The new year will be a big one for solar power in Iowa. The Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) recently announced plans to start construction on a 100-megawatt solar farm on 800 acres in Louisa County at the end of 2019. This would be Iowa’s largest solar project to date, and will likely be completed at the end of 2020.
An Idaho company called Clēnera (pronounced clean-era) will develop and operate the farm, to be named Wapello Solar. According to conversions from Clēnera’s website, clean energy generated by Wapello Solar could offset carbon emissions equivalent to driving 8.8 billion miles or 8.5 million barrels of oil over 20 years.
CIPCO will purchase 100 percent of energy produced and share it among cooperative members, including the Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative, which serves the construction area. Some of this energy will offset the loss of the the Duane Arnold Energy Center nuclear plant in Palo, Iowa, of which CIPCO owned a 20 percent share and derived 20 percent of its generating capacity.
According to the annual U.S. Department of Energy report, wind energy is expected to continue being a cheaper option for consumers than other energy sources. Without figuring in federal tax credits and state-run programs, wind energy costs an average of 5 cents per kilowatt hour whereas a highly efficient natural gas power plant charges consumers an average of 5.4 cents per kilowatt hour.
The authors also found that wind turbines erected in 2016 are taller and more powerful than in years past, allowing them to generate more energy. In the last five years alone, the generating capacity of individual wind turbines has increased by 11 percent.
About 8,203 megawatts of new wind energy was added to the U.S. energy portfolio in 2016, which made up 27 percent of energy infrastructure additions last year. Twelve states now produce more than 10 percent of their energy with wind while Iowa and South Dakota remain the only states that generate upwards of 30 percent of their energy with turbines. Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa have the highest wind-capacity nationwide.
States were ranked using twelve metrics that fit into three general categories: technical progress; direct, visible effects on our daily lives; and policies to build momentum for the future. Their publication pointed out that despite recent federal rollbacks of Obama-era climate policy, great strides have been made in renewable energy development. They note that wind farms nationwide produce enough electricity to power 20 million U.S. households. Additionally, they write, enough solar electric panels were added in 2016 to power another two million houses.
The usual suspects led the pack with California at the top of the list. The Golden State is among the top performing states in eight of the metrics and is in the number one position for electric vehicle adoption. Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Washington, New York and Iowa complete the top ten list. Iowa is the first midwestern state to appear on the list, followed by Minnesota.
Wind energy has played a fundamental role in Iowa’ development as a clean energy leader. The Hawkeye state was the first to generate more than 30 percent of its energy from wind. Iowa has already seen $11.8 billion in wind project investment alongside the creation of 8,000 new jobs. Moving forward, Iowa is expected to generate 40 percent of its energy from wind by 2020.
“While the federal government can play important roles in making efficiency, renewable energy, and vehicle electrification a national priority, states can be a consistent, powerful, positive force as well,” the report read.
The first is the world’s largest solar power plant, which was completed in early December. Built in just eight months, the solar plant is expected to power up to 150,000 homes and is comprised of 2.5 million individual solar modules. Located at Kamuthi in Tamil Nadu, the solar plant’s area tops the previous world leader, Topaz Solar Farm in California. The operation has the capacity to generate up to 648 Megawatts of energy.
As a whole, India generates more than 10 Gigawatts of its energy from solar power and is expected to become the world’s third leader in solar power generation, behind only the United States and China.
Just 60 miles away from the solar farm is the world’s first large-scale industrial plant to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and utilize them to make a profit.
The factory, funded by London-based investors, Carbonclean, captures carbon dioxide emissions from its own coal-powered boiler which are then used to make baking soda, and other chemical compounds found in detergents, sweeteners and glass. Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) at the 3.1 million dollar plant is expected to keep 60,000 tons out of the atmosphere each year. Previously, CCU was too costly for many business owners.
In an interview with BBC news, Ramachadran Gopalan, owner of the chemical plant, said, “I am a businessman. I never thought about saving the planet. I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it.”
Two young Indian chemists developed the new way to strip carbon dioxide from emissions using a form of salt that binds with carbon dioxide molecules in the boiler’s chimney. According to the inventors, the new approach is less corrosive and much cheaper than conventional carbon capturing methods. Carbonclean expects that systems like these have the potential to offset five to ten percent of the world’s total emissions from burning coal.
This week students, researchers, and others on Iowa State University’s “Team PrISUm” solar car are participating in a five-day tour across the state.
Team PrISUm’s SunRun began Monday with a stop in Denison, the hometown of former Iowa Hawkeye lineman Brandon Scherff who was the fifth overall selection in last month’s NFL Draft. On Tuesday the car visited Des Moines, Indianola, and Cedar Rapids before traveling to Monticello, Independence, and Cedar Falls on Wednesday. Today the tour will stop in Algona, Orange City, and Cherokee before visiting Webster City and returning to Ames on Friday.
