Dwight was born in Iowa City and attended City High where he excelled at track and football. Despite his relatively small 5-foot 8-inch frame, Dwight found a niche as a wide receiver and kick returner for the Iowa Hawkeyes before a decade-long stint in the National Football League.
Dwight attributed his interest in solar energy to his travels to Africa and the Middle East after his football career.
The recent Sports Illustrated article discusses the ways in which solar has changed since Dwight got into the game, pointing out that solar modules have decreased from $4 per watt in 2008 to about 70 cents per watt today.
The piece also touches on the breadth of Dwight’s knowledge when discussing solar.
It also helps that Dwight can speak flawlessly and passionately about all sides of the industry. As we chat, he riffs on about electricity, amps, volts, wire sizes, how to pinpoint a connection to a grid, how to break down a single-line diagram, and how energy is currently bought, sold and created.
Throughout our conversation, the solar advocacy never slows. Just like his skills as a returner, you think he’s done and then he goes in a new direction, passionately and convincingly adding yet another reason to go solar. “It’s like, guys, you’re living in the 1800s, man. In Iowa we’re 50% coal. We dig from Wyoming, my money is going to Wyoming. With renewables, it’s local job creation, local investment.”
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.”
Former Iowa Hawkeye football great Tim Dwight returned to Kinnick Stadium yesterday to propose that the University of Iowa invest in solar energy to power the campus. He was joined by State Senator Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids and Kimberly Dickey, President, of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association as well as UI students Andrew Woronowicz and Allison Kindig.
The proposal calls for 1,240 kilowatts of solar electric power to be installed at the UI in 2013 which would cut approximately $100,000 in current electricity costs annually.
State Senator Rob Hogg said he would introduce legislation next year to finance the three million dollar UI project. “Solar power works to create jobs, reduce energy costs, and meet our obligations to the environment and future generations,” said Hogg. “Let’s turn solar power into Hawkeye power.”
Read more at the Daily Iowan here. Read more at The Gazette here. See a video of the press conference here.
This past weekend, Kirkwood Community College hosted the I-Renew Energy Expo. The expo included two floors of booths displaying renewable energy research and innovations, numerous workshops and three keynote speakers (Tim Dwight — former NFL star currently working for a solar power provider; Jeremy Symons — National Wildlife Federation senior vice president of conservation and education; and Bill Leighty — earth protection vice president of the Leighty Foundation).
Former Hawkeye football star Tim Dwight is among those pushing to incentivize solar energy in Iowa
In last night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama set forth an ambitious national goal: to derive 80 percent of electricity from “clean energy” sources by 2035 – a notion praised by a group of key Senators.
“Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas,” he told the joint session of Congress.
But for the U.S. to reach that goal, states will need to drastically reshape their economies, and Iowa is no exception.