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Clean Energy

Down On The Farm, Clean Energy Requirements Are Opportunities, Not Burdens

By Katie Valentine on Jul 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm


(Credit: AP/Ajit Solanki)

American farmers aren’t usually seen as champions of climate causes — in fact, they’re often known for their climate change skepticism. But farmers across the country have begun standing up for clean energy mandates in their states because they see them as an opportunity for profit in an increasingly uncertain industry. 

This year, at least 14 of the 29 states with renewable energy mandates, which require utility companies to purchase a certain amount of their energy from renewable sources, have considered bills to weaken or repeal the requirements, none of which have passed. That’s due in part to farmers, who have teamed up with environmentalists and other pro-green energy groups to push legislators to keep the mandates. Their voices, along with the voices of some local businesses and the prospect of new clean energy jobs, have made it difficult for local lawmakers to repeal the standards.

“It’s hard to be conservative when it affects your district,” Rep. Mike Hager, the majority whip in the North Carolina House, told the Wall Street Journal.

Farmers’ reasons for supporting the mandates are profit-based: some want to ensure they still have a healthy market for leasing their land to solar and wind companies, and others want to continue to harvest their animals’ waste as fuel. With the help of anaerobic digesters, hog farmers can capture the methane from pig waste and turn it into fuel, which they can use to power their equipment or sell to utility companies. North Carolina’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard requires utilities in the state to purchase .2 percent of their fuel from hog waste by 2018 and 900,000 MWh from poultry waste by 2015 — requirements chicken and hog farmers don’t want to lose.

But regardless of their reasons, supporting renewable energy mandates, and thus ensuring that states uphold that portion of climate mitigation, makes sense for farmers, who are increasingly threatened by the effects of climate change. The 2012 U.S. drought hit the farming industry hard, with ranchers forced to sell their cattle herds and corn, wheat and soybean farmers suffering serious crop losses. Many farmers aren’t doing much better this summer: in the Midwest, the drought that began last year has ended with torrential rains, which, according to the New York Times, have “drowned corn and soybean plants, stunted their growth or prevented them from being planted at all.” Extreme drought and wildfires in New Mexico have helped cut the state’s cattle herd by more than half since 2008, and nowthreaten traditional, small-scale ranching most of all.

The farmers’ choice to take sides with the renewable energy industry is also another example of the surprising alliances being formed in the fight for clean energy. Earlier this month, members of the Atlanta Tea Party worked with clean energy advocates to help pass a solar requirement for Georgia Power, the state’s utility provider. The Tea Partiers — which have historically been dismissive of climate change — saw the requirement not as an example of undue government regulation but as an expansion of consumer choice. The Georgia Public Service Commission passed the solar requirement last week.

UI Teams Up with NASA to Better Predict Precipitation

Iowa City Press-Citizen: UI Teams Up with NASA to Better Predict Precipitation Via Satellites

Thursday, June 13, 2013
A large crane drops the NASA Polarimetric antenna into place in Eastern Iowa near Waterloo for the Iowa Flood Studies campaign, which started May 1 and finishes Saturday.

A large crane drops the NASA Polarimetric antenna into place in Eastern Iowa near Waterloo for the Iowa Flood Studies campaign, which started May 1 and finishes Saturday. / Aneta Goska / Iowa Flood Center

By Tara Bannow
Iowa City Press-Citizen

As NASA gears up for a worldwide campaign to predict precipitation using satellites, it’s enlisting University of Iowa flood experts to determine whether its plan will work.

NASA’s experts have been working with UI’s Iowa Flood Center since May 1 to collect ground data across Iowa — chosen for its tendency to flood — that ultimately will be paired with satellite data collected through NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) in an effort to take flood forecasting to a new level.

The researchers are measuring a number of characteristics in Iowa, such as the proportion of rainfall that does and does not infiltrate the ground — a factor determined by land use and soil properties — as well as the ability of river networks to determine the timing and extent of flooding, Witold Krajewski, director of the Iowa Flood Center, said in a video conference Tuesday afternoon at UI.

Iowa was a natural host for the so-called Iowa Flood Studies campaign, which wraps up Saturday, because of the amount of flooding the state has experienced over the years, Krajewski said. In 2008, flooding cost the state close to $10 billion and at the time ranked as the fifth costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, he said.

Since the flood center was established in 2009, it has improved water monitoring by developing a complex online mapping system that shows where flooding will occur in Iowa communities if the water reaches certain levels.

“Even now, as we’re in the middle of this campaign, we’ve got flooding over the last month across Iowa, including in Iowa City, where I’m speaking from,” Krajewski said. “Still, the rivers and streams are running high, which makes for a good case for a scientific study, but I wish the flooding would stop. We’ve had enough.”

NASA plans to launch its network of international satellites in February 2014. The satellites will provide rain and snow observations from space every three hours, data that NASA’s current technology provides only twice daily, said Walt Petersen, a NASA scientist currently working on the Iowa Flood Studies campaign from a base in the city of Traer just south of Waterloo.

The idea is to more accurately measure precipitation and predict flooding so that decision-makers can better prepare, Petersen said. Although they cause considerable damage in Iowa, floods have the largest impact on underdeveloped countries, he said.

“Tens of thousands of people annually lose their lives to flooding, the majority of that in the developing world,” Petersen said.