The researchers have been developing this technology across India since 2014. This filtration system is expected to alleviate water shortage issues in California and other drought-stricken parts of the developed world while improving living conditions in India and other underdeveloped parts of the world where clean water can be scarce.
“The water scarcity challenges facing India in the near future cannot be overstated. India has a huge population living on top of brackish water sources in regions that are water-scarce or about to become water-scarce,” said Susan Amrose, a civil and environmental engineering lecture at the University of California-Berkeley. “A solution with the potential to double recoverable water in an environment where water is becoming more precious by the day could have a huge impact.”
Tim Dwight made a name for himself on the gridiron as a Hawkeye and during his 10-year NFL career but for the last seven years he has been making a name for himself as a solar energy advocate and businessman.
After his football career he spent a year traveling around the world which included two USO tours in Iraq. This opportunity helped him to realize the danger that the country was putting itself and its citizens in because of its dependence on oil.
“That was definitely game-changing for me with what I wanted to do for my career,” Dwight said of his USO tours as well as his travels in Africa. “The world runs on energy everywhere and energy runs everything so I knew that market was not going to go away.”
Upon returning to the United States Dwight first started working in the solar industry with a company in Nevada. Calif. After learning about the basics of the industry, the Iowa City native decided to return to his home state to educate Iowans about the benefits of solar energy.
“Bringing that knowledge (of design, engineering, and installation of solar panels) to Iowa dawned on me. It was like a light bulb went off and I was like ‘You know what, I need to come back to Iowa and help this industry grow because it’s growing everywhere in the world and it’s going to grow in the United States.’ ”
Much of the learning process for Dwight didn’t involve attending classes or lectures but instead was simply a matter of him searching for and reading material available on the internet. He has spent the last five years trying to build the solar industry in Iowa, which includes the creation of the Iowa Solar Trade Association as well as lobbying on policy issues at the statehouse. As a former athlete, Dwight’s competitive nature sometimes comes into play with his work in solar.
“When I was in high school and junior high I always wanted to be the fastest guy, I wanted to be the best football player, I wanted to win state championships, I wanted to win a national championship,” he said. “But when I got out of football I was like ‘You know what, energy is the biggest game in the world and solar is going to change everything.’ Being a part of something like that is very exciting and very humbling, understanding what it’s going to do for the world and the people.”
Part of Dwight’s goal is to use to solar energy as a way of bringing affordable and efficient electricity to undeveloped parts of the world, where as many as one billion people do not have access to electricity. On the other side of the spectrum, highly industrialized areas are contributing to carbon emissions and other pollution, so Dwight hopes to use solar as a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly energy source.
“To understand that a mile-long coal train will burn a city of 150,000 people for one day is pretty substantial on how much we’re burning,” he said.
Coal is particularly inefficient, he said, because roughly 70 percent of the energy from burning coal is wasted, not to mention the inefficiency of distributing electricity via the current grid system.
“We’re starting to realize that the way that we procure and the way we burn and the way we power our lives is not the correct way to do it. We’ve got to change. We’ve got to move to another level like we have with communication,” he said.
He compared the evolution of solar energy to that of telecommunications. When cell phones were first released they were inefficient, expensive, and relatively few people owned them. However as the technology evolved, it became cheaper and more accessible to a greater number of people. Solar technology – with the first solar cells developed in the 1830s – has experienced a similar evolution and has become considerably more efficient and affordable in just the last ten years alone.
“You have this technology that’s been laying around for awhile it just hasn’t been put into use because it changes the energy paradigm when you have monopolized markets,” Dwight said.
The current tax incentives are curial for solar to succeed, according to Dwight, and he hopes to see an extension of Solar Investment Tax Credit, which is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2016.
“We really need to have that extended out for another probably five years,” he said. “I think it’s important that people understand that these policies have been working and are putting people to work.”
While Iowa has been a national leader in wind energy, solar energy has also been catching on particularly in the agricultural industry.
“You look at our solar industry right now, it’s all ag. It’s 90 percent ag. A lot of farmers are putting in a lot of solar,” he said.
While he supports the tax incentive now, his goal is the solar industry will eventually be able to sustain without it.
“We don’t want to be incentivized, we just want a level playing field,” he said. “We’re starting to see that climate change is real and it’s happening and it’s affecting everything across the board and one of the main drivers of that is carbon and technologies we’ve build our world around the last fifty, sixty, one hundred years.”
However, despite the challenges, Dwight is optimistic that solar will continue to grow and will be the energy source of the future.
“There’s just a lot of things that go into energy and it’s been pretty eye opening. Sometimes I’m like ‘Wow. What did I get myself into?” he said. “But seeing where it’s going and seeing how it’s going to change the world for the better is incredible.”