Doctoral wind energy studies to take flight at Iowa State University

Source: By Emily Nohr, WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER • Posted: Thursday, December 6, 2012

article photo
“If you look at Iowa as compared to the nation, we’re advanced in terms of higher education wind energy programs.” — Sri Sritharan, leader of the Wind Energy Initiative at ISU

Iowa is second to Texas in installed wind capacity, but the state is catching up on the wind energy educational front.

The State of Iowa Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a proposal to establish a Ph.D. program in wind energy science, engineering and policy in Iowa State University’s College of Engineering. The request was recommended earlier this year by ISU’s faculty senate, Board Office and Council of Provosts.

Texas Tech University in 2007 offered the country’s first Ph.D. program in wind science and engineering. The ISU program is Iowa’s first doctoral wind energy program. ISU and the University of Iowa both currently offer some classes in wind-related topics.

Supporters said the ISU program addresses the Board of Regents’ strategic plans to “provide educational excellence and impact as well as economic development and vitality” and “be increasingly efficient and productive.”

The goal is for graduates to leave with the ability to do research that benefits the wind industry. The program adds good momentum for ISU and the state of Iowa, said Sri Sritharan, an ISU professor who leads the engineering school’s Wind Energy Initiative.

“If you look at Iowa as compared to the nation, we’re advanced in terms of higher education wind energy programs,” he said. “It definitely puts us on the right path to head toward producing more energy output and conducting more research.”

ISU projected a first-year cost of $159,000, which includes a one-time cost of $83,000 to develop curriculum. Annual cost projections will grow from about $76,600 in its first year to $85,000 in its fifth year for staffing and administrative purposes.

The program, which will be housed in existing laboratory facilities, will be paid for using a five-year $3.15 million Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program grant from the National Science Foundation. The funds were to be used specifically to develop a Ph.D. program in wind energy science, engineering and policy and can be renewed in 2016 for an additional five years of support.

Supporters said there’s demand for the program. Since 2012, more than 130 ISU students have enrolled in an introductory wind energy course offered at the undergraduate level. About 40 students took a graduate level course on electromechanical wind energy conversion and grid integration in the 2009-10 school year, and more than 20 students enrolled in a graduate course on wind energy manufacturing in the spring of 2010.

Today, about 40 graduate students are working on wind energy-related projects. ISU projected six students will enroll in the program’s first year, with that number growing to 40 students by its seventh year. The school also hopes to recruit students through an agreement with the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez.

The program is an extension of ISU’s other wind-related programs. In 2011, the Wind Energy Initiative was created by its College of Engineering to promote wind energy research. The engineering college allocated $500,000 over three years to support that program, which currently includes Sritharan and 35 other faculty members.