Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Archive for the tag “government”

Incorporating Engineering into Government to Improve National Programs

Hello everyone, I hope y’all have been doing well.  Today I would like discuss ways to improve our country by involving engineers and engineering concepts in the management of our national systems.  I have narrowed it down what I believe to be the 5 basic ideas.  As a reference, I have used data and assertions made by Evan Twarog in an article describing the role technocracy in China.

1) Become more technocratic in regards to politics

Data shows that the government is mostly run by engineers in China and in the government in the US is mostly run by lawyers.  In addition, Chinese people believe that knowledgeable elite should run the government which led to a technocracy being a part of the political system.  Based on the way government seems to operate in the US, I could see a shift towards the concept technocracy being beneficial for the U.S. as well.  Especially considering some of the issues that confront us, such the deterioration of the infrastructure, climate change, drought in various areas through out the country, and the production of energy in regards oil, wind, solar, etc.  A technocracy provides the critical knowledge and skill sets to properly deal with these issues.

2) Any problem can be solved with an engineering mindset

Engineers have a unique skill set that allows them to solve problems through a standard process.  On a personal level, I apply this mindset to difficult decisions in my life.  I bet you a lot of engineers say the same thing.  I don’t know about them but it works well for me.  And when considering the successes and failures of both China and the U.S., a correlation between the application of technology and the engineering mindset can be observed.  A good example of that in the U.S. is the space program and national arms race in general.  It is this correlation that leads to believe that the engineering problem solving mindset would be a good framework to apply to struggling government processes and programs.

3) An education in a technological field is more respected by society

For years, the culture in China has valued being technologically informed.  This means that changes in the direction of the country are more easily understood and communicated to the masses.  This is not to say there aren’t people capable of doing that here in the U.S., but there still seems to be a large portion of the political system that caters to the lowest common denominator instead of embracing the intelligence of the U.S. population.

4) Some projects need support from the government to succeed

A lot of the great engineering accomplishments require a large amount resources to back them up.  There are very few people and companies that can fully implement these systems.  This means that if there is some technology or engineering program that would improve our country and it is sufficiently large enough that it would be difficult for private organizations, government should not be afraid to step in and help.  If applied with an engineering problem solving mindset and backed by an informed public, these projects should benefit the country overall.

5) Export your technology for economic profit

This is where the practicality of investing money in solving these problems is realized.  In a perfect world, providing infrastructure and services to improve the lives of people is enough.  But government cannot be expected keeping doing so if it cannot be maintained as far as resources are concerned.  This means that sharing the technology nets the government money which can be used to further improve in other areas.  Business concepts like public-private partnerships were designed to improve profits and gains for the country through the development of these infrastructure and service ideas.  If we can keep this end goal in mind, it can ensure that all government systems improve the country socially and economically.

What is your opinion on these 5 concepts?  Is there anything you would add or take away and why?  If you enjoyed reading the blog post, be sure to like the post and share it with your friends.  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

Source

“The Three Gorges Dam, Why China is Run by Engineers”, Twarog, Evan, Atomic Insights, April 13, 2015, http://goo.gl/sZf3Zn

Tax incentives for promoting renewable energy production

Hello everyone, I hope your week is going well.  Today I would like to look at a topic that is less technical and a more political – how to implement tax incentives that promote sustainable energy production.  I believe that this is a topic that gets over-politicized and some information needs to be shared in an objective way.

Currently, there are a lot of subsidies provided to oil companies.  According to Oil Change International, the subsidies range from $10 to $52 million annually in the US.  Internationally, the subsidies are somewhere between $775 billion and $1 trillion.  As of July 2014, Oil Change International estimates this years subsidies to be about $35 billion.  $2.4 billion of those subsidies go to the big 5 oil companies in the form of federal tax deductions: BP, Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and ConocoPhillips.  Subsidies also go to “independent” oil companies which, which are larger operations than the name implies.  These companies produce about 50% of the oil.  The rest of the subsidies are earned through loans or aid certain types of operations such gas exploration and production at an estimate value of $18.5 billion on the federal level and $21.6 billion on the state level.  After that, there are consumption subsidies which amount to $11 billion.  Along with the subsidies, infrastructure loans are provided to the companies which amount to about $4.7 billion.  It shouldn’t be noted that the article goes on to recommend that these subsidies be reduced and also outlines roadway maintenance and health concerns.  That being said, I am trying to keep the references focused on the raw data in this section.

