Chicago Green Jobs

Robot Fish Is Disrespectful to Pollution
April 1, 2009, 8:04 pm
Filed under: Green Technology


Most of the time when people think about biomimicry, or “innovation inspired by nature,” they’re thinking about designs “inspired by” nature, like this building inspired by a termite mound and this car inspired by a blowfish. Think made for TV movies starring Sally Field that are “inspired by” a true story – there’s a connection, but you really have to look hard to see it.

Not so with the incredibly cool new biomimicry technology Robot Fish! Robot Fish is a wee chemical lab built like a carp that swims around in rivers and bays testing water for pollutants. This truly has to be seen to be believed – go watch this video explaining how it works. You will be glad you did.

So cool, right? My favorite Robot Fish feature is the little handle it has on top so scientists can carry it around like a giant, fish shaped briefcase.

When the Robot Fish are swimming instead of being toted around by scientists, they are able to convey real time information about pollution to people in a position to do something about it. That means leaks, spills, and dumps can be detected in enough time to actually do something about it, which is not possible today.

The first school of Robot Fish will be released into a port in Spain in 2011. You know what that means! By 2020 or so the Robot Fish will become self-aware, form committees and start building themselves thumbs. I’m predicting a damp version of SkyNet by 2030 at the latest.


Big Trouble in Solar China
February 23, 2009, 1:12 am
Filed under: Green Technology

Chicago isn’t the only place in the US pinning its hopes and funding on a green boom to pull out of this recession: the state of Oregon now leads the nation in solar production. Yes, Oregon. The grayest state in the union.

According to this excellent piece in the Oregonian, Solaicx, Sanyo, and SolarWorld are the three biggest solar companies to recently put down Oregon roots, and more than 50 other companies have followed suit.  The combination of an educated workforce, the proximity of California (the largest solar customer in the union), and the financial commitment of the state government have created a strong green collar job market in the state. So far, so good.

Alas, there’s trouble brewing on the other side of the Pacific. China has swiftly taken the lead in solar production: 6 of the top 15 solar manufacturers are Chinese.  In Jiangsu province alone, 500 solar companies are up and running. Many of them are factories converted just in the last year or so, and there are more on the way. What does that mean for Oregon? More after the jump.

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Forecast: Wind, Snow, and 37 Million Jobs
February 19, 2009, 4:41 am
Filed under: Green Technology

Here’s a treat for the empiricists out there: a new report analyzing economic trends in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries! “Green jobs” became a buzzword mighty quick, and there just hasn’t been much hard data to support the common wisdom. Fortunately, the American Solar Energy Society and Management Information Services, Inc have teamed up to put some statistics on the table with their new “Green Collar Jobs” report.

Let’s start off with some baseline numbers. According to the report, the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries represented more than 9 million jobs and $1,045 billion in revenue in 2007. I’d say that qualifies as table stakes – green collar jobs are real, not a political meme on the order of hockey moms and Nascar dads. And since the renewable energy industry grew three times as fast as the U.S. economy as a whole in 2007, we can expect to see those job and revenue numbers grow.

If government and private investment really pull out the stops for renewable energy and energy efficiency, the report predicts that we’ll see 37 billion jobs creating $4,294 billion in revenue by 2030. Just to put that number in perspective for you, 37 billion jobs would be about 17% of anticipated employment in 2030.

So what are the sectors that will fuel that green jobs boom?  Biomass power is the gorilla in the room, racking up a whopping 71% of green jobs in 2007. Biomass power is derived from plant and animal sources – so we’re talking ethanol, biodiesel, methane, and good old fashioned trash burning (you can see why it’s so popular). Wind energy runs a distant second at 8%, with solar power and geothermal power ringing in at 5% each.  The remaining 11% is spread around a few additional sectors.  Hannah Kokjohn of the Medill Report made a splendid little pie chart if you’re interested in the breakdown.

But what are the jobs themselves, I hear you cry! Well here’s the good news: the goal is to develop shiny new industries, not new specialized jobs. New industries still require plenty of traditional skills from both the white collar and blue collar ranks.  Familiar positions include accountants, analysts, IT specialists, and engineers on the one side and construction workers, electricians, service, and maintenance jobs on the other. Getting a Green MBA or your LEED certification definitely helps, but hands-on experience and just straight-up passion for making a difference goes a surprisingly long way when it comes to snagging a green job.