Will Blog for Experience: Patrick

I'm a student blogger for Experience.com and if my blog gets the most readers out of these 5 blogs I will be going to Washington, D.C. for a job shadow at the Department of Energy, courtesy of CBCampus. Experience is a career site specifically for college students & alumni. They provide extraordinary job opportunities, real-world insights, and a network of inspirational role-models to help students explore and launch careers they love. Keep reading my blog if you want me to lead this challenge!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

DOE Experience

I applied to this little contest blogging about energy because, frankly, it seemed made for me. I’ve blogged for 5 years or so, and I last August I decided sustainable energy was going to be my thing. Plus I had ideas for getting hits. After getting two posts to the front page of digg, I was fairly confident I had it. I earned myself a trip to DC.


Monday night I stayed at the fairly classy Hotel Washington. Getting there was simple and straightforward, mostly because I visited the University of Maryland a few weeks ago. I feel like I’m getting to know the area. Unfortunately I arrived a tad late, and everything in DC seems to close around 7. I was afraid dinner was going to be at Mcdonald’s, but I found a Subway minutes before it closed. The last employee actually walked out of the store as I did.

Tuesday morning I grabbed a bagel from Corner Bakery and casually made my way over to the Department of Energy. The weather was a tad chilly, but sunny. And much better than Chicago, so it was a nice walk. I got there and took a few pictures of myself in front of the DOE sign. Afterwards a homeless guy asked me if I got the tulips.


Security was tight, but not a hassle. I had to remove everything from my pockets and walk through a metal detector. After passing this test I was escorted to my first experience of the day, sitting in on a meeting. Six guys in the integrated building systems division talking over a multi-year plan for improving energy use in buildings. They are just concluding a guidebook for 30% energy savings over the current minimum standards, and were discussing how to get to 50%. Long term (20 years?) they want to get to 100%, meaning a zero-energy building. Things that came up were included daylighting, HVAC, and IEQ. Daylighting was primarily discussing orienting your building to take the best advantage of available light. HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning, which I have seen as a research topic at many a grad school) was discussing how to make these big systems more efficient. And IEQ stands for indoor environmental quality. They eventually got round to the idea of having a contest for schools, sort of like the solar decathlon, to encourage student teams to design model systems. I was able to contribute a little to the meeting here, which was fun. If this contest happens, I’ll try to participate from Maryland.

Next was a lecture called “Cost-Saving Innovations and Sustainable Design Make Middle School a High Performer” by Jay Enck. He talked about the design of a new LEED-silver middle school in Alabama. Cool building, and I’d love to go to school there, but Mr. Enck wasn’t a very dynamic speaker, and it was the same old presentation on sustainable building design. Brendan Owens of the U.S. Green Building Council did a much better job at the ESW National Conference last fall (presentation available 3mb pdf). This lecture was actually at the National Building Museum. Cool fact I learned on the way out: each window has three bricks missing underneath it. The airflow through the sum of all these missing bricks is exactly equal to the open airflow through the roof of the building, essentially creating a passive air conditioning system. And this building was build a century and a half ago. Impressive. On the way back to the DOE, I had a good chat with a senior engineer about solid state lighting. They’ve moved on from compact-fluorescent light bulbs to LED and OLED lighting. They have a goal for LEDs with 200 lumens/watt with a lifetime of 200,000 hours. This is about ten times the light/power as an incandescent, and 20 times the lifetime. Seeing as 30% of energy use in buildings comes from lighting, this could put a big dent in the nations energy consumption, to say the least. That’s a lot of numbers, purely off of memory. I think they’re relatively accurate, but please correct me if you know better.

Next I sat down with another engineer at talked for awhile. He talked to me more about lighting, showing me a little demo solar-powered LED beacon, and a white OLED light. We moved on to talking about windows, which are a big energy loss in buildings, seeing as they can easily have 1/10th to 1/20th the insulation value of walls. He pulled out a piece of aerogel, saying they were thinking about tossing that inbetween two panes of glass to create an even more efficient window. Current issues with that are aerogel isn’t perfectly transparent, it still has a slight haze to it, and it is brittle, so as windows bend and flex it would probably develop cracks. And he didn’t even mention cost, which you know is an issue if you’ve ever tried to buy yourself a piece (I’m a geek, I’ve tried, deal).

Then it was 3:00, and I went for late lunch with a relatively new DOE employee and talked DC, career moves, and school with him. It was a good, chill, practical way to end the day.

It was a fun experience; I don’t think I want to work at the Department of Energy right out of grad school, but later in my life it might be rewarding. They don’t do any of the research themselves, so I don’t think I could get my hands as dirty as they should be getting. But they do have a very strong impact in the energy consumption of this country. Their goals are ambitions, and they plan on achieving them. I met a few people whose passion for the work really impressed me. The power they have to encourage the adoption of new technologies could be very useful in my future plans of saving the world, but first I want to develop some of those new technologies myself.