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You can hardly open a newspaper these days without seeing something about globalization, outsourcing, free trade, and economic competitiveness. Although the articles usually focus on policies and politics, many of the causes and consequences of globalization depend on technology and, hence, on engineers.

In 2005, a committee of the U.S. National Academies addressed this issue in a widely disseminated report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future , which argued that trends in high-tech manpower threatened the United States’ ability to compete in the global market­place. While the report itself is quite voluminous, the chairman of the ­committee, Norman Augustine, has ­written a shorter version, entitled Is America Falling off the Flat Earth? [available as a free download at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/12021.html].

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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