Economic Recovery and the Clean Energy Revolution

Companies, non-profits, government organizations, healthcare facilities, and institutions of higher learning will soon look beyond survival to recovery, and eventually growth. It may be difficult to visualize this given our current state of affairs, but this too shall pass and better times will come. Our culture has seemingly lost its ability to think and plan for the long-term; priorities, politics, and results are driven by short-term metrics. As such, I believe that we should use this opportunity to reinvent, rethink, and rebuild with the following attributes in mind: organizational resiliency, serving the common good, equability, and sustainability.

Sure, this all sounds great. But what do you mean?

I tend to think of nearly every problem (opportunity) in terms of the Pareto Principle, better known as The 80/20 Rule. It asserts that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of all causes for any given event. In business, for example, the goal is to identify what actions or inputs are most productive and prioritize them accordingly.

The Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule

So, as it pertains to this concept, I believe there are two inputs we should focus on with respect to economic recovery, arguably the biggest global challenges of our time (COVID-19 + climate change), and the attributes I mentioned earlier (Resiliency, serving the common good, equability, and sustainability). Speaking broadly, they are 1.) Energy and 2.) Health.

No, seriously. I get it. Give me specifics.

OK, first we need to deal with the public health crisis at hand. Social distancing, wearing masks, and limiting travel — these practices are already in play and are driven by behavior. But the one thing we can do to make people feel more comfortable returning to our prior norms, such as returning to work, shopping, eating at restaurants, etc. is to invest in the health of our buildings. By focusing on healthy buildings (HBs), we will not only make people feel comfortable, we can actually help reduce the spread of the virus, let alone make ourselves more productive. This leaves our employees, customers, and any other stakeholders feeling better and more productive.

So, what constitutes a healthy building?

Sick building showing indoor air quality

First, seek to understand both sick building syndrome (SBS) and building related illnesses (BRI). As defined by the EPA, SBS is a situation in which occupants experience acute health and comfort effects linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. Indicators are discomfort such as headaches; irritated eye, nose, or throat; coughing; dry or itchy skin; nausea; difficulty concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors. Complainants report relief soon after leaving the building. Physical evidence within the building itself includes an incoming draft at the front door; hot or cold spots throughout the facility; condensation on ceiling diffusers; slippery floors; mold; hard to open doors; stuffy or stale air; unpleasant odors; the presence of insects and/or dirt; and high energy expenses. BRI is indicated by occupants complaining of symptoms such as cough; chest tightness; fever, chills; and muscle aches. These can be clinically defined and require prolonged recovery, long after leaving the building.

Holy cow. I hadn’t thought of all this being related to buildings. What are the primary causes of SBS and BRI?

Poor HVAC performance such as inadequate ventilation and negative building pressure.

OK so, how can I invest to make my building healthy as you suggest?

This is a loaded question. There are A LOT of things you can do. I’ll try to keep this brief.

First and foremost, make sure the HVAC system has been well maintained. And think about the health issues described above. Are these currently problems? If not, you may not need to do much, though there’s certainly always room for improvement. If these are problems, consider consulting with an expert on HVAC and healthy buildings. Make sure they’re independent of whomever is responsible for your maintenance and certified to do so. They’ll likely perform an investigation and assessment on the HVAC system, as well as indoor air quality. The factors to be evaluated (and adjusted) on the HVAC system include but aren’t limited to verifying equipment operation; checking building pressure; inspecting filters, belts, and fans; and finally asking questions about comfort. The primary factors that influence indoor air quality are the occupants; the HVAC system; pollutants and their pathways; and internal and external contaminants such as chemicals, smoke, grease, molds, and pollen.

After these initial assessments are complete and adjustments made, get some form of system to monitor building health. Think of these monitors like having a FitBit for your building; empower yourself with data to maintain proper health. There are plenty of options out there and what you install should monitor some of the following attributes: differential building pressure (the #1 indicator of overall building health); C02; relative humidity; and temperature. Monitoring these core attributes will cover the 80/20. Other important, albeit less impactful, attributes to monitor may include volatile organic compounds, water quality, noise pollution, occupancy, lighting quality, and energy usage.

