Where have all the engineers gone?

A common theme  running through  many if not most  if the current  crop of discussion threads  dealing with alternative lifestyle and off-grid living is a lack of solid engineering  know how.
Many posters ask basic questions about the technology involved.  All the major green and alternate  energy projects we hear about in the news are mega projects  involving  huge amounts of money and  aimed at  creating megawatts of power to feed the existing grid.
These projects  do employ engineers but  very few of these engineers  seem to get involved with low tech small scale energy projects.
I began wondering why.
The majority of  people  wanting to get off-grid and who are willing to make the effort seem to have expertise  in other areas. A case in point is the recent article about Lou Reed a former Rock and Roll singer.  He obviously has  a great deal of artistic skill and knowledge.
Several  thread have posters asking questions of a technical nature that used to be  class material  for high school students.  Our educational system has failed our society and it shows in the limited number of  graduating engineers.  Studies have shown  countries such as China and India are graduating  far more engineers than  the  western world is producing.  Not only that,  our  high school system is  not teaching enough technical subjects.  The emphasis has shifted to other subjects.  The result is  a generation  growing up that has  no exposure to using tools and  dealing with the technical aspects of everyday appliances. My generation  received  fairly extensive  shop class training and most of us  grew up learning how to fix lawn mowers,  toasters  and even radios and the lucky ones, their own cars or motor bikes etc.
Today this is almost unheard of.
From time to time, we do see people going off-grid  who have  an engineering background but most of them are  close to retirement age,  not young  people;  engineers starting out.
Somehow the newly graduated engineers  appear to be focussed on mega projects. These projects  belong to  a trend we have already identified as belonging to a non sustainable lifestyle.
Sustainable  lifestyle has morphed into sustainable growth;  a term which I consider  a bit of an oxymoron.  Growth  implies  increase  and  increase  no matter how little eventually  expands  beyond the capacity  to support that growth.
Sustainable lifestyle  is about holding the status quo or even  diminishing  something.  But who will go first?
Today’s western society has all the appearances of  being  self centered and  greedy. Many peoples atitudes can be summed up by the phrase “ I’ve got mine, Jack. So screw you!”
One bumper sticker  that really annoys me   says  “ He who dies with the most toys,  wins.  It really sums up our society and I am neither in agreements with it nor  proud  our culture has come to this.
But back to engineering  and  living a sustainable,  more simple life style. Not necessarily simplistic,  but a simpler  life style.  There is no glamor  or for that matter even  a lucrative  big business  in  supporting  off-grid  people.  At the moment  many  off-grid  adherents are striving to live on little or no income  and being subsistence  farmers  or  urban scroungers  finding  sufficient leftovers  in the scrap heaps of our affluent society.  These are not the kind of people who can afford to spend  many thousands  of  dollars  buying the latest technology, or hiring  consultants. Perhaps  the exception is  to be found in some places of the United States where  goverment  subsidy funds  encourage  people to install huge solar or wind installations when buying new  homes.  The initial capital cost can be amortized  with grant money or mortgages but is of no use to someone wishing to go small scale on an existing homestead or  build from scratch  on a limited budget.  Mortgages  require a  continuing  cash flow from  employment within the existing  non-sustainable  society.
Furthermore, local ordenances  and by-laws often tend to discourage  small scale  projects.  There is so much red tape involved  only  rich  companies can support the extensive application process  required to get a project permitted. The process is usually multi year and  requires  hiring  at least one person full time to  handle the paper work.
Where I live  there is a creek with  adequate water flow to support hydro-electric generation for all the homes located  along  a five mile stretch.  But the stream is designated fish habitat  and is now inviolate.  You cannot even build a rock garden  within 30 meters of the creek bank without permission.
Although there are several  designs  of water wheels  that would not interfer with  fish migration it would take a multi year  effort to satisfy  the Fisheries and EPA folks the  design is not harmful to the environment. And if by some miracle approval was given,  a licence applications requires a $10,000 fee.   Not exactly conducive to building  a typical off-grid  development by a small land holder.
The applications  would  require submissions and plans to be made by a Professional Engineer.  Professional  Engineers  with the requisite  experience are few and far between. Those few are either employed on mega projects  or long retired.
The people with real world experience of a practical nature are less likely to be taken seriously  by the bureaucrats  in charge of granting permits.
It’s a chicken and egg situation. Without a ground swell of interest and actual move towards  off-grid living you are not going to attract  technical people and engineers  to provide the necessary support  and without the  technical support you are not going to attract off-grid supporters in large enough numbes to interest enough  technical people and  engineering graduates to work in the field.

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