Heier zip lines to new heights in alternative energy, lands at Clinton Global Initiative University
Casey Heier graduated in May 2013 as a biological systems engineering major with a minor in energy sciences. The Columbus, Neb., native’s experience was a springboard for his actions as an alternative energy advocate.
In December, Heier expanded his learning by traveling to Costa Rica for 12 days with the GREEN (Global Renewable Energy Education Network) program, an organization that aims to make “the words of a traditional textbook jump off the page and into the minds and hearts of our students” through hands-on education at renewable energy facilities and sustainable site visits.
In Costa Rica, students spent mornings in classes on a specific renewable energy topic: geothermal, wind power, solar and more. Each afternoon, the group shuttled to sites where the morning’s topic was in action, including a wind farm, a hydro power plant and a biomass facility processing sugar cane products, which was Heier’s favorite visit.
“They made sugar and ethanol, and also generated their own electricity from burning the stalks, which are waste material,” said Heier, who was impressed that 80 percent of Costa Rica’s total energy used (including transportation fuels, cooking gas and more) is from renewable sources, and 95 percent of the country’s electricity is produced from renewable sources. The sugar cane plant “sold the excess power (beyond what the plant could use) back to the grid,” he added.
Heier’s time in Costa Rica brought to life many concepts he had studied for the UNL energy sciences minor. His passport also includes travels as operations director for the World Energy Project, a non-governmental organization he helped found with several UNL classmates; WEP conducts humanitarian engineering work at several locations in Africa, including schools and hospitals. In Uganda, while awaiting materials for a WEP project, Heier helped teach English.
Another recent adventure, closer to home, put him in the same room with former President Bill Clinton and political humorist Stephen Colbert, as a participant with the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative University in April in St. Louis. Heier said he was most eager to hear another leader: Zafar Adeel, director of the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health, who spoke on world water solutions. Heier chose Energy for Education as his CGI commitment, extending the work of WEP in projects where young people involved can learn from the energy improvements in their communities.
This fall, Heier will begin graduate studies with Stanford University’s Master’s in Atmosphere/Energy Engineering program, but he reminds younger engineering students that it’s important to seek extraordinary ways to live what you learn—and UNL is a great place for doing that.