Building health alone covers more ground than I imagined. But you also mentioned energy. What can I do there?

Invest in Energy Efficiency (EE), Renewable Energy (RE), and Clean Energy Transportation (electric vehicles or EVs).

Why? And, how does this relate to helping with economic recovery?

There are a number of reasons. Quite honestly, too many to cover without writing a book. So, again, I’ll focus on the 80/20.

The first, and most pressing is economic opportunity. Energy, and the cost of it, flows through everything. Think about that. The cost. of. energy. flows. through. everything. As far as EE goes, the cost of energy saved is the lowest cost of energy. This is a no-brainer with a guaranteed ROI. Further, the cost of RE is at or below the cost of traditional fossil-fuel based sources, depending on the state, scale, and application. And EE, RE, and EVs are driven by technology — not sources of fuel. In terms of economic growth, every measure of kWh or BTU saved by EE or generated domestically by RE translates into wealth we are not exporting to foreign nations. In other words, we keep more of our own money, thus further strengthening our own economy. Put that into perspective, relative to the cost of energy, which is buried in the cost of… oh yeah, EVERYTHING!

Making the transition is a moral imperative. The science is clear and indisputable. We are harming our earth. If we do not reverse course, soon, the damage will be irrecoverable. Remember how quickly COVID-19 swept the globe and how we’re still reeling from its devastating impacts. Climate change is a crisis in slow motion. Yet, unlike this virus and the subsequent public health crisis, the impact will change the face of the earth — and humanity —forever. I cannot, in good conscience, put that burden on my children and grandchildren. We have borrowed at their expense for far too long.

Making the transition is a matter of national security. How many global conflicts have been fought over the allocation of natural resources? This strategy not only protects the lives of future generations through preserving the earth but, quite literally, may prevent them from fighting avoidable wars. When we leverage technology for our energy, we are not subject to the whims of foreign nations and their strategic interests. As the world seems increasingly less stable, this also seems like a no-brainer, let alone the cost savings relative to current military spending. Simply put, an investment in clean energy is an investment in our own national security.

Finally, consider how the industrial revolutions of the past have shaped our great nation: the emergence of water, steam, and coal as sources of power and how they expanded existing or developed new industries such as railroads, steel manufacturing, electric lighting, the automotive industry, transportation, and the digital revolution — which brought forth widespread globalization, low-cost economies, and new business models. What is next? I contend we are in the beginning of the Clean Energy Revolution. And when we have the benefit of hindsight, I truly believe it will dwarf those prior examples in terms of how it changes the world. Do we want to be the leaders of this revolution? Or will we continue to cede this opportunity to other nations to embrace? And, if we do not lead this New Age, what’s next for America? I can’t think of anything that compares. Let’s dismiss coal and oil to embrace the future. The potential for job growth and opportunities for continued innovation are beyond comprehension.

It is abundantly clear that investing in Clean Energy will make our great nation more resilient, equitable, sustainable, and resilient. Much like Google didn’t build its empire with fax machines, we won’t rebuild our economy by relying on fossil fuels. We cannot subsidize our way out of this. So, let us learn from our current crisis as we begin planning for a better future. None of us can carry the world on our shoulders. But we can carry our world on our shoulders. If we can do our part individually, collectively we can make America — let alone the world — a better place if not for ourselves, then for future generations.

The Electric Revolution

Are electric vehicles (and electric options of all kinds) the future?

The year is 2008. The best-selling vehicle in the United States for the 27th year in a row is the Ford F-Series truck with more than 500,000 sold.

Fast forward to 2020. We are entering a new phase in the automotive industry. As of February, Tesla passed a significant milestone, selling 1 million electric vehicles (EV). Plus, the Tesla Model 3 became the all-time best selling EV globally. This happened in just 2.5 years of production, which had taken the previous leader almost 10 years to accomplish.

Clearly, this is a very exciting time for EV enthusiasts as options become more stylish, have longer ranges, and achieve faster 0-60 MPH times, all while becoming more affordable for the average American. In fact, this is an exciting time for electric options of all kinds…

Is Everything Going Electric?

