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February 2002 

It's not often that our children ask us for advice. That made us decide to publish the following recent email exchange between a young man and his mom.

----- Original Message -----
From: Jay
To: Mom
Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2002 10:22 AM
Subject: Hey Mom, I've been thinking...


I've been thinking about the possibilty of learning more about alternative energies - specifically wind power. Within this industry, what type of work do you think will be making the most money in the next 40 years?


From: Mom
To: Jay
Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2002 3:07 PM
Subject: Re: Hey Mom, I've been thinking...

Hi Jay,

You're right -- looks like wind is the big mover globally, with solar water heating and solar heat positioned in second place. Hydro, i.e. tidal power, river run systems, etc. and to a lesser extent geothermal are limited by geographic location. Biomass (raw or processed plant material as in ethanol, big out west in the grain/cattle regions) also has potential to add to the energy mix.

Optimistic projection for the next 20 years is for an energy mix of 20% renewables with Europe, ie. Germany and Denmark leading the pack. Bush is holding everything up on this side of the pond and is being supported by Canada, led by Alberta's PM Ralph Klein (in the heart of the Cdn. oil industry). They have just voted not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to support Bush's administration. Big industry like oil, lumbering, industrial fishing, etc. are fighting to hang on to their monopoly of world economy in the face of mounting environmental and social pressures. That's what the world trade issue is all about.

There is a lot of work being done to establish renewables at the forefront for developing nations - and in some respects, that includes Canada. Increased energy consumption due to global population growth and the rise of industry in huge nations like China are big issues. Non-renewables, especially oil have a short life span. Coal will be around a little longer, but it is an inherently 'dirty' fuel that pollutes and contributes large amounts of greenhouse gases and thereby to global warming.

Nuclear is finally being phased out because of its inherent danger. Europe again is at the forefront of this phaseout.

The optimistic projection for an energy mix in 2020 is around 50% coal, 16% gas, 3% fuel oil, 11% nuclear and 11% renewables.

On the industry curve, coal, oil, nuclear are dying (seniors).

Natural gas is the touted 'cleaner energy' (middle age), although there is nothing very 'clean' about natural gas in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

Wind, solar and other renewable energy sources are moving up the chart, with hydrogen fuel as the 'baby' at the far end of the growth spectrum.

Unfortunately, because of demand from a growing world population, coal is projected to increase production by 25% in the short term, and the US will continue to push for oil field development in ecologically vital areas like Alaska and Panuke offshore., - as long as we still have these resources, that is.

We will see new technologies for producing, storing, and distributing a 'cleaner' burning coal, oil and gas before the depletion of these finite resources force big business and their political allies to give way to natural sources of energy.

At the same time, new technologies and processes will propel hydrogen as the optimum fuel for the emerging fuel cell industry.

Balance all of this against issues of global pollution and climate change and we have a race against time for humankind.

You can do no better than to explore a career in renewable energy at the high end of the growth curve.

A big current issue in renewables is storage. Since most sources of renewable energy are nature-based and somewhat intermittent, it is vital that we develop a means of storing that energy while it is available. Make hay while the sun shines, so to speak.

Fuel cell technology is receiving a lot of attention these days. They deserve it. However, there's a misconception about fuel cells that should be addressed: Fuel cells do not generate energy. They are merely a device that takes a fuel and converts it into heat and electricity, somewhat like a space-age furnace. They still need a fuel to operate. The ideal fuel for fuel cells is hydrogen.

Hydrogen occurs naturally in many substances. Water is two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen, for example. It takes electricity to separate the hydrogen from the other elements. And it takes wind turbines to generate the electricity that will 'distil' the hydrogen for use in fuel cells.

This is why, ultimately a hydrogen economy is the long term vision.

As to wind energy:

Wind is one of the renewable, i.e. inexhaustible, sources of energy on this planet. As long as the sun will shine and as long as we have an atmosphere, there will be wind.

The technology to harness the wind is relatively simple, compared to solar photovoltaics. A rudimentary wind turbine can be built in a garage from readily available materials, a photocell requires much more sophisticated and expensive raw materials and skills/tools.

Jobs/careers in the wind energy economy are varied and lasting.

Here's some research I turned up that should help you explore your options:

Wind Generators - Designing, building and maintaining the rotor blades involves aerodynamics, fiber laminate construction, and a whole range of traditional jobs ranging from factory maintenance to field erection.

The nacelle, is the box that houses the generator and the reduction gear boxes at the top of the towers. Here you have electric generators of all kinds and sizes, reduction gear boxes, electrical and electronic control equipment, communication devices. Many traditional and a whole bunch of new jobs and skills go into designing, building, and maintaining the nacelles and the equipment they contain.

The towers involve another group of skills and technologies. These are mostly in the area of structural engineering, metal working, transportation and maintenance. Not the least the jobs involve the inspecting, cleaning and occasional painting of these towers.

Then there is the whole range of meteorological activities that can be applied to wind energy. They can involve finding the best sites for new wind turbines, monitoring performance of a site and analysing trends. With hundreds of thousands of wind turbines likely to be built over the next 20 to 40 years, this can keep a fellow with an anaemometer pretty busy... (an anaemometer is a device for measuring wind speed)

As you can see ... I believe alternative energy and particularly wind energy has immense potential and picking a career move is wide open -- all these things, large and small, have to be designed, built, installed, and maintained. And since we're not talking about one huge, single power plant, but we're talking about hundreds and thousands of such installations, there's bound to be some close to where you live.

It's a new economy comparable to computers/PCs in the early 80's so the work is everywhere. Instead of having a few mainframe computers in the ivory towers of big business, the PC brought computing power into every business, large and small, and eventually, into many homes as well. Alternative energy, especially wind power is going to do the same for energy.

Researchers, developers, engineers, technicians, distribution and sales, marketing... new career categories are being created ... Whoever heard of a webmaster, a computer programmer or a network engineer in the 80's. Training is becoming available in many segments with technician training being the most advanced. A background in electricity/electronics wouldn't hurt a bit.

Because the NS gov't came in so strong with proposed legislation for independent power producers, some of us are involved with www.scotianwindfields.com . This is a community investment fund (CEDIF) supported by the Nova Scotia government and the whole idea is to keep some RRSP and other investment dollars here in Nova Scotia to support our local economy.

Scotian Windfields has a wind energy resource page that should give you lots of info. There is also a few useful links on their 'thinklinks' page, notably the new (NS) provincial energy strategy.

That's my take on the "big picture" anyway.

Love Mom

P.S. Nice to know you are exploring your options. Renewable energy is a hugely important global trend... don't think you can go wrong in any aspect of this emerging industry.

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Highway7 E-zine, a publication of Hatch Media, is an electronic journal with a focus on commercial, historical, cultural and ecological issues concerning the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia in Canada. Topics include a growing resource of currently more than 300 articles. More articles and image galleries are added frequently as new material is brought to our attention. With Highway7.com, our primary aim is to serve, inform and reflect the rural communities on the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, as well as to acquaint new residents, visitors, tourists, and investors with the special beauty and enormous potential of our region.
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