The Power of an Expert

When initially receiving this assignment I sat in my seat wondering what I am an actual expert in. At 21 years old there aren’t many things that come to mind; maybe getting into bars legally (or illegally for that matter) or being an identical twin, but nothing that is particularly newsworthy or life altering. However as the assignment progressed and I watched more and more news segments I came to a vastly different understanding of what makes a strong expert interview versus what I had initially perceived. While acknowledging that the interviewer must be an expert in the subject matter at hand that does not necessarily mean that they must have experience with the subject matter. Much rather, they must GET SMART and conduct a considerable amount of research so they may successfully participate in the conversation taking place. While the Boston Bombings were unfortunate, the news coverage surrounding the event portrayed the importance of expert interviews in the broadcast news industry. One particular interview that comes to mind is the conversation that took place between CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley and Domestic Security expert John Miller. As the interview transpired Scott asked John short directive questions, trying to bring some clarity and explanation to the most inexplicable situation. Answering a lot of questions in details alluding to how the US federal agencies were going to solve this heinous crime, how there was going to be justice served, how the investigation should transpire. All of these questions and answers were said with a great deal of confidence and as a result brought a significant amount of serenity during a time of great chaos to the American public. What made the interview such a strong interview in particular was John’s ability to make some of the most complicated issues into a simple, understandable sound byte. With this, the intended audience gains a source of informed knowledge that aids their ability to come to terms with the events transpiring. Taking this same approach, I would treat my expert interview as a live conversation with an expert on a given evening news show. I came across Dr. Nabil Makil, an international Security, Middle East Foreign policy expert. Calling him in to comment on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s trip to the Middle East. With this frame employed  I would bring a strong, newsworthy focus to the interview, force myself to keep my questions succinct and clear as well as ask multiple follow ups on anything that could possibly be misunderstood. Overall, I was very happy with my performance, while struggling with the language barrier at times, Dr. Makil would prove to be very well informed and would be a great source of knowledge that would provide an inside perspective on the first international trip of the New Secretary of  Chuck Hagel. 

Redskins Future looking Greener for more than RGIII

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FEDEX Field and NRG

To many Americans out there between the months of August and February, Sundays, the occasional Monday and Thursday night are looked upon as sacred holidays. Millions leave their homes and flock to their respective team’s stadium to cheer them on in the hopes that they will win, bringing their team just one step closer to the Lombardi trophy in early February. Last year it was the New York Giants, this year, it is very much up in the air.

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RGIII the Rookie

 Currently, our local team, the Washington Redskins are causing a lot of buzz around the league. Robert Griffin the Third, commonly known as RGIII is bringing leading the team to new heights, a major contender for rookie of the year and he could lead the team to their first playoff birth in over 6 years.

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Solar Panels Installed

However RGIII is not the only thing that is making the Redskins future look a lot greener. Earlier in 2011, the Redskins Organization teamed up with NRG Energy Company, an American Energy company based in New Jersey to unveil the largest solar installation at a Pro Football Stadium, Installing 8,285 solar panels, generating nearly 2 megawatts of energy (enough to power 300 metropolitan DC homes). This partnership would be monumental as the Redskins would be the first professional Football team to partner with NRG and carry their name in sponsorship. As over one year has passed, the team is able to see tangible returns besides the outpouring of support from the Redskins community.

With the installation of the solar elements at Fedex Field, approximately 25% of the energy used on game day and 90-100% of the energy of non-game days is covered. In the typical regular season, teams can have anywhere between 8-10 home games, potentially 12 if the team locks up home field advantage in the playoffs. With this, the average NFL team is not utilizing their stadium somewhere between 352-355 out of 365 days a year. By installing their solar energy system, the Redskins have maximized their efficiency at Fedex Field and have thus been able to see economic returns as their stadium sits dormant. Last year the Solar energy system generated nearly $390,000 worth of energy while the Stadium only required approximately $290,000 of energy, bringing the Redskins $100,000 of capital gain (coverted on green energy calculator).

 Since the Redskins took part in this project with NRG, five additional NFL teams have announced partnerships with NRG. These teams include the New York Giants and Jets at Met Life Stadium, the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium and the new San Francisco 49ers Stadium.

