Report shows bright potential for solar energy by mid-century


Nick Fetty | September 30, 2014

 

The Nellis Solar Power Plant covers 140 acres in southern Nevada. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nadine Y. Barclay)
The Nellis Solar Power Plant covers 140 acres in southern Nevada and ranks as the 2nd largest in North America. (Nadine Y. Barclay/Wikimedia)

Solar energy could become the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050 according to research by the International Energy Agency.

The IEA produced two reports (one for photovoltaic energy and one for thermal electricity) which lay out ways for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to provide 16 percent of the world’s electricity consumption by 2050, while solar thermal electricity (STE) from concentrating solar power (CSP) plants would provide an additional 11 percent. Solar would replace fossil fuels are the largest supplier of electricity and could save an estimated 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2050.

Solar technology has decreased in price in recent years and this trend must continue for the IEA to reach its goals. The potential of electricity production through PV systems has increased significantly since the 2010 report which predicted it would produce 11 percent of the world’s electricity consumption. The new report anticipates that solar will overtake fossil fuels as the top electricity supplier between 2025 and 2030.

It should be noted that these reports offer suggestions for improving solar energy usage based on current and projected trends and therefore are not meant to be forecasts.

In 2012, Iowa’s solar energy capacity was 1.2 MW compared to 5,133 MW from wind power. A report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance projected that Iowa could produce 20 percent of its electricity consumption through solar panel use on rooftops and earlier this year the state’s largest solar array opened in Kalona.

 

Playful “professor” has the answers to UI energy questions


A footbridge across the Iowa River in Iowa City. (Adrianne Behning/Flickr)
A footbridge across the Iowa River in Iowa City. (Adrianne Behning/Flickr)

University of Iowa students, faculty and alumni have many questions about energy use at the UI and across the state, and a fictional professor may have the answers.

“Professor KW Therm,” an entertaining informational character played by faculty member Doug Litwiller, will give a presentation on “all things energy” Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the UI Museum on Natural History. Litwiller, associate director of energy conservation for UI Facilities Management, will talk in layman’s terms about the UI’s energy use, and how to reduce household carbon footprints. He will answer questions specific to the University, like how much energy it uses and how much it costs, and basic questions about energy terminology.

Litwiller’s presentation reflects efforts by the University of Iowa to reach net-negative energy growth by 2020. The plan, announced by UI President Sally Mason in 2010, aims to reach this goal in part by increasing “student opportunities to learn and practice principles of sustainability.”

The presentation by “Professor Therm” is open to anyone in the community. Attendees are encouraged to bring their utility bills so Litwiller can explain what their energy costs mean.

USDA awards nearly $70M to farmers for alternative energy and energy efficiency upgrades


Nick Fetty | September 23, 2014
Wind and solar energy work side-by-side in Germany. (Wikimedia)
Wind and solar energy work side-by-side in Germany. (Wikimedia)

Farmers in Iowa will be able to take advantage of recently announced U.S. Department of Agriculture grants and loans aimed at promoting renewable energy and other energy efficiency measures.

The USDA has awarded $68 million for 540 different projects across the country, 50 of which are in Iowa. The funding was made available through the USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Eligible projects include energy improvement projects as well as renewable energy systems such as solar, wind, renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters), small hydroelectric, ocean energy, hydrogen, and geothermal.

“These loan guarantees and grants will have far-reaching impacts nationwide, particularly in the rural communities where these projects are located,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a press release. “Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency will continue the unprecedented increase in home-grown energy sources and American energy independence we’ve seen in recent years. This is creating jobs, providing new economic opportunities and leading the way to a more secure energy future.”

The project also aims to create jobs, particularly for installation of solar panels and many of these positions are expected to be filled by military veterans. The job training program will begin at three military bases this fall and hopes to train approximately 50,000 by 2020.

An 18-page document identifies all of the individuals and businesses applying for funding through REAP.

Earlier this month, the USDA awarded $105 million to a California-based company that will study a way to “convert municipal solid waste into bio jet fuel.”

 

On the Radio: Miscanthus shows promise as an Iowa biomass crop


Miscanthus shows increasing promise as a viable biomass crop in Iowa.  (Aikawa Ke/Flickr)
Miscanthus shows increasing promise as a viable biomass crop in Iowa. (Aikawa Ke/Flickr)

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at miscanthus, an Asian biomass crop with multiple environmental benefits which may produce high yields in Iowa, according to a recent report. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

 

Transcript: Miscanthus

An Asian biomass crop with multiple environmental benefits may produce high yields in Iowa, according to a recent report.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Iowa State University researchers recently found that a non-invasive hybrid of miscanthus, a tall perennial grass related to sugarcane, may have higher yield potential in Iowa than once thought. While the plants showed difficulty getting established in experimental fields, once planted most were able to withstand two Iowa winters. Miscanthus usually hits peak production in its third year.