You may not realize it, but electric operation has been utilized for many years. No matter what your indoor or outdoor “go-to” is for fun or home improvement, chances are that an electric powered vehicle or tool has helped you get the job done.  

Have you ever been golfing and paid for “18 and a cart”?  If it has been in the last 15 years, it was probably an electric golf cart. More into walking the golf course? They make “smart cart” bag carriers that can now follow you based off of remote control or a “follow me” clip attached to your belt.

If golf is not your sport, how about skateboarding? Hop on one of a myriad of manufacturers’ longboard, traditional, or one-wheel style boards to rip the streets or trails with speeds of 60+ MPH, or a range of almost 60 miles.

Maybe being outdoors isn’t your thing, but you like having a tidy, well-groomed yard… Look no further than Husqvarna or Worx for their cordless, robotic lawn mowers, controlled by an app and GPS.

Worx Electric Lawnmower


Electric History
All these EVs, toys and tools sound great, but what happens when they run out of charge?  Well, the history of the battery — the backbone of electric powered tools and toys — is longer than you may think. The first recorded battery to provide continuous electrical current to a circuit was created by an Italian physicist, Alessandro Volta, in 1799. This was very crude, using zinc and copper for the electrodes and a piece of brine-soaked paper for the electrolyte. We have since gone through Daniell Cell (1836), Lead-Acid (1859), Nickel Cadmium (1899), Alkaline (1950s), Nickel-Metal Hydride (1989), and finally Lithium-Ion (1991) batteries. (Read more about “The Evolution of Battery Technology.”)  

Or maybe you work in a warehouse and are sick of the noise and smell of gas-powered fork trucks. Well, you guessed it — there is an electric battery powered alternative. 

And kids from 5 to 15 years are getting more and more into hoverboards; electric scooters; electric RC cars, planes and boats; Power Wheels, and even dirt bikes. In fact, I see this trend in my own home. My kids have hoverboards and love them, but they are already looking to the next electric transportation method of their dreams: the one-wheel, a scooter, a dirt bike, etc.  I can no longer tell them that such “toys” will disturb the neighbors because the days of the iconic sound of a two-stroke or four-stroke dirt bike may soon be over with how quiet electric motors have become.

Benefits of Electric Vehicles

Now, this movement toward electric transportation (and more!) does not have to be all about fun.  Some people choose electric it for the savings or the impact on climate change.

Let’s just focus strictly on EVs… Most consumers can expect to save $600-1,300 a year in fuel costs alone when switching from a conventional vehicle. Now, factor in less required maintenance like oil changes and brake service, and the savings just keep stacking up. It can take as little as $0.12/kWh to charge your car, meaning a full “tank” can cost as little as $5 or $6. How does that compare to your last fill up?

Other consumers may switch for the wellbeing of our environment and our children by aiding in the removal of toxic emissions. In 2008, the U.S. averaged 55,108,100 gallons of gasoline sold per day. That is an annual total sale of 20,114,456,500 gallons. This led the U.S. to 5,817 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.

However, since the introduction of EVs, this consumption trend has declined. In 2019, the U.S. averaged just 24,239,300 gallons of gasoline sold per day. This makes for a 30,868,800 gallon per day difference, for an annual consumption difference of 11,267,112,000 gallons! That is an average reduction of 1,024,282,909 gallons per year.

If the EV trend sticks and its popularity continues to rise, the U.S. will consume 12,291,394,909 fewer gallons of gasoline in 2020 than just 12 years prior.  At a current national average of $2.186, that means that as a nation, we will save an estimated $26,868,989,271.07 on gasoline purchases this year. That is enough money to purchase any of the following:

  • 2 U.S. Navy Nimitz Class Aircraft Carriers
  • 15 Buckingham Palaces
  • 16 Burj Khalifa towers
  • 50,000 Teachers hired for 10 years
  • 597,088 Tesla Model 3 cars
  • 700,000 Homes powered with solar energy
  • 3,400,000 People fed three meals a day for a year

Our Electric Future

So, whether you are into electric power vehicles and tools for personal enjoyment or trying to do your part for a cleaner Earth, there is an electric, battery powered solution out there for you.  So, get out there and form your own opinions on all things electric.