A major reason is because many areas don’t have the ability to provide warning to residents, something GPM is expected to help with, he said.

NASA is using advanced precipitation radar technology stretching roughly from Waterloo to Iowa City that scans the atmosphere and retrieves the size, shape and distribution of raindrops and rainclouds. Researchers also have installed a network of rain gauges in river basins across Iowa that will provide reference points for the radar. Once all of the information can be contrasted against data collected from space, it will provide the clearest predictions yet, Petersen said.

“It’s a local study with global applications,” he said.

Iowa has provided a range of weather for NASA’s researchers, Petersen said. When scientists first arrived to sample rain, they found themselves in the midst of a historic snowstorm, which was a great opportunity for data collection, he said.

When NASA began contemplating whether to host the project in Iowa, the state was experiencing a severe drought, Krajewski said. By contrast, scientists have seen very few days without rain in the past five or six weeks, he said.

“This has been an extremely busy campaign,” Krajewski said.

From Bits To Atoms And Back-3D Printing

Still far from the Star Trek replicator materializing objects and edibles at voice command 3-D printing is becoming more and more accessible to the individual.  There are 3-D shops materializing around the country giving access to self doers and professionals that can make anywhere from cups to machines.  “This online ‘universe of things’ consists in a repository of mostly open and free digital designs for physical objects, i.e, models that can be downloaded and then materialized using fabrication tools such as 3D printers…As of mid 2011, ‘Thingiverse’ contained over 8000 models ( contributed both by highly skilled designers and beginners, some of which are children and adolescents) and included a bit of everything from kitchenware, toys, and jewelry to machine parts, electronics, architectural models and eye glass frames.”  The technology has been mature  for quite some time but this democratization of manufacturing started around 2007 with a cultural trend towards Do-It-Yourself (DIY) movement with high tech manufacturing capability.

You might find interesting these articles for further information:  The New York Times article 3D Printers May Eclipse Tradition for Designers by Alice Tawsthorn June 9, 2013 and The Rise of Personal Fabrication  by Catarina Mota

Wind turbines withstand tornado and power down energy prices

  1. Wind turbines withstand tornado with nearly 300-mph winds, June 6, 2013


    Wind Energy Industry: Turbines Power Down Energy Prices

    September 26, 2012

    DES MOINES, Iowa – Home and business energy costs have been falling in the Midwest – and the wind industry is claiming partial credit. While it’s a win for consumers, says Bob Fagen, a senior associate at Synapse Energy Economics, other energy sectors aren’t pleased, and that’s why they’ve begun a campaign to try to derail renewal of the wind-production tax credit, which is pending in Congress. “When the wind is built and is available, it runs. When it runs, that generally means that natural gas-fired or coal-fired plants do not run. So, it puts downward pressure on prices.” Iowa’s wind-power production is at more than 4,500 megawatts – enough for about 1.1 million homes. The production tax credit has been in place for about 20 years, and has seen bipartisan support, although this year it’s being debated on the campaign trail. Fagen says the wind-production tax credit isn’t a loan or a “freebie” because there is no benefit until after production happens – and that means manufacturing jobs. “The real issue is that wind is a clean, inexpensive energy resource – homegrown – and it makes a ton of sense to continue to promote the wind industry.” Exelon Corp. is urging that the credit be discontinued, saying government funding should go to research and not production of components.

    Richard Alan, Public News Service – IA  From the IWEA News/Updates

Engineering Jobs how to

The 1937 resume yearbooks were so successful the entire College of Engineering adopted the scheme the following year. Simply titled Senior Class of 1938, College of Engineering, the small book—it could almost fit into a shirt pocket—began with a brief “Dear Sir” letter from Ralph M. Barnes, Director of Personnel. The purpose of the “plan,” Barnes said, was to “better acquaint employers with our senior students.” The College provided copies to faculty members and graduating seniors, and then forwarded the rest to “those industries and organizations, which we think will be interested.”

Happy Birthday Ellen Ochoa Director Johnson Space Center.

Ellen Lauri Ochoa is a former astronaut and current Director of the Johnson Space Center. Ochoa became director of the center upon retirement of the current director, Michael Coats, on December 31, 2012.  She was born May 10th, 1958 in Los Angeles and educated at Stanford University.  For more in depth information check out

Engineering Library resources on flight: 



Extended hours, Free Coffee, Interim!

Final Week Hours. Open till Midnight! starting Sun, 2:00 pm-Midnight. Mon, May 13- Thurs, May 16 8:30- Midnight. Fri, May 17: 8:30 am-5 pm….Closed May 18th & 19th.

Free Coffee and Hot Chocolate. Mon, May 13-Thurs, May 16th- 8:30 am- Midnight. Fri, May 17: 8:30-5 pm.  Until supplies last

Summer Break Hours:  May 20-June 10, 2013–Mon-Fri 8:30-noon. 1:00-5:00.  Saturday and Sunday Closed.  Regular hours resume June 11.

Zipper Day–the mechanical wonder!

“It was a long way up for the humble zipper, the mechanical wonder that has kept so much in our lives ‘together.’ On its way up the zipper has passed through the hands of several dedicated inventors, none convinced the general public to accept the zipper as part of everyday costume. The magazine and fashion industry made the novel zipper the popular item it is today, but it happened nearly eighty years after the zipper’s first appearance.”  Check out the History of the Zipper at  At this website you can check out the pictures of the inventors.