mona Simpson supports the environment
“I love what I do,” says ME Mona Simpson. “I work on a great team. It has
130 people in many engineering specialties: architects, craftspeople, program managers and Boeing subcontractors.”
Simpson is director of site services at the satellite development center of Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems (El Segundo, CA). Water conservation is a major component of her efforts. “We take this seriously. California is in its third year of severe drought,” she notes.
Simpson is responsible for all systems and services required to support the physical and virtual environment of the sixty-one-acre advanced technology manufacturing site, the world’s largest satellite facility. “It’s important to get environmentally progressive technologies in place here,” Simpson says.
Boeing has retrofitted all the restrooms in its complexes to include dual-flush toilets that allot water based on the type of usage: less for liquid waste, more for solid. Doesn’t she get a lot of kidding about this? Yes, but she doesn’t get annoyed. At least the jokes draw attention to the problem and its solution and reinforce Boeing’s commitment to water conservation. “We estimate we’ll save about 870,000 gallons of water a year with this upgrade,” Simpson says. Next to come will be waterless urinals in the men’s rooms. And lots more jokes.
Boeing is also working on zero liquid discharge from the cooling towers at a number of U.S. sites. The company expects this relatively simple change to save 150,000 gallons of water a month in El Segundo alone.
Simpson’s work covers Boeing’s office and factory environments. “In the office we’re implementing energy improvements, things like lights-off motion sensors, temperature controls and behavioral savings through awareness,” she explains. “We’re also ‘daylighting’ offices with standard and solar-tracking skylights and solar tubes. On the factory side we’re looking to upgrade lighting, be more energy-efficient and balance energy use.”
Overall, Boeing is pursuing a five-year target of 25 percent improvements in energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions intensity and recycling rates by 2012 at its major manufacturing facilities. There’s a similar goal for hazardous waste reduction.
A native of New Orleans, LA, Simpson has been with Boeing for twenty-three years, most recently in facilities management with the El Segundo shared services group. She has a BSME from California State University and an MS in systems management from the University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA).
Simpson is Mexican American, one of the first in her family to go to college and the first to earn an MS. “My aunts were so proud even though they had no idea what it was all about,” she remembers with a smile. “One of the first programs I worked on with Boeing was for the former McDonnell-Douglas. They asked, ‘Why did you have to go to college to sell hamburgers?’”
Simpson wants to get girls involved in math and science “early and often.” Her brothers got her interested when she was very young: “How many little girls get a microscope for Christmas?” she asks.
Simpson is active in the Mexican American community. She works with Hispanic children and is a member of Boeing’s Hispanic Employees Network and a longtime member of the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists (MAES). She has received the Amelia Earhart woman of achievement award and the Hispanic Engineer national achievement award. In 2003 HENAAC (now Great Minds in STEM) honored Simpson with its professional achievement award.
Simpson says Boeing offers great opportunities for women. “They’ve allowed my career to evolve and grow.
“I typically end my day on the phone,” she notes. “I put in extra hours at home but only after the family has gone to bed. When I am with my husband and three daughters they are my complete focus.”
Indira Uppuluri creates efficiencies at Symantec
At Symantec (Mountain View, CA), maximizing utilization, reducing waste and optimizing efficiency are tangible goals, being tested internally and integrated into the company’s product line globally. As senior director of development, storage and availability management, Indira Uppuluri is responsible for creating efficiencies within Symantec that will later become part of its offerings to customers.
“We have lots of servers and storage devices,” Uppuluri explains. “Just within our lab, there are 400 servers.” So it’s clear that energy conservation must start at home.
Symantec, one of the largest software companies in the world, is a member of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA, San Francisco, CA), working both to create standards and to adhere to them.
According to Symantec’s Green IT Report, issued last spring, servers consume more than half the energy of all IT equipment. Storage consumes less energy than servers but is often improperly utilized. The average desktop PC is used only four hours a day; two-thirds of its power draw is wasted when it sits idle nights and weekends.
Symantec has taken aggressive steps to address these issues. New management software looks at complex server configurations to decongest, eliminate duplication and create energy efficiency. Storage issues are being addressed “end-to-end” with, for example, Veritas CommandCentral storage, including work to define EPA standards for storage.
Uppuluri has been at Symantec for eight years, coming from a job as principal software engineer at Network ICE Corp. She was also senior software engineer in the Sun cluster database group at Sun Microsystems and senior software engineer at Pyramid Technology.