I challenge you to go electric and just see how you like it! Get behind the wheel of an EV, or climb onto an electric dirt bike and try not to have fun! The torque, the acceleration, and the handling — all of it is intoxicating. It pulls you in and makes you want to find reasons to drive the car or ride the dirt bike at every opportunity.

So drive a Tesla, do a handyman job using a 20v Li-Ion powered tool, rip the local trails on a Onewheel, film a YouTube video using a drone, go golfing and ride along in an electric cart, or start a new hobby with your kids with brushless electric motor RC vehicles. There are so many emerging trends within the battery powered world, and electric vehicles are just one of them.

Will the world ever regress, ever think about going back to its fossil fuel roots? Perhaps so, perhaps not.  As for this new EV owner, I’m never looking back.


Gasoline Consumption Resources:

U.S. Energy Information Administration
EIA: Total Gasoline Retail Sales
EIA: Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update

Home Sustainability Projects

Melink Employee-Owner Natalie Heltman offers tips for home sustainability projects.


At work, I’m a member of Melink’s Sustainability Committee. We are a group of approximately 10 employee-owners working toward community involvement and education related to sustainability. Our team focuses on initiatives like ensuring our fellow Melinkers are educated on recycling and composting best practices. We conduct a monthly waste audit at our facility. We’ve set up initiatives to recycle items that typically aren’t recyclable, like toothpaste tubes and Plastic #5 items. Being part of the committee made me wonder how I could incorporate sustainability into my home life, too.

I began thinking of ways to add green infrastructure to my house. Based off electricity stats sent by my utility company, my house is ranked among the most energy efficient in the area. So instead of thinking inside my house, I wanted to “green” aspects on my home’s outside.

DIY homemade sustainability project rain barrels at gutter downspouts

DIY Rain Barrel

So, I decided my first project (thanks to YouTube university) would be a set of three 55-gallon rain barrels to use in the summer when Cincinnati goes through its driest months. Full disclosure: Making a rain barrel is noted on most DIY sites as an easy project. I am not a handy person; I had never picked up a drill before this, and I was able to complete the project in about a day.

Rain barrels are an interesting project because there are many options. There are kits sold at home improvement stores, or you can reuse food-grade 55-gallon drums as an inexpensive alternative. With sustainability in mind, I went for the reusable option and was able to buy my drums online from a soy sauce wholesaler for around $10. Also, I purchased spigots to install on the barrel to give us the option to use a drip hose on especially dry days.

I use the collected water for watering my lawn, vegetable garden, and hanging flower baskets. I haven’t noticed a return on our water bill, but I do feel less guilty watering my lawn and garden when I’m using water from the barrels.  

However, having large, blue barrels near our downspouts is not the most aesthetically pleasing look for our backyard. Before starting this project, especially if you live in a neighborhood, check to see if there are any restrictions. I followed our subdivision’s guidelines by installing the barrels on the back side of the house behind a fence. Make sure to reach out to your local officials to confirm any guidelines on water capture.

If you’re ready to get started, I recommend this video.

DIY homemade compost bins

DIY Compost Bin

Since the rain barrels were so easy to make, I decided to step up my green infrastructure game with a second project. We already had a couple of compost boxes, but I wanted to try building rolling compost containers. This project required a few more tools but was also very simple. 

If you’re a gardener, composting is a great way to boost your soil and, ultimately, your harvest. Composting enriches the soil by helping to retain moisture and suppressing plant diseases and pests. It reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.

I made two rolling compost bins, using two additional barrels I purchased online. I am able to move them around the yard to add compost to our vegetable garden and potted plants. Compost is the “black gold” of soil. My vegetables grow really well with the compost, and there is almost no need to use any fertilizer.

This video gives a nice overview on how to build your own compost bin.

My Future Home Sustainability Projects

The great part about both of these home sustainability projects was how I was able to reuse items. Materials that might be deemed “trash” or unwanted were saved from going to the landfill. I was able to build both projects with materials I had around the house or from the barrels that had already served their purpose.

