UI Professors Say Renewable Energy Spawns Jobs

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

By Katie Hanson - The Daily Iowan

A lot changed for Matt Bartlett during his 10-year stint in the U.S. Army. Deployment to poverty-stricken areas in Haiti and the Middle East showed him a radically different standard of living.

"I learned how much of a luxury it is to flip a switch and have power," the 2007 UI graduate said.

And when the soldier returned four years ago, seeing the wind turbines near his western Iowa home sparked his interest in alternative energies.

Bartlett, now a substation engineer at MidAmerican Energy Co., is part of an international boom in renewable energy. Advances in the field could generate roughly 20 million new jobs worldwide by 2030, according to a recent report from the U.N. Environment Programme.

Iowa leads the nation in ethanol production and ranks third in wind-energy generation, reports from the Renewable Fuels Association and the American Wind Energy Association show. Based on these statistics, UI professors believe the state could play a leading role in the nation's future renewable energy output.

UI engineering Professor Andrew Kusiak said both the wind-energy market and job market for the industry are growing at a 30 percent rate.

The wind-energy job market is predicted to further swell if the United States increases its wind-energy production from 1.5 percent to its goal of 20 percent by the year 2030, Kusiak said.

Other green industries - electric power, solar, and geothermal energy - are advancing as well, said UI engineering Professor Greg Carmichael.

Renewable energy is an exciting but challenging industry, he said. Every area requires additional research and infrastructure development before it can be mass-distributed, which is good news for college students interested in renewable energy.

Engineering Professor Keri Hornbuckle said an increasing number of engineers are pursuing renewable energy and that there is a "tremendous demand" for these workers.

"There are a lot more jobs than there are students," she said. "The only problem is which one to choose."

UI Associate Provost Barb Eckstein said the recently created Sustainability Curricula Task Force at the UI will help students become more competitive in the renewable energy job market. The program - tentatively set to begin next fall - will allow undergraduates to earn a certificate in sustainability.

Some UI engineering students, however, are already ahead of the competition, and have worked on their own initiatives for some time.

UI student Kevin Langan built an operational wind turbine in his Wind Power Management class last semester and is now completing his master's thesis on combustion of alternative fuels while designing mechanical systems for buildings at KJWW Engineering. Mazzin Alnijoumi, who plans to work with biofuels, took a class focused on wind and solar energy- the same course that Bartlett took while enrolled at the UI.

Langan, Alnijoumi, and Bartlett all want their training to lead to bigger developments in their fields.

"I hope that I can invent new materials that can last forever," Alnijoumi said. "If you ever watched the movie Back to the Future when the professor put garbage in the car tank so he can get some energy to operate the vehicle … I believe that can happen."

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