“I grew up wanting to be an engineer,” Uppuluri says. She was born in India and got her BSEE there, and her MS in computer engineering from San Jose State University (San Jose, CA). Symantec, she says, is “a global company with large teams in the U.S., India and China, so communication is key.” That means she often has to be in touch with her colleagues late at night and early in the morning. Her workday is 8 am to 6 pm at the office followed by a few late hours at home after an evening with her husband and two sons.
“A typical day for me,” she says, “includes keeping my team across the U.S., India and China in sync and making sure everything we do aligns with the larger corporate goals.” She also interfaces with other Symantec product teams to provide value-added cross-product solutions to customers.
Ellen McLatchey, Symantec’s director of global diversity and inclusion, notes that “Green technology has impacted the way employees work, where they do it and when they do it. Working from home has become a tool that helps get the job done, not an obstacle; it allows a better balance of work and personal time, and reduces travel and commuting. That helps our green initiative.”
Dr Lily Mummert does research for Intel on the Carnegie Mellon campus
“Video monitoring of honeybee colonies at the hive entrance” is probably not the paper you would expect from a research scientist at Intel Labs Pittsburgh (ILP), but Lily B. Mummert, PhD has turned her beekeeping hobby into a project with important repercussions for agriculture. At ILP, Mummert works in an area of distributed computer systems that seeks to marry technology with the agricultural environment.
“Video sensing lets us detect activity like swarming, which is important but difficult to predict,” explains Mummert. “Seeing bees bringing pollen into the hive tells us that new bees are being raised.” Best of all, the video doesn’t interfere with normal colony activity.
Honeybees pollinate “hundreds and hundreds of crops,” Mummert says, including almonds, apples, blueberries and other fruits. She hopes her work will help to understand long-term and recent declines in colony numbers.
“The flight activity of a honeybee colony is an important indicator of its strength and condition,” Mummert notes. “The earlier we can get an indication of trouble, the better it is.” She points out that using video sensors with software attached means that you can monitor anything you want: wildlife or crops, for example.
ILP, where Mummert does her work, is located on the Carnegie Mellon University campus where she earned her 1996 PhD in CS. Both her 1985 BS and 1986 MS are from Texas A&M.
“I actually wanted to be a chemist when I started,” she recalls, “but I took some computer science classes and liked them. When I looked at the CS curriculum it looked like a lot of fun.”
After grad school Mummert joined IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Center, where she worked on problems in enterprise system management. Soon, though, she moved to the very different environment of Intel’s Pittsburgh lab. Her grad school advisor was the lab’s founding director.
ILP is one of three university “lablets” in the country; researchers interact freely with the labs, Intel and the university. ILP is a small organization with less than two dozen people, but “Everyone is very high quality and there is a good deal of interdisciplinary research,” Mummert says proudly. “I work with people who have different backgrounds than I have, and that’s great because I believe the best work happens on the edges of disciplines.”
Project engineer Renee Gonzales: running smoothly at NuStar
“On my typical day I make sure everything is running smoothly and on schedule,” says Renee Gonzales. Gonzales is senior project engineer at NuStar Energy LP (San Antonio, TX). She works in the company’s Wichita, KS location.
“We run instrumentation through interstate pipelines to see that there are no anomalies,” she explains. The U.S. Department of Transportation requires the pipeline industry to constantly monitor the integrity of lines that can affect high consequence areas (HCAs), where operating problems could have greater impacts on health, safety or the environment.
HCAs include commercially navigable waterways, populated areas and sensitive areas that
are potentially more susceptible to long-term damage from a pipeline accident. NuStar,
though, inspects all its pipelines, whether or not they transverse high-consequence areas, Gonzales says.
She’s currently involved in a project at NuStar’s Yankton, SD terminal, converting the loading process from top-loading to ecologically more favorable bottom loading. The facility handles diesel fuel, gasoline, ethanol and liquefied propane, and bottom loading adheres to new government regulations, is more efficient and releases less vapor into the air.
Gonzales, a native of San Antonio, TX, earned her 2003 BSME from the University of Texas at San Antonio. She credits her father, also an ME, with supporting her interest in engineering.
She started as a contractor with Valero Energy Corp, LP which became NuStar Energy LP. “I was the only female in my ME graduating class and when I started here, I was the first female engineer of any discipline,” she says. “We’ve hired a lot more since then.
“NuStar really gives me an opportunity to shine,” says Gonzales. “Being an Hispanic woman hasn’t hindered me in any way. But I don’t want to be recognized just for my background; I want to be recognized for my work, and I like the way NuStar looks at the complete individual.”