What’s next? During my time in the Peace Corps, I focused on community gardening and that is something I would like to revisit now. I think my next project will be a raised vegetable garden — maybe a keyhole garden with compost in the middle.

Melink envisions clean energy transforming the world by improving our global economy, security and environment — for ourselves, our children and future generations. “Walking the Talk” stories showcase Melink employee-owners that are making sustainable choices in their personal lives.

Tips for Purchasing an Electric Vehicle (EV)

Buying an electric vehicle (EV) can be challenging, especially if you haven’t done so before. Here are four tips to help you get the most bang for your buck.

EV Purchasing Tip #1

Double Check Your Incentives

EV incentives are always subject to change at the federal and state level. As of December 2019, the reduced federal tax credit of $7,000 is no longer available to automakers that have reached cumulative sales of 200,000 vehicles. This places Tesla and GM vehicles at a higher price point, as the federal tax credit no longer applies to these automakers. All other automakers have available tax credits in the United States, with Nissan seemingly next in line to hit the 200,000-vehicle mark. Plus, certain states (such as California and Colorado) offer EV incentives. Check energy.gov for current credits.

EV Purchasing Tip #2

Define Your EV’s Intended Use

Vehicles can serve many purposes such as daily drivers, road tripping, and towing/hauling. It’s best to define early on what the use of your EV will be. Are you taking road trips in this vehicle? How long is your daily commute? How many miles do you typically drive in a day, a week, a month? This will help you to narrow down vehicles that are best suited for you, as EVs come in various projected ranges.

Typically, older, used EVs have lesser ranges per charge. A few examples:

  • 2015 Nissan Leaf with 84 miles of range
  • 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf with 83 miles of range
  • 2015 BMW i3 with 81 miles of range

Newer EVs tend to have longer ranges:

  • 2020 Tesla Model 3 with a minimum of 240 miles
  • 2020 Nissan Leaf with a minimum of 150 miles
  • 2020 Chevrolet Bolt with a minimum of 240 miles

With the capacity of a longer range, there of course comes a higher cost. That said, used EVs tend to be much less expensive than new ones, when compared to their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts. EVs not only depreciate as they go from “new” to “used” vehicle, but they depreciate even further as the federal tax credit is not available to used vehicles.

For example, if a new EV sells for $30,000 in 2020, why would a prospective buyer purchase the same vehicle a year later for $26,000 when he/she can buy the same new vehicle for $31,000 (anticipating a price increase) and potentially apply a tax credit? Therefore, new EVs tend to depreciate more quickly than ICE vehicles, so take this into your equation.

Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle (EV)
Source: Colton Sturgeon, Unsplash

EV Purchasing Tip #3

Consider Your Climate

An EV’s expected mileage range is greatly affected by the temperature. When an EV is parked where temperatures are at or below freezing, the projected mileage range can be decreased by 30% or more. This is due to both the efficiency of the batteries decreasing in cold temperatures, as well as the additional electric load to heat the car, seats, steering wheel, etc.

For those who park indoors, this may not be as much of a factor because your car is kept at a higher ambient temperature (60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher) when not in use, so your battery efficiency won’t decrease nearly as much.

EV Purchasing Tip #4

Check the Battery Life

When purchasing a used EV, one of the deciding factors should be the condition of the battery. An EV’s range decreases over time due to the degradation of its batteries. How much a vehicle’s batteries degrade over time depends upon the specific vehicle/battery, as well as the utilization of the vehicle by the previous owner(s). Some vehicles may decrease in range by 1% each year, whereas others may decrease by 3% or more each year. Thus, this battery degradation directly decreases a vehicle’s range.

So, if you’re considering purchasing a used EV, what can you do? Do your research; check the online forums of the specific make/model to read about other owners’ experiences with battery life. If you’re purchasing from a dealership, ask them to run diagnostics to check the health of the battery. If purchasing from a private party, take the vehicle to an independent shop or a dealership to have the battery evaluated.


If you’re purchasing your first EV or just considering what EV options are on the market, I hope these tips help. Good luck!