UI researchers try to expand wind-energy options

March 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

UI researchers try to expand wind-energy options

BY MICHELLE NGO | MARCH 25, 2014 5:00 AM

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Members of the community and University of Iowa faculty learned the history of wind energy innovation and the future of the renewable resource during a one-hour lunch break.

The UI Office of the Provost presented its first Lunch and Learn event in Iowa City on Monday. UI Executive Vice President and Provost P. Barry Butler spoke on the expansion and significance of wind energy in his presentation “Wind Energy: Past, Present, and Future.”

States located in the middle of the United States have some of the highest wind-energy capacity, which is why Iowans have an increased interest in the renewable energy source.

As of 2012, 24.5 percent of Iowa’s energy came from wind, much higher than the national average of 2.9 percent, Butler said.

“That’s why you’ll see a lot in western Iowa,” Butler said. “We’re sort of on the edge of that wind band where the average winds are much higher.”

Fred Streicher, the director of marketing and communications for UI College of Engineering, said the university teams up with wind-power industries around the state to research new technology and software to make systems more affordable and available.

A big area of research is creating a smart grid, a digital information program to improve the reliability, efficiency, and economics of the production and distribution of electricity.

As of now, the majority of wind turbines are in rural areas, and people in urban areas are hesitant to see the technology established in their area.

Unlike power-generating systems that use such sources as coal or natural gas, wind cannot be controlled or manipulated.

“The more reliable it is, the cheaper the wind energy will become,” said Kyung K. Choi, a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering. “The wind energy can be produced in one location but may not have enough population, so then you have to send the electricity to a more populated area. The smart grid will help solve this problem.”

Choi, in partnership with Clipper Windpower Inc. of Cedar Rapids, received a $300,000 grant through the Iowa Alliance for Wind Innovation and Novel Development for his research in reliability-based design optimization of wind-power structural systems with target confidence level.

“It’s a shared partnership and doesn’t cost either of us a lot of money,” said Robert Loyd, the president of the Cedar Rapids company. “We provide the school with our real-life data, equipment, and monitoring center for their research. It then helps us learn about innovations other industries are using and ways to operate better.”

Butler, who is involved with the research committee of American Wind Energy Association, said the group is expanding on a report that provides a projected timeline of where the nation should be in order to have 20 percent wind energy by 2030.

“From 2005 up until last year, we actually exceeded the initial growth curve, but that was still in the lower part of growing the curve,” Butler said. “It’s in the next 10 years when it really takes off. We’re ahead of the growth curve, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stay there, and that’s the challenge.”

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