May 2008

Your letters

Solar, not nuclear

I hear French President Nicholas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown plan to export nuclear power plants around the world. But there is a very good alternative to this dirty, dangerous, and expensive technology.

I refer to "concentrating solar power" (CSP), the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and currently provides power for about 100,000 Californian homes. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

Using CSP, less than 1% of the world's hot deserts could generate all the electricity that the world is using. It is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity for 3,000 km or more using highly-efficient HVDC transmission lines. It has been calculated that 90% of the world's population lives within 2,700 km of a hot desert and could be supplied with clean electricity from there.

In the TRANS-CSP report from the German Aerospace Centre, it is estimated CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. That report shows in great detail how Europe can meet all its needs for electricity from a variety of clean sources including CSP, and phase out nuclear power at the same time.

Further information about CSP may be found at www.desertec.org and www.trec-uk.org.uk.

Dr. Gerry Wolff, Ph.D. C.Eng, coordinator of TREC-UK

Finding common ground

I am an IT Manager who has been given the assignment to create a strategy and actions to bring IT and Engineering together within my company. I have joined ISA to get insight into the world of control automation and learn industry best practices and techniques that will support our strategy. It hasn't taken long to realize that while reading these ISA articles, IT will be slapped continually. So, I was kind of excited to see a portion of the March 2008 InTech devoted to some IT topics. I am writing about the "Techs vs. geeks: Making IT work" article by Ellen Fussell Policastro.

Policastro makes some very good points about what is needed to "make it work." The whole concept of seeing both sides of the picture is the key. I agree totally that IT and Engineering see things differently. And why-because we have different drivers that beat us up and cause us pain when things aren't done right.

My formal education is Bachelor of Science Electronics Engineering Technology. I started work at Hexcel Corporation in 1986. I ended up in IT and spent 20 years getting beat up over IT issues. I have a colleague who has the exact same education and degree I have. We started working for Hexcel Corporation at approximately the same time. He designs and installs Fiber Lines for our business. He gets beat up when the plant doesn't run. Yet he and I can sit and talk about the exact same topic and argue about what we agree on. We both agree on the topic and still argue about it. Why-because the past 20 years has created a different world for both of us. We have been beat up by different things. It is the beatings we remember.

It is interesting that both sides carry the baggage of when the other last offended them and won't let it go. I find it annoying to be continually accused of not caring about what the latest patch is going to do to manufacturing systems. That is not true-yet it is continually printed in ISA articles. I'm sure the Engineers are equally tired of being accused of not caring about security and viruses that their lack of concern about security can introduce into the system. I'm sure that is equally untrue.

What is true is: The IT guy likely didn't get the crap beat out of him and have to spend all night at the plant fixing the system that the latest OS patch shut down. Likewise, the engineer who brought his laptop in from home and plugged it into the LAN likely didn't spend 36 hours straight trying to stop the latest "hi" virus from shutting down a global network-or sit in front of the local SOX auditors defending why security was breached.

Back to my point: It is what causes us pain and beats the crap out of us that we remember. Until we all get equally beat up and pounded for issues related to networking both in and about the plant as well as about the office and WAN, we will not see things the same (or remember).

So, I agree totally there is an "IT World" and a "Control World," and until the management of a given company makes that a common world and spreads the beatings equally, it will continue. That will cultivate the culture of caring and being able to show empathy for both sides of running the business. I believe this is as much a management issue as an education issue. If there is no incentive to learn both sides, people won't change. Some will-find them and put them in charge. Education helps those who might change to change. Pain helps those who are kind of lazy to be motivated to change. Layoff's help those who refuse to change. Management creates the culture for change regardless of the method used for change.

Kirk Burgon, Sr. IT Architect