Give it to me Straight Doc!!!

 

Interview with Dr. Andrea Welker

Geotechnical Engineer and a Villanovan Environmental Leader!

Worried…Don’t BE! The Doc is here!!!

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A little Introduction about Dr. Andrea Welker:

Dr. Welker teaches a Geotechnical Engineering class right here in Radnor, PA, at a little school called Villanova. She is the publisher of many research papers and is currently doing research on using soil to control the effects of storm water.

For those of you who are a little unsure about Geotechnical Engineering, Here’s some helpful background information:

Geotechnical engineering is the branch of civil engineering concerned with the engineering behavior of earth materials. Geotechnical engineering is important in civil engineering, but is also used by military, mining, petroleum, or any other engineering concerned with construction, on or in the ground.

This Blogger was given the pleasure to interview the lovely and kind, Dr. Welker and I have to say I was impressed! Not only does she get HUGE AWESOME POINTS for talking to a random stranger on her free time (If you’re reading this Dr. Welker just wanted to say I appreciate your disregard for my random email to meet you) but she was also very informative! Here’s a summary of what we talked about…

Q&A Session

In a few sentences what is geotechnical engineering?

DOC: Geotechnical engineering considers soil as a building material for infrastructures. It can be broken down into two categories: the first focuses on its use to build and the second considers the soils importance in environmental issues, such as the hydrologic cycle.  

Why is it important and/or beneficial to preserving the state of our earth?

DOC: Geotechnical engineering is important in getting rid of unwanted rain efficiently and to prevent stream issues down the road. We try to solve problems like flash floods and eroded banks, water temperature changes, and contaminated water that kills our fish and plant life.

Could you describe your research in the field with geotechnical engineering?

DOC: My particular research deals with the use of soils to control storm water. We look at rain gardens and the type of soil they need.  For example they might need soil good for removing pollutants, supporting plant life, and most importantly getting rid of unwanted rain water. The solution is to manage the “small storms” which account for 80 to 90 percent our excess water.

Can you recount the moment when you knew that geotechnical research was the field you wanted to pursue?

DOC: I knew I wanted to do this my senior year as an undergrad. I was heavily attracted to the geo-environmental aspect of the field.

How has your life in the field influenced your view of the natural world, and mankind’s role in it?

DOC: I feel like I know what I have to do:

It’s better to live in a developed world but we have to minimize the effects of development. An example: vegetated storm water control.

How has Villanova University either aided or hindered your research and the field?

DOC: The University has been very supportive. The facilities people are a big part of the support we get from the University. They have allowed us to construct experiments on campus. Villanova has become our own “outdoor laboratory.”

As a college student what can we do to be an environmental leader?

DOC: It’s hard to understand what the people of the future would want or need, so to be an environmental leader you have to make changes NOW! Work on obtaining the best life you possibly can now. Do things in your life that minimize the negative impact a developing world has on the environment.

*** The words in bold are paraphrases of what the doctor said not her exact words, but something close.

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Tidal Energy

Strangford Lough tidal plant – created in 2007

The concept of renewable energy is one that almost everyone knows about. For most people however, this means wind, solar, or hydroelectric. So, what exactly is tidal energy, and why do many people not know what it really is? Let me start with the second question. Right now, there are only two commercial sized tidal energy plants and one experimental plant, IN THE WORLD. And none of these are even in the United Sates. This is because many people feel that tidal energy is too expensive with not enough room for profit, and that it poses too many environmental issues right now. Also there are very few locations throughout the world that meet the requirements for tidal energy plants. Scientists are currently working to solve these issues, but until tidal energy becomes more affordable, produces more energy, lessens its environmental impact, and the U.S. resolves its underwater land ownerships problems, it will most likely remain out of the picture. There is hope however, because tidal energy does have some pros. Compared to wind energy, tidal energy is more powerful, and unlike wind energy, it is stable and predictable.

So how does it work? The concept is fairly simple. Tidal energy is harnessed using turbines, much like wind turbines except under the sea. Instead of wind propelling the turbines, this process relies on the change of tide.  So, with more research and development in the field of tidal power production, this has the potential to be a great contributor to achieving our goal of renewable energy.

Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland – the site of the first tidal power station

http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/tidal-energy/?ar_a=1

http://science.howstuffworks.com/moon-generate-electricity.htm

Why not Wind?

