Each issue we spotlight a different research center at Illinois State University. This time we look at the Center for Renewable Energy.
The center is led by Economics Professor David Loomis. It is a collaboration between the Department of Economics in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Departments of Agriculture and Technology in the College of Applied Science and Technology. Earlier this year, Loomis and two other center staff members, Technology Professors Jin Jo and Matt Aldeman, received the Outstanding Cross-Disciplinary Team Research Award. The center’s research focuses on the technical potential for renewable energy integration into the U.S. electric grid and the economic benefits of that integration.
“It’s really been kind of foundational to both what we do with the center and the academic programs to really be cross-disciplinary, to respect the different aspects that everybody brings to the table in the different disciplines in looking at a problem,” Loomis said. “So there’s a real look at the economics, a great respect for the underlying technology. And most of these projects are going to impact farmland, and so the Ag Department has been vitally important to us as well.”
Loomis helped us answer a few questions about the center.
How was the center started and funded?
The center opened in 2008 with a $990,000 grant from the federal Department of Energy (DOE). “Since then, we’ve gotten a total of four DOE grants to do various projects, numerous state grants from the state energy office, and a number from private foundations,” Loomis said.
The center started with three main goals: create and support a renewable energy major, do educational outreach on renewable energy issues, and conduct applied research.
There are now about 70 students pursuing a renewable energy degree. The faculty team that created the degree took an innovative approach by working with the renewable energy industry to develop the program and to create internship opportunities for students.
“It’s a field that changes so dynamically. We wanted to get feedback from the industry to make sure that what we are doing in the classroom is relevant to what our graduates are going to need once they get out of the four-year program.”
The center’s main public outreach is an annual renewable energy conference held each July at Illinois State.
“We have plenary sessions of interest to all areas of renewable energy and breakout sessions for wind energy, solar, biomass, geothermal, and energy efficiency,” Loomis said. “We’ve just tried to meet whatever the educational needs are, and we partner with other organizations.”
The center conducts research with real-world applications.
“We try to take rumors and myths circulating in the general public and apply good academic-quality research to a specific question so that people can look and prove for themselves,” Loomis said.
The research that has received the widest attention has been the center’s economic impact report on wind energy.
What is an example of the collaborative work the center has done?
The center has partnered with Illinois State’s Center for Mathematics, Science, and Technology (CeMaST) to create the Energy Learning Exchange, a public-private effort funded in part by the Illinois Governor’s Office to prepare Illinois students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
“So we’re bringing the energy expertise, and CeMaST is bringing expertise in STEM education,” Loomis said. “It’s kind of a nice marriage there to work on K–12 energy education issues right as Next Generation Science Standards started to come out. So we’re able to partner with them and help a number of school districts in their energy education.”
Where can people find information on the center?
The center posts its reports, conference presentations, newsletters, and information on events at RenewableEnergy.IllinoisState.edu. The website also has links to the center’s Twitter feed and Facebook page.