 These are just six of 32 potential NFL teams taking the strides to “trend green” as Redskins VP of Marketing Rod Nenner told us. When asked if this was the pinnacle of the Redskins investment in trending green he answered with a definitive no, this is just the beginning. Just imagine if this trend extended to the other 80% of the league? More money AND cleaning up the planet, it begs the question WHY NOT?! The NFL’s future is starting to look a lot greener and for our sake, lets hope the Redskins does on the field as well!

NFL time to #THINKFWD

#GoSKINS

-Casey W. Wood

Breaking Out of the Trash Cycle

For many of us, our lives are ruled by routine. We wake up, and have a routine for everything – from whether we brush our teeth or wash our faces first, to which route we travel, to our workout regimens at the gym. Some people prefer eggs in the morning, some prefer cereal. But in today’s world – there is one routine most people can agree on. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This trifecta of sustainability has been engrained in our minds for years. But sometimes, something more is needed. What if this isn’t enough? What if I want waffles one morning?

Okay, okay. The real question at hand here is this: What do we do when we’ve exhausted the “reduce, reuse, recycle” routine? What is the next step in sustainability? There are several sources of renewable energy, such as solar power and wind power, but not every day is sunny with a billow in your sail. The folks over at Covanta Energy are offering an additional solution to the ongoing effort of sustainability – Energy-from-Waste (EfW).

Trash being sent to an EfW facility is happy trash!

Trash being sent to an EfW facility is happy trash!

With 35 EfW facilities in the United States, Covanta offers trash producers a long-term alternative to filling landfills with waste. Annually, Covanta processes over 17 million tons of waste, and produces about 9 million megawatt hours of clean, renewable electricity. In addition, Covanta produces 10 billion pounds of steam that are sold back into the industry, and recycles 400,000 tons of metal per year – that’s enough to build over 275,000 hybrid vehicles! To break it down, each ton of waste processed at an EfW facility like Covanta produces approximately 550 kilowatt hours of electricity and about 50 pounds of recycled metal. Unlike other methods of creating renewable energy, our country’s constant stream of trash allows for a constant supply of clean energy. However, EfW does not compete with recycling efforts. Rather, Covanta and the like are an add-on to the aforementioned trifecta — so we can now think of it as: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recover.

In addition to the energy produced, we should consider the the impact of EfW facilities in terms of climate change. Approximately 63% of global warming is attributable to carbon dioxide emissions, closely linked to the generation of energy. In conserving our energy use, we decrease the demand for fossil fuels, and in turn reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Recycling and reusing will prevent trash from ending up in landfills, which  are hot sites for the production of methane, which accounts of 18% of greenhouse gasses. But for the remaining waste – waste that arrives at EfW facilities – this trash actually has a negative impact on climate change.The EfW industry reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 20 million tons each year! For each ton of trash that enters an EfW facility, one less ton of carbon dioxide is released as a combined result of avoided landfill methane emissions, fossil fuel power generation, and the transportation of waste and metals production.

Energy from Waste facility in Newhaven

Energy from Waste facility in Newhaven

So let’s review. EfW produces clean, renewable energy, creates industrial-friendly steam, recycles metal, and has a negative effect on climate change. So alongside the daily sustainability grind of reduce, reuse, recycle, we are now equipped to continue our efforts for a greener tomorrow, with the trash we can’t recycle as our weapon. I guess you could say Covanta and EfW facilities are really thinking outside the box… or outside the landfill.

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The Skins go solar

Solar panels are not a new innovation, yet they’re quickly becoming the hot new trend at football stadiums across the country.

In September of last year, the Washington Redskins led the league–not in wins or in passing yards (to the heartbreak of Redskins Nation)–but in renewable energy (to the excitement of Green Clean Nation) by unveiling newly installed solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations at FedEx Field.

NRG at FedExField

NRG and Solar Man at FedEx Field (Photo: Clara Pak)

The Redskins partnered with NRG Energy, an American energy company based in New Jersey, to bring renewable energy to FedEx Field, and this partnership marked the first professional sports sponsorship to carry the NRG name. With 8,285 solar panels and two megawatts of capacity, FedEx Field is the largest solar power installation in the metropolitan DC area.

