Regarding T.J. Rodgers' Jan. 17 letter ("Fed meddling won't help solar era dawn," page 24): I take issue with his casual characterization of solar power as "a pure, green source of energy." While solar cells produce no greenhouse gases in operation, they require energy to produce. Further, many of the materials and processes used to manufacture them are toxic to humans and other life. And they must be disposed of after their useful lifetime.
In the debate about which energy source is cleanest and most efficient, it is often lost that the best way to decrease the effect of energy production on the environment is to use less energy. We are a clever species, and it is entirely within our abilities to design products and processes that produce the same results more efficiently. But is there an economic motivation to do so?
Our economic indicators measure productivity in terms of labor. When we hear economists say that the U.S. has an efficient economy, they are talking about economic value produced per man-hour. If we were to measure economic value produced per kilowatt-hour, we'd find that the U.S. economy has also gotten more efficient over the decades by that metric. This shows that in practical terms, there are real savings to reducing energy use. As energy gets more expensive, as it is now, the return is derived that much faster. But there are still huge gains to be made. We could reduce our energy use by a third while giving up no quality of life.
Thus I can only believe that efficiency is not pursued strongly because of the entrenched power of the energy industry. BP Solar has illustrated how an energy giant can profit from alternative energy sources but where's the model for profiting from energy efficiency?
Senior Engineering Physicist
Zoom out on innovation's impact, and picture looks grim
Thank you for Tom Mahon's wonderful essay ("A zoom-lens mentality," Feb. 7, page 56). I started to ask similar questions around 15 years ago.
Although I consider myself blessed during my career I worked mostly on applications in environmental protection, music and medicine I nevertheless see the whole picture in pretty grim colors.
Nuclear energy and TV were invented more then 60 years ago. Did either make the world a better place or make humans kinder or more intelligent?
Lead Electrical Engineer
Continuum Photonics Inc.
Outsourcing's detractors must play fair if they want respect
Since the debate about foreign competition in engineering apparently isn't going to die down, those who argue against the notion of offshoring software or hardware design should at least follow some basic rules:
Provide a logical, consistent argument. For example, you can't say that India is taking our software jobs but also declare that Indians are worthless as software engineers.
Don't state the obvious. You say that you don't like it when you lose your job to an engineer in China? Tell us something we don't already know.
Keep in mind that the United States has lost jobs to foreign countries before. I'm guessing you didn't complain when U.S. steelworkers lost theirs. Present an argument that is fair and reasonable.
Propose a solution. The "we're all screwed" angle is getting old.
Before you offer a solution, reason it out. Is it really practical? There are laws, trade agreements and economic theories that govern what we can and cannot do, so you have some constraints to consider. For example, we probably can't just ban foreign-designed products.
If you are more than two years old, you know that crying and stomping your feet will not make things go your way. People do things for various reasons, and you need to consider those reasons if you want to change their behavior.
Yes, we know that doctors and lawyers make more money than engineers (and command more respect, and aren't as smart, and don't work as hard). We all knew that when we started engineering school, and there's really not much more to say about it.
Show some self-esteem. Do you think the U.S. rules the industrial world because we are lucky? We're Americans! We do things better. It will take more than low-cost labor to shut us down.
Spectrum Astro Space Systems
General Dynamics C4 Systems