Wind Energy Crucial

With the Clean Power Plan, which will require utilities to cut down carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030, the federal government’s move toward renewable energy–such as wind energy–is irreversible.

Once the legal challenges frequently tied to regulations of this magnitude are settled, this piece of legislation will require technology and a workforce specifically trained to develop and hone sources of renewable, sustainable energy.

More forceful environmental legislation, along with federal tax incentives and declining production costs all contribute to a solid growth in demand for wind energy, according to James Tinjum, associate professor in the Department of Engineering Professional Development (EPD) at UW-Madison.

However, not all states have been so quick to embrace alternative energy sources. According to the American Wind Energy Association, states in the upper Midwest such as Michigan, Iowa and Indiana have multiplied their number of wind farms substantially. Michigan expanded its wind energy capacity by 1,154 megawatts, a 306 percent rise, between 2011 and 2015. Iowa and Indiana saw 44 and 41 percent hikes, respectively. Wisconsin, by comparison, added 17 megawatts of installed capacity during the same period. This is a 3 percent increase.


Speaking on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time, Tinjum attributed the state’s meager growth in wind energy sources to lack of political interest in renewables, differences between state and local restrictions on development, and a low renewable portfolio standard. Wisconsin’s RPS—which the state met in 2012–is set at 10 percent.

But even in places like Wisconsin, the interest in wind energy remains unabated. Tinjum, who is responsible for continuing education in geotechnical, geoenvironmental, and sustainable engineering at UW-Madison, teaches a course on campus, “Wind Energy Site Balance-of-Plant Design and Construction,” that has been extremely popular over the past six years. With Tinjum’s help, UW-Madison’s Engineering Professional Development delivers a series of wind energy short courses where participants learn the design and construction of wind energy sites.

Demand for Tinjum’s expertise is also international. He recently spoke about wind turbine foundation design at a conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tinjum will deliver a keynote address at an energy geotechnics conference in India this July.

As Wisconsin prepares to face stiffer rules for carbon emissions, the need for expertise and research on the benefits and limitations of wind energy becomes more critical. One major challenge for energy professionals is how to integrate an intermittent resource into the power grid and how to make this integration financially and environmentally sound.

Another challenge is innovation. Tinjum conducts applied research on the design of wind turbine foundations and collector systems, and emphasizes transmitting research findings to direct engineering application through his classes.

EPD’s alternative energy courses stress the importance of finding answers to these and other challenges, and apply these advances to real, working contexts as a means to keep up with the demand for renewable energy sources.

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Biking the Wind

UW-Madison's Jim Tinjum will be biking across Wisconsin and beyond to raise awareness about wind energy.

See his journey here.