National experts consider cooperation for wind future

BY IAN STEWART | JUNE 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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WEST BRANCH — There was hardly a breeze to stir the warm summer air outside the Acciona wind turbine assembly plant on Tuesday, but those getting off buses for a tour of the factory had wind on their minds.

The American Wind Energy Association is hosting its first University Summit Tuesday and today at the Semans Center, drawing approximately 100 wind-energy experts both from academic institutions and from the industry. The association, based in Washington, D.C., lobbies on behalf of the wind-power industry, and it organized the conference to encourage cooperation among wind companies and universities.

For University of Iowa Provost P. Barry Butler, a board member of the association, the question driving the summit is, “How better can we engage universities [in wind energy]?”

“It’s a give-and-take type of relationship,” said Butler, who teaches courses about wind power. “Not just, ‘Give us your research money.’ ”

He described job placement and internships for students as some of the advantages of future partnerships between universities and businesses and noted that an “industry perspective” might help in curriculum development.

The UI lists wind power as one of the components of its proposed energy portfolio. Currently, Iowa ranks second in the nation in wind-energy production.

Darlene Snow, the executive director of the Wind Energy Foundation, said the summit could answer the needs of a changing industry.

“Wind is one of the fastest growing energy sectors,” she said. “In the past four years, wind energy contributed about a third of the new energy capacity in the United States.”

One main challenge, she said, however, is bringing in new people and new ideas.

“There’s a concern with regard to developing future talent, the future workforce for the wind-energy industry,” Snow said.

According to the Wind Energy Foundation, 90 percent of Americans support wind power, yet she noted that there are political roadblocks to more widespread introduction of wind power.

“We think students in particular can help bridge the gap between public opinion and reality,” Snow said. “Selfishly, by helping to promote wind energy and the industry and helping it get to the level where it should be in terms of reflecting public demand, you’ll then be creating jobs for yourselves.”

This kind of cooperation has been seen at Iowa universities. Glenn Lichti, a former manger at John Deere, spoke at the conference about a program the company started that allows undergraduates to solve real, technical problems for John Deere. That program serves as a potential model for wind-based inter-organizational ventures. Lichti called it “a big recruiting tool.”

“The university gets the benefit of what’s going on in the marketplace and the industry,” said Joe Baker, the CEO of Acciona Windpower North America. “We get the benefit of what the university is doing either on research and development or other ideas.”

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