A bit more...
A bit more about me - this space is where I talk about my work from the past few years. During my undergrad at Purdue, I explored various aspects of sustainability from an electrical engineer's perspective. I researched thermo-electrics, reverse osmosis energy systems, hybrid microgrid systems all while gaining experience in the self driving industry. The reasoning behind my choices were always driven by the potential to impact sustainability. Upon graduation I fully committed to the self driving sector, but I realized shortly afterwards that I wasn't making a direct impact.
While working with a research grad advisor at Purdue I was exposed to game theory being used to optimize hybrid energy microgrid systems. This piqued my interest because I saw how complex a simple microgrid system could be. Obviously we have to work with physical issues like solar power generation being impacted by cloud cover, but we also have to work with old utility systems, power pricing, and tax incentives. The sustainability space has multiple players and dynamic limitations. Going back to school at Hopkins, I kept this realization in mind. Every project and course I explored, I made sure I was learning how to weave my way through the complexities in the sustainability space.
My take on sustainability + tech:
We often have very lofty goals when we think of sustainability, but the truth is a region may not have enough solar power or a region might not receive enough tax credits to support electrification. That doesn’t mean that a project is impossible, rather it means we need a technical solution that addresses the financial and physical limitations we have.
Computational modeling, controls, and optimization all provide solid insight into representing and managing various complexities. It answers questions like how effective solar power can be in a region. It helps us design financial agreements that allow for both solar developers and utility companies to benefit. It allows us to predict wildfire spread with minimal data. It allows us to define the grey area of any problem and shift it for various audiences.
I define sustainable tech as any technology that can help the planet, enable resilience in communities, or reduce inefficiencies in our existing systems. Sustainable tech can be applied to each aspect of our lives. I think sustainable tech includes minimizing cars on the road, having more green spaces, and growing food within a city. But I also think sustainable tech includes enabling a vulnerable nation to become independent by harnessing their own source of power from the sun or clean water from the sea.
At the end of the day sustainable tech is a people problem and people of all backgrounds need to be talking about tech in sustainability in order for us to be successful. For example do we ever compare the cost of building a new power plant vs building a solar facility? Do we compare the short term and long term financial costs, health benefits, and maintenance costs? Usually no. We get one side or the other in absolute form not relative.
I think sustainable tech studies involving non-tech topics are super important. From my own experience I know these studies can be done through modeling and simulation. We need to have the right discussions and factor in the concerns people have. Tech doesn't have to mean just making another cool battery or slick energy management algorithm. Tech in sustainability also means tech applied to sustainability economics, policy, and education. The topic and conversation is wide. Ultimately, I've seen in my own discussions and work that tech in these spaces is so needed - to bridge the gap.
So my current goal is bridging the gap. Lofty but needed.
Maybe you're wondering why I became so passionate about sustainability in the first place and why I think this way. Well it started when I was only 6 or 7. CNN was always on. I probably watched more CNN than cartoons because my parents loved the news and talking about the news. Both STEM people yet both really passionate about politics, economics, and world affairs. Anyways at some point on CNN, there was some breaking news about Al Gore warning us about global warming. At that age, I became very concerned. I thought all the penguins were going to die because of global warming. So my goal became to stop global warming and save the penguins.
It took me a long time to figure out I wanted to be an engineer though. My choice to be an engineer was based less on passion and more on skill. I was always good at making and breaking things, problem solving, and math. Math was always my strong suit, and I understood first principles really well. I always break down any complex engineering concept to first principles. That's why I don't think we need new cool technology to solve the climate problem. I know all the parts are there but we're not designing the system right.
I'm also big on hardware software solutions for the sustainability tech space. Given my background of being an electrical engineer with a focus in controls and AI that makes sense. The way I learned about AI and ML was through controls and fuzzy logic. I learned from the bottom up. In my mind I don't think physical tech has to be perfect. It has to be safe but the rest can be optimized and managed through software. That's my one last take about sustainable tech is that hardware and software need to be talking. Automating sustainable tech is the goal. That's my engineering spark.