The fact that the stadium only operates 10 to 11 days a year for game days gave the Redskins a perfect opportunity to repurpose the otherwise idle stadium for environmental and business gains. The solar power system at FedEx Field boasts in being able to sufficiently meet all of the stadium’s power needs on non-game days and to meet 25% of the power needs on game days. Based on the estimate energy production of 2.5 million kwh/year, by using solar power, the Redskins and NRG are keeping 1,780 metric tons of carbon out of the atmosphere, the equivalent of replacing 349 vehicles with gasoline engines with zero emission electric vehicles (based on the greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator).

Inside the empty stadium. Even the seats bleed burgundy and gold! (Photo: Clara Pak)

Inside the empty stadium. Even the seats bleed burgundy and gold! (Photo: Clara Pak)

Needless to say, the Redskins have pioneered the way for other NFL teams to bring renewable energy to their stadiums. Since partnering with the Washington Redskins, NRG has teamed up with the New York Giants and New York Jets at MetLife stadium by installing the Solar Ring–solar panels in the shape of an oval lining the top of the stadium. The New England Patriots have also asked NRG to build its solar installation at Patriot Place that will provide up to 60% of the power at the stadium.

The solar panels at FedExField not only generate power for the stadium but also provide covered parking spaces for fans. According to our interview with the Redskins’ VP of Marketing, the organization takes pride in bringing awareness and information about the benefits of solar energy to fans via their efforts to make the stadium more green.

Want to know another fun fact about the new and improved FedEx Field? The electricity produced by FedExField’s solar power system each year is enough to meet the power needs of about 300 homes in the metro DC area (calculations based on annual estimated annual output compared to 712 kwh/month). The future indeed looks bright for the Redskins and the DC metro area.

We traveled to Redskins Park in Ashburn for an interview. Got to see some players : ) (Photo: Clara Pak)

We also traveled to Redskins Park in Ashburn for an interview. Got to see some players! (Photo: Clara Pak)

Check out this timelapse video of NRG’s solar panel installation at FedEx Field.

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Smells like…Sustainability!

For the sustainability lovers,  deciding whether something belongs in the trash or recycling bin is the last thought given to their garbage. But what happens after the trash collectors have picked up your scraps on the side walk?

Most of the time, the trash ends up here. A  landfill. Ever consider that maybe some of your energy is going here? That’s right, your house. Companies for the last several decades have been working toward perfecting waste to energy facilities around the globe.

In the Washington, DC area alone, Convanta Energy  owns three facilities that collectively power about 120,000 homes by incinerating trash.

trash to energy conversion

trash to energy conversion

So in brief, how in the world does this work?

  1. The trash is brought to the facility 
  2. The trash is burned
  3. The heat created boils water
  4. The water creates steam that turns a turbine
  5. Electricity is produced and put on the grid

(For those who might get a little confused about this long process, Convanta kindly created a step-by-step if you are looking for even more details).

More recently, gasification is becoming more popular in trash to energy facilities. This process doesn’t actually burn the trash down, but rather breaks the trash down with heat and oxygen to create syngas. This chemical combination has the ability to also create energy and does not release pollutants into the air like incineration does.

http://www.budgetgreenliving.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/LANDFILL.jpgCurrently, there are 89 waste to energy facilities in the country producing about 2,500 megawatt hours of electricity. According to Covanta, about 10 megawatt hours of electricity can fully power approximately 20,000 homes. For those of you who aren’t math geniuses and calculate that in your head, that means that the US is powering about 5,000,000 homes with trash right now.

How does this compare to other countries? Well currently, 54% of trash in the united states ends up in landfills. In Denmark, only 4% makes it to a landfill. So clearly we still have a long way to go.

But most importantly, what about that smell? Don’t worry, they have fans everywhere sucking it up so they don’t have unhappy neighbors. To the workers, after day 26  its starts smelling like roses.

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Hackerspaces: green in a way you never considered

Ok, so I’m not here to talk about the Noisebridge of the above video–not specifically anyway. You see, my partner, Mike Devito, and I have become fascinated by Hackerspaces. They’re springing up all over the country, and all over the world for that matter. We’ve been stopping by the one right in our capitol of a backyard, HacDC in Columbia Heights. When we first visited, I thought we had the wrong address because lo and behold we were standing in front of a church. It turns out there  are a bunch of community spaces in the attached partitioning behind the church–3 floors of various community organizations, the HacDC co-op being one of them.

