College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Attitudes, Infrastructure, and Science–The Barriers to Clean Energy in Iowa

Story originally published for Iowa Public Radio.

In Des Moines Thursday Night, the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network hosted a panel about the future of energy policy and technology. One recurring theme was that Iowa is an agent for change when it comes to clean energy. Heather Zichal, a native Iowan, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and former top advisor on clean energy to President Obama, says that doesn’t come as a surprise.

“The state of Iowa has been a national wind energy leader and all of the work to support that industry has actually allowed the state to continue to maintain affordable energy prices while reducing carbon pollution.”

Challenges on multiple fronts—attitudinal, scientific, economic, and political—still exist in Iowa and nationwide, though. Robert C. Brown, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University, says one of first challenges is understanding what clean energy is.

“I want to make sure people understand what we mean by renewable fuels. Everybody says, ‘Well, it’s wind-energy or it’s biofuels,’ but in fact it’s something more fundamental than that. It is a matter of us as society harnessing energy flows that exist in our biosphere, these are very natural processes of sunlight and wind and waves, etc.”

Zichal says, on par with discovering renewable energy sources, there are practical, infrastructure challenges like storage that need to be solved.

“That’s one of the key areas where we need to focus our research, focus our collective innovative opportunities, and try [to] find that breakthrough technology that’s going to address that storage component. And that’s because the wind doesn’t blow every day and the sun isn’t shining all the time. So the reason storage is so important is so we can fully utilize our renewable resources but address the intermittency of renewables.”

Still, she believes the work done already in Iowa is cause for optimism.

“Iowa is a leader. You’ve proven that it can be done, you’ve proven that the transition to a clean energy economy is a good thing for the environment, but you’ve also proven that it can create jobs and investments.”

On this River to River, Ben Kieffer talks to them about the policy, infrastructure, and scientific hurdles to truly clean energy. Kevin Nordmeyer, former director of the Iowa Energy Center and co-owner of BNIM architects, also joins the conversation to discuss Bloomfield’s plan to be energy independent by 2030.