Jackie Groark manages infrastructure at Southern Company
“Southern Company (Atlanta, GA) was going green before green was cool,” says Jackie Groark. Groark is infrastructure management manager at the company, responsible for several areas including data-center facilities. Last year Computerworld magazine ranked Southern Company among the best workplaces for IT pros in its annual “100 best places to work in IT” list.
Each month for the past twenty-five years, the company has recycled more than 5,000 pounds of shredded paper and paper remnants left over from printing customer bills. Through November 2009 the company “virtualized” 537 servers, reducing its electricity use by two million kWhr and its energy costs by more than $120,000.
Southern Company serves 4.4 million customers in Georgia, Alabama, the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and the Florida panhandle: plenty of territory to cover. Groark has a team of seventy people, with more than two dozen of them overseeing the IT infrastructure, from applications down to the physical transport layer: microwave radio signals, fiber, leased circuits, and equipment to tie them together to send data from one place to another.
“For a long time we didn’t worry about the issues of space, cooling and power consumption,” recalls Groark. “About two years ago we became more concerned with equipment efficiency, including the heat our hardware generates and the energy it consumes.
“Most of the employees here are really gung ho about green initiatives,” says Groark. “They even send us suggestions!” There’s also an IT “green place to work” team, dedicated to using technology to benefit the environment, that meets monthly.
Groark has been with Southern Company for twenty-eight years. A native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, she earned a BSCS from the University of Southern Mississippi. Her MBA in management is also from USM. She’s a member of the Military Veterans in Power (MVP) affinity group that encourages vets in their careers.
There are plans on the horizon for more green initiatives. “In the next six months we plan to install motion-detector lighting in the data centers,” Groark explains. “It’ll be lights out until someone goes into the room.” Of course virtualization of servers and storage will continue.
Renewables at Johnson Controls
At Johnson Controls, Inc, the bottom line of sustainability involves social, economic and environmental performance or, as Judith Mouton, the company’s renewable energy education manager, puts it: “people, profit and planet.”
VP Don Albinger’s renewables team includes about two dozen subject matter experts, some of them engineers with twenty or more years of experience in renewable sources like solar, wind, biomass, wastewater treatment and landfill gas. There’s a major focus on implementation of customers’ renewable energy opportunities.
As education consultant, Mouton collaborates with universities and industry associations to develop renewable energy education curricula, energy summits, professional development seminars and the like. She also works with the business community. “I have a unique opportunity to focus on the communities we serve and where our employees live,” she says.
IEEE energy pro David Bassett is also optimistic about the future. “It’s going to be very exciting to see how it all plays out over the next five to ten years as we roll green technology into existing systems,” he says. He has great hopes for IEEE P2030, which will provide guidelines for smart-grid interoperability of the U.S. electric power system with end-user applications.
“If we get it right, there can be significant efficiencies. But we’ll need lots of communication,” he says. “If you want to cut back usage, come on board!” He cites wind power and solar power as two areas that are particularly in the spotlight.
According to Mary Armstrong, Boeing VP of environment, health and safety, the company’s 2009 environment report provides “a clear understanding of how important environmental improvement is to our communities and marketplace, and why it must continue to be integrated into our business strategy.
“Boeing’s strength is its ability to pioneer new technologies to improve environmental performance, and our dedication to changing our operations to reduce our impact on the ecosystem.”
At Intel, Will Swope, VP and GM of the corporate sustainability group, notes that “Intel remains focused on developing solutions to help solve world problems such as climate change, bridging the digital divide, and access to quality education and healthcare. Our annual bonus structure rewards employees for meeting environmental and sustainability goals.
“All this is not only good for the planet, but we find more and more that it’s good for our business, too.”
COMPANIES THAT PROMOTE GREEN TECHNOLOGY
See websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|Boeing Company (Seattle, WA)
|Aircraft, missiles, satellites and more
|Intel Corp (Hillsboro, OR)
|Microprocessors and microchip manufacture
|Johnson Controls (Milwaukee, WI)
|Building efficiency systems
|NuStar Energy (San Antonio, TX)
|Transport for domestic and foreign crude oil and other feedstock
|Pepco Holdings (Washington, DC)
|Electricity and natural gas delivery
|Southern Company (Atlanta, GA)
|Energy for the southeastern U.S.
|Symantec Corp (Heathrow, FL)
|Security, storage and systems management
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