The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Three Engineering Professors Help Craft Influential Report on Offshore Wind Energy

wind turbines at sea

Inside UMass reports that three members of the College of Engineering faculty have contributed to a seminal white paper issued by the Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Research (POWER-US). The report (“Reaching Convergence in U.S. Offshore Wind Energy Research: A Multidisciplinary Framework for Innovation”) concludes that the U.S. can tap into a vast offshore wind energy resource and better steward its marine environment by organizing large-scale research and fostering public-private partnerships.

See entire report »

The POWER-US report makes the case for intensive U.S. investment in collaborative offshore wind energy research and innovation.

Director of the UMass Wind Energy Center James F. Manwell wrote a major portion of the report. “The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recommended that to avoid excessive adverse effects from climate change the overall global temperature rise should be limited to 2°C above pre-industrial levels,” as Manwell explained. “To accomplish this will require a nearly complete transition in the world’s energy supply from fossil fuels to renewables.”

In that context, faculty members from UMass Amherst who worked on the POWER-US report were Professors Manwell and Matthew A. Lackner of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department and Sanjay R. Arwade of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. Lackner wrote most of the section titled “Advancing Near-Term Deployment & Investing in Long-Term Innovation.”

As Manwell noted in the report, “Offshore wind energy has experienced remarkable growth over the last two decades, but there is reason to anticipate substantial advancement over the next several decades as well. Some of this advancement will be in the form of evolutionary refinement of existing technology. In other cases, there are some challenges that will require significant effort.”

The report is the result of a two-year initiative convened by the Massachusetts Research Partnership in Offshore Wind, supported financially by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. This initiative, the POWER-US report, and other cooperative efforts across the country are precursors to the collaborative approach needed to transform the wind energy industry.

This POWER-US white paper proposes a framework for offshore wind research and innovation in the United States which establishes the relationships, data, systems-level thinking, and strategic research approaches needed to advance the global offshore wind industry and generate power, income, and jobs for the U.S. economy.

The U.S. has enough offshore wind energy potential to meet its electricity demand several times over. This white paper argues that domestic knowledge and innovation are critical to the successful long-term development of the U.S. offshore wind energy resource. It presents a vision for how the U.S. research community can help grow a sustainable domestic industry and a competitive global export market.

“Offshore wind energy has only emerged as a major contender in the world’s energy supply in the last 25 years,” Manwell observed in the report, “but the potential resource area is enormous, and it