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Now who doesn’t love the feeling of wind blowing through their hair on a perfect autumn day? Well, did you know that same wind could power everything in your home for free? I know what you’re thinking, that’s crazy, there is no wind underwater, that picture doesn’t make sense! My response…, it’s a spongebobical metaphor, deal with it. But seriously, wind energy could be exactly what we need to get us out of the energy crisis everyone is talking about. According to DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab, 80% of electricity in the U.S. could be supplied by renewable energy (much of which is wind) by the year 2050. 80%!!! That’s like a lot. By 2050!!! That’s like tomorrow. Wind is such a good option as an alternative energy source, so why isn’t wind the leader in energy supply? Why is it so rare we see wind farms? Why did wind energy account for a minuscule 1.36% of the total energy supply in the U.S. last year? Wind is great in theory, but it aint perfect. Here are the advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages

  • Clean
  • Cheap
  • Power is free once framework is built
  • Can be used anywhere

Disadvantages

  • Environmental damage- deforestation, kills birds
  • Wind can be inconsistent
  • Noisy, Eyesore
  • Requires a lot of area/space for turbines

So is it worth it? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Obviously, the answer right now is no. 😦   One of our goals as environmental leaders moving forward should be to figure out a way to make wind the best source for alternative energy. 🙂   In conclusion, Wind Power has the potential to play a key role in U.S. energy supply, but it needs to be greatly improved.

http://www.triplepundit.com/

http://arstechnica.com/

Solar Energy: What do we Really Know?

Solar Energy: Do we really know what it’s all about?

Take the quiz below to see what YOU know about solar energy! You might be surprised to see there’s a lot the public (that means you) doesn't know.

Take the quiz below to see what YOU know about solar energy! You might be surprised to see there’s a lot the public (that means you) doesn’t know.

True or False   Solar energy is wicked expensive using it is not even worth it when you do the math

True or False   Devices that convert sunlight directly into electricity are called photovoltaic

True or False     There are thousands of solar power plants in the United States today

True or False    The energy we get from all of the world’s reserves of coal, oil and natural gas can be matched by just 20 days’ supply of sunshine.

True or False     Solar panels can’t be used in space because the sun’s rays are too strong there and it interferes with the machines actual function

 

ANSWERS!

FALSE

They do have high investment cost but once installed they have almost no variable costs, meaning they don’t need to be kept or maintained. “The cost of a solar panel is determined in part by the size (in Watts), the physical size, the brand, quality of materials, the durability / longevity (or warranty period) and any certifications the solar panel might have(1)”.

TRUE

Photovoltaic devices aka SOLAR CELLS are used in places with no electrical grid connections (1)

FALSE

There are only 15 known solar power plants in the US. 10 are found in the sunny state of California and 5 in Arizona…Kind of small if you ask me 😦 (2)

TRUE

The sun’s energy in the earth’s atmosphere contains about 1,300 watts per square meter. The energy of sunlight on earth has about 1,000 watts per square meter at noon on a cloudless day. Averaged over the entire surface of the planet, 24 hours per day for a year, each square meter collects the approximate energy equivalent of almost a barrel of oil each year, or 4.2 kilowatt-hours of energy every day.(2)

FALSE

Solar panels are what powers our satellites in space. “All of them (satellites) have a source of power (usually solar cells) and batteries for storage. Arrays of solar cells provide power to charge rechargeable batteries. (3)”

1) Solar Pricing. Solarcity. Web.  27 Oct. 2013

http://www.solarcity.com/residential/solar-pricing.aspx

2) How solar energy works. Union of Concerned Scientist. Web. 16 Dec. 2009. http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/how-solar-energy-works.html

3) How Satellites Work. Howstufffworks. http://science.howstuffworks.com/satellite5.htm

Alternative Energy and Me

Alternative Energy and Me

By Brendan Mulry

The purpose of Alternative Energy and Me is to provide only the finest and most accurate updates in the world of new discoveries in the alternative energy sector. We will dive into the key effects of major alternative energy sources (such as wind, solar, and hydrogen fuel cell energy) on the environment.  As the population of the world increases, we have to find new sources of energy in order to live sustainably. With the world struggling to find a solution to the heavy burdens of greenhouse gases and climate change, Alternative Energy and Me tries to report some simple everyday solutions that can help our Earth. Our blog will offer how to protect the environment that we love so dearly from harmful carbon emissions. As part of our blog, we will also introduce how alternative energy has been incorporated at Villanova University. With our strong team of Brendan Mulry, Stephanie Sanchez, Kate Dolan, and Tommy Muccifori, we promise to alert all of our readers with only the best alternative energy advice and information in the world.

Timeline

Week of 10-21

Introduction Post/ Create Blog- Brendan

Stephanie- Solar Energy

Week of 10-28

Tommy- Wind Energy

Kate- Tidal Energy

Week 11-04

Brendan- Hydroelectric Power (Dams)

Kate- Geothermal Energy

Stephanie- Interview with a professor at Villanova University to talk about sustainable energy on campus

Week- 11-11

Tommy- Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Brendan- Biomass Energy in Business and at Plantations

Tommy/Kate- Little things around the house that people could do to help conserve energy/ Wrap up blog