In comparison, the subsidies for renewable energy are lower.  A report by Nancy Pfund and Ben Healey shows that the renewable energy has a lower initial investment and projected investment over a 30 year span overall.  The historical average of annual subsidies of renewable energy is $370 million as compared to $4.86 billion for oil and gas, $3.5 billion of nuclear and $1.08 billion for biofuel.  Interestingly enough, nuclear had far greater initial investment than the other forms of energy; however, safety concerns caused there to be a large reduction those investments.

My current opinion is that we need to strip away a lot of the “blank check” type subsidies.  While there are probably subsidies for every industry that could fit in this category, the worst offender in this regard is the oil and gas industry.  I also think that some practicality is warranted too.  In my opinion, oil and gas will still always be the best option for hauling goods across the country for the next couple of decades.  Renewables can’t provide the efficiency needed and other tech such as nuclear is not scaleable enough for that yet.  For electric power production, I believe renewables can’t completely fill that gap either and stable energy production is needed for peak hours.  With all that being said, a balanced merit system needs to be applied to energy subsidies to produce the most sustainable energy infrastructure possible.

What is your opinion on how to best subsidize energy industry?  What is your opinion on the current state of subsidies?  If you enjoyed reading this post, like this post and share it.  Thanks for reading have a good day.

Sources

“Fossil Fuel Subsidies”, Oil Change International, 2014, http://goo.gl/BYdMg

Nancy Pfund and Ben Healey, “What Would Jefferson Do?: The Historical Role of Federal Subsidies in Shaping America’s Energy Future”, September 2011, http://goo.gl/XuioTH

Image Source

Roger H. Bezdek and Robert M. Wendling, “Energy Subsidy Myths and Realities”, June 2012, http://goo.gl/A8Ws96

The Balance of Public Private Partnership and Government Funding in the Infrastructure Industry

 

     Hello everyone, sorry about being away for a bit.  I had an exam and had to focus in on school work, but I feel like I did good on the exam and can get back to a normal rhythm.  Today I would like to pose an interesting question.  What is best for the infrastructure industry – public private partnerships or government funded projects?

     I read a good letter-to-the-editor piece in CE Magazine recently that was critical of politicians who only wanted to pursue the infrastructure investment bank option for increasing investment.  In the author’s opinion, it is the job of the government to do whatever it takes to provide the infrastructure systems for this country.  I don’t see it as one dimensional as the author does, but this brought an interesting point to my attention.  A lot of people involved with the infrastructure industry like the public private partnership type projects as a way to bring more investment to the infrastructure construction and maintenance process.  Since increased funding in this area is needed ASAP, I have no problem with them pushing for this option if people are willing to do this.  However, issues in the infrastructure industry that can’t be addressed through a public private partnership system are largely over looked.

    Public Private Partnerships can help relieve a lot of the issues that drag our infrastructure down right now.  For example, a private company could charge tolls for a road and use that to maintain the road as part of a business plan.  This is a great system once you solve the oversight and standards issues.  Another area that this could be beneficial for is management of projects and procuring construction manpower and equipment.  As people have discovered with the government projects, having to maintain a large bureaucracy in managing these large projects is expensive.  Off loading those expenses to companies willing to do the work would allow for increased efficiency in the infrastructure construction process.

    However, there are some parts of the infrastructure industry where government investment is required to some degree.  The main one I see is the initial investment stage of these large scale projects.  Any private company will need some help (or at least an incentive) to take on the large amount of initial investment required.  Private businesses in general prefer projects that have large profits and the lowest possible expenses.  Government can provide a lot of aid to the infrastructure industry by allowing private companies to apply their preferred model for business.  The other area I see the government being essential are the parts of infrastructure where for profit motives aren’t the bottom line.  A great example of this is public transportation.  Overall, it is a largely inefficient industry in regards to cost and maintenance.  However, it doesn’t mean that it is something that shouldn’t be promoted as a part of our infrastructure improvement plan.  I’m not saying that we should take a loss in these projects, but it is something that should be offered without an eye towards massively cutting cost or increasing profits.  Since a company will not see the same high margin of profits they might find in a large highway construction project, they are more like to not take the project or to maintain an inadequate system due to their goals of minimizing inefficiencies and increasing profits.

    To sum it up, a balance needs to found between the application of public private partnerships and government funded projects in the infrastructure industry.  Some of the ways I think we can find a good balance are listed above.  What is your opinion about the balance of the infrastructure industry?  Is there anything you think we need to do to improve it?  Thanks for your time and have a good week!

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