HacDC takes up two rooms on the top floor, then has a space in the basement to store the rest of their old electronics and other ‘junk’. They have two single bathrooms labeled ‘Pirates’ and ‘Ninjas,’ the Pirate side with an emergency pirate costume, and the Ninja side with a legitimate Japanese sword. On room is dedicated for classes, books, and workspace, while the other serves as machine shop/parts storage. Useful and ancient junk overflows from the 100+ boxes lining the walls. And by ancient, I mean 20 years old. By our technology standards, that’s basically prehistoric.

What we discovered is that Hackerspaces’ Do-It-Yourself mindset can be surprisingly green. This is partially because Hackers just don’t like to throw anything out. They much prefer to tinker and repurpose materials, which sometimes involves quite a bit of dumpster diving for old electronics. Repurposing is better than recycling, states their Hacker’s Manifesto. The history of e-waste facilities tends to be a pretty hazardous one. A lot of hardware technology involves mercury or lead (especially circuit boards), and when these get to the dump they essentially turn into poison. By salvaging and repurposing our old electronics, Hackers prevent many hazardous materials from being dumped. That is, until they run out of space and need to dump the materials they’ve been tinkering with to make room for incoming stuff.

The Hacker’s Manifesto, courtesy of iFixit.com

And the space is open to anyone interested in hardware, software, design, and/or electronics. Seriously, anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had ZERO experience in ANY of those areas before. It’s a matter of interest and curiosity, and people will help you out (or have you help them out). The idea of these hackerspaces is that we shouldn’t feel entrapped by the technology we choose to use. By understanding how something works through taking it apart, a tinkerer becomes more conscious of what he or she owns and thus can make more informed consumer purchases (then maybe repurpose those for a new object).

Hacking isn’t for everyone. There IS a learning curve involved, and oftentimes is just easier to go buy something new. But the hackers would say to the modern technology consumer: (1) ‘careful with your wastefulness’ and (2) ‘where’s the fun in that?’

 

–Ellie McCutcheon (@emcc126)

Take Out Your Trash

When someone tells me something that sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Emails from Nigerian princes promising easy money, getting a letter that notifies me that I’ve won a free cruise to the Bahamas, or even a friend coming up and saying “Hey Michael- the Cubs are going to win the World Series this year” are all examples of this phenomenon. But what if I told you that that there was a type of energy production that seemed to good too be true- but actually was not?

Trash Incineration Plant in Sweden

There is a process, currently in existence, which will convert your garbage into energy to power your house. This is not a joke. Instead of throwing the over 165 million tons of trash into landfills every year, the United States could burn some of it and use it for energy production.

For some reason, this idea simply seems too good or too farfetched to actually be plausible. When Googled, one of the first results to show up is the Wikipedia page for the fictitious time-traveling DeLorean from Back to the Future. However, not only is this process possible, it is in fact already successful. Covanta Energy uses this process to provide power to over one million homes across North America, including over 100,000 in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Countries overseas have used this energy as well. Over nine percent of the power generated in The United Kingdom comes from this process.  Additionally, the UK is set to increase this number to 15% by 2020. Investments by Chinese investors in Western Europe alone have exceeded $790 million.

Trash in Naples

 

Sweden has also demonstrated just how successful this process can be. They are incredibly efficient with their trash, with only four percent of it ending up in landfills. Sweden is so advanced in their usage of this process that they actually import over 800,000 tons of trash from other countries and are looking for even more. Norway currently pays Sweden to take their trash, which amounts to them paying Sweden to create their own energy. Soon garbage from Italy, Bulgaria, and Romania could also be shipped to Sweden.

I’m not going to say that waste to fuel technology is going to save the world from Global Warming or provide enough energy for the US to be independent from our need of foreign oil. However, in order to solve all the energy and climate issues that we face, we need to be creative. The ingenuity of this process should not be overlooked simply because of the pre-conceived notion that trash is waste. Why not advance in this field, and provide more energy through our own trash?

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