Iowa State to offer wind energy Ph.D.

Solomon Keithley

The Faculty Senate has approved the formation of a wind energy Ph.D. program at Iowa State. The university had received a $3 million award from the National Science Foundation in the fall of 2011, to support the new program. At senate’s the meeting this past Sept. 11 meeting, the plans were set in motion, to begin as early as spring 2013.

The grant was received through the Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program. There is significant national interest in wind energy research, with Iowa being one of the top states in this field. There is also significant interest on the campaign trail this year for wind energy policy.

Iowa State has been developing the program for the past two years. Iowa State’s new program will help to educate students on all aspects of wind energy.

ISU professor Gene Takle is one of the four co-principal investigators for the program. Takle is also the coordinator of the first course in a four-course sequence for all of the students who will enter the program.

“ISU is already is being recognized as an institution that is providing a broad-based opportunity for pursuing a Ph.D. in wind energy.” Takle said. “Our [program] covers not only engineering but also science and policy areas of meteorology, political science and communication.”

According to the Iowa Wind Energy website, Iowa is currently first in the nation in wind energy jobs, with 6,000 to 7,000 people in wind related jobs around the state. About 75 percent of Iowa is suitable for wind energy development and has potential to produce up to 570,000 MW a year.

Iowa currently has 4,495 MW of wind capacity currently installed, which is the second largest capacity in the nation. 

It is first in the nation in wind energy use, with 20 percent of the state’s energy coming from wind energy.

Wind energy has also become a popular topic in the upcoming election; President Barack Obama has backed the idea of extending tax credits given to wind energy companies. Mitt Romney has favored clean-coal options, putting him at odds with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who also supports wind tax credits.

With the program, ISU students can be leaders in wind energy in the Midwest — a market ready for jobs and advancement.

“Collaborators from several departments in the College of Engineering combined with faculty members from the science and policy areas to create a unique concept for a program,” Takle said. “And Iowa is a leading wind energy state, so there is a ready local market for our graduates to take leading roles in the wind energy development in the Midwest.”

Jonathan Wickert, senior vice president and provost at Iowa State, also thinks this program will benefit ISU students immensely.

“Iowa State will lead in developing more sustainable ways to produce and deliver safe and nutritious food, water, materials and energy; integrate the protection of plant, animal and human health; and care for our environment.” Wickert said. “The program is also consistent with our strategic plan priority to develop students who are prepared to address the challenges of the 21st century.”

Wickert said the program will help create jobs around Iowa and prepare students to fill those same jobs. Wind energy is growing rapidly every year and the program will be able to prepare students to lead the field in the near future.

“Wind energy and other “smart-grid” technologies have the potential to create more than 100,000 permanent, high-paying jobs,” Wickert said. “Providing advanced training through this Ph.D. program will help create some of those jobs right here in Iowa. That’s why we’re proposing an interdisciplinary program that will prepare graduates for wind energy careers in industry, academia and government. 

“We want to equip students with the skills necessary to solve problems related to wind energy generation and transmission, and well as address the engineering, science and policy issues in the future.”