Professors Matthew Lackner and Erin Baker of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department published a very illuminating essay in The Conversation on May 15 about why the offshore wind energy industry will soon vastly expand and why Massachusetts is one of the states that is leading the way. Lackner and Baker said that market forces are helping the development of offshore wind energy, while states on the East Coast are preparing long-range plans to develop wind energy to replace fossil-fuel and nuclear-power generation.
Lackner’s research deals with offshore deep-water wind energy, wind-turbine aerodynamics, offshore wind-turbine load mitigation and structural control, as well as smart wind-turbine rotor control. Since 2009, Lackner has been involved in the acquisition of more than $14,634,500 of grants related to his work with offshore wind energy and related themes, including his function as an investigator and thrust leader in the original $3.2-million grant from the National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Offshore Wind Energy Program at UMass Amherst.
Baker, the principal investigator and director of that NSF IGERT program, specializes in industrial engineering research that combines operations research methods and economics with decision making under uncertainty applied to the field of energy and the environment. One of Baker’s main research themes is evaluating the sustainability of the electricity grid in New England, as well as in developing countries, and evaluating the environmental costs and benefits of offshore wind energy.
“There are only five wind turbines operating in U.S. waters today,” as the two MIE engineers opened their essay. “But that will likely soon change, partly because of states with ambitious offshore wind targets.”
As Lackner and Baker explained, Massachusetts is about to pick one or more of the three bids it got from companies vying to build one of the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farms. Equipped with the capacity to generate enough electricity to power as many as 150,000 homes, the turbines located about 20 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard would be among several big offshore wind projects that could transform the grid.
Lackner and Baker noted in their essay that “We lead an offshore wind energy graduate program at the University of Massachusetts that brings together engineering, wildlife ecology, public engagement, and political science students. Through this work, we have come to believe offshore [wind] will become a major new source of domestic renewable energy for the nation.”
So far the NSF IGERT offshore wind program has trained 30 doctoral students over the course of seven years in the technology, environmental implications, and social/economic/regulatory challenges of offshore wind farms. The program features more than 20 faculty members from eight UMass Amherst departments in the College of Engineering, College of Natural Sciences, School of Management, and College of Social and Behavioral Science.
Lackner and Baker ended their long and informative essay by concluding that “The Energy Department projects that there will be a total 86 gigawatts of U.S. installed offshore wind capacity by 2050, about 7 percent of the capacity of today’s grid and only 4 percent of the vast potential to harness this kind of energy. Given the speed with which [offshore wind energy] prices are falling in Europe, we believe that offshore wind could ultimately play an even bigger role than that, especially should the federal government again make fighting climate change a top priority.”
Anyone interested in this very timely topic is invited to read the entire essay at The Conversation. (June 2018)