The plant could play a major role in Iowa agriculture as a source of biomass that can be converted into energy. It can grow alongside existing crops and in sections of fields which usually produce lower yields for corn. This would not only increase field productivity but could also help reduce runoff and improve water quality.

For more information about miscanthus, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0926669014001411

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092666901400140X

http://dailyfusion.net/2014/07/miscanthus-iowa-agriculture-30804/

Iowa State University researchers recieve grant to study taller wind turbines


Nick Fetty | September 19, 2014
Iowa leads the country in in percentage of electricity generated by wind energy (Samir Luther/Flickr)
Iowa leads the country in in percentage of electricity generated by wind energy (Samir Luther/Flickr)

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded researchers at Iowa State University $1 million to study how high-strength concrete can be used to build taller wind turbines.

Sri Sritharan, the Wilson Engineering Professor in Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at Iowa State University, is the leader of the College of Engineering’s Wind Energy Initiative and expects this research to “revolutionize wind energy.” These taller towers will allow the turbines blades to reach heights of over 100 meters, where winds are faster and more consistent. This will be particularly beneficial in areas where higher winds are necessary to effectively harvest the energy.

This project will build upon earlier work by Sritharan and fellow researches. The team developed a strongly-reinforced base they called Hexcrete and found that it was able to handle the heavy loads and extreme conditions. The project is also supported by a $83,500 grant from the Iowa Energy Center and $22,500 from Lafarge North America Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

The Wind Energy Initiative at Iowa State has eight projects that are being researched or have recently been completed including a project with the University of Colorado examining turbine-crop and turbine-turbine interactions.

The Department of Energy has also awarded another $1 million grant to Boston-based Keystone Towers which which hopes to develop an on-site “spiral welding system” to develop wind turbine towers that are expected to be 40% lighter.

Poll finds widespread support for alternative energy among Midwest voters


A solar panel array (Maryland GovPics/Flickr)
A solar panel array (Maryland GovPics/Flickr)

Voters spoke out in broad support of energy efficiency and alternative energy sources during a recent round of polls across the Midwest.

The bipartisan poll was conducted earlier this summer to gauge attitudes toward various energy issues, and included interviews with around 2,500 voters from Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. Among them, 95% supported increasing energy efficiency, while strong majorities supported increasing the uses of solar (91%) and wind energy (87%) in their states. Only 55% supported increasing coal use, while biomass had the lowest support (50%). Biomass also had the highest number of “Don’t Know/Not Applicable” answers, at 37%, implying some confusion around the energy source.

Attitudes toward solar, wind and natural gas remained about the same from 2010 to 2014, while support for nuclear energy dropped. Support for coal held at 55% over the last four years. However, over 80% of voters wanted to move toward cleaner sources of energy rather than increase coal use. They also viewed renewable energy production as a bigger contributor to their economy than coal mining.

Voters also voiced their opinion on potential policy issues. With the understanding that switching to alternative energy sources may cost more in the short term, 81% were willing to pay an additional $1 per month for energy, and 69% were willing to pay $4 more. They also supported energy measures like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, announced earlier this year.

For the complete report, click here.

 

Iowa farm hosting Bio-Renewables Field Day


Iowa State agronomy researcher Emily Heaton (left, red shirt) introduces congressional staffers to biomass crop miscanthus. (CenUSA Bioenergy/Flickr)
Iowa State agronomy researcher Emily Heaton (left, red shirt) introduces congressional staffers to biomass crop miscanthus. (CenUSA Bioenergy/Flickr)

A tall perennial grass called miscanthus may be the future of bioenergy in Iowa, and an upcoming event is highlighting its unique potential.

Iowa State University assistant professor of agronmy Emily Heaton and Iowa City landowner Dan Black will speak at a field day and seminar on Wednesday, September 10, to discuss their findings regarding miscanthus, which is currently being explored as a potential biomass crop in experimental fields.

The event will take place at the University of Iowa miscanthus test plot and is hosted by Iowa Learning Farms, the second in a series of four field days that will cover innovations in Iowa agriculture. The event includes a meal prepared by Johnson County Cattlemen and features Ben Anderson, power plant manager at the University of Iowa, who will talk about how miscanthus could be used in the UI power plant’s solid fuel boilers.

Researchers working with a non-invasive hybrid of miscanthus have so far observed a high success rate in surviving Iowa winters, which is necessary for it to reach peak production in its third year. This means the plant could play a major role in Iowa agriculture as a source of biomass that can be converted into energy. It can grow alongside existing crops and in sections of fields that usually produce lower yields for corn, meaning it could also help reduce runoff and preserve water quality.

RSVPs are being accepted until September 5 by calling (515) 294-8912 or by emailing ilf@iastate.edu. For more information, visit extension.iastate.edu/ilf.