University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Wind Energy Program established


Wind energy research and development began here in 1972 with the award of a NSF grant that led to the construction of a 25 kW wind turbine on campus. At the time, this turbine was one of the largest operating wind turbines in the United States and one of the first modern turbine designs in the world.

The Wind Energy Center (WEC, formerly the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory) was a unique program that has distinguished the University of Massachusetts as the national leader in wind energy education, academic research, and service to government and industry.

The Wind Furnace 1, the innovative turbine designed, built, and operated by wind energy professors and students at the University of Massachusetts in the early ‘70s, marked the beginning of the modern wind-electric era. Learn more

The Wind Furnace 1 was prepared after the turn of the century for permanent display in the Smithsonian Institute. The project which researched, designed, built, and operated the Wind Furnace 1 led to the creation of the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory (now the Wind Energy Program), the first wind energy research and education program in the United States. Read more

Wind energy research and development began at UMass Amherst under the leadership of program founder, Professor William E. Heronemus. Professor Heronemus, along with a number of other faculty, began looking into a number of areas related to wind energy potential, including ways to quantify the wind energy resource, optimizing the design of wind turbines for electrical production, offshore wind energy potential, and ocean thermal energy conversion. Very few people worldwide were looking into these areas at the time, and many of Professor Heronemus’s concepts which are widely accepted today (such as the vast potential of offshore wind) were considered visionary at the time.

Some of the earliest detailed planning work on the potential of offshore wind energy was done here at the university by Heronemus in the early 1970s. Heronemus examined the concepts of offshore wind turbines mounted on spar buoys anchored to the sea floor, as well as multi-rotor systems.

Work was also conducted on far-offshore wind farm concepts in which electricity would be used to produce hydrogen for storage and transfer to shore, an early attempt to address a potential solution — storage via hydrogen — to a critical problem with offshore wind: cable length and its attendant problems of cost, deployment, and power loss.

Close to 40 years later, floating wind farms are becoming a reality, as indicated in this exciting news from Fall 2009:

“Norwegian Company StatoilHydro has announced the building of the world’s first full scale floating wind turbine, called Hywind, which will be tested over a two-year period offshore Karmoy in Norway.”

The following memorial record and obituary of a wind power engineer and visionary Professor Heronemus, written by former student and colleague Forrest “Woody” Stoddard, tells a story of pioneering research, development and commitment at the early stages of modern wind power. Professor Heronemus was credited with foreseeing global warming and a number of subsequent wind power developments including offshore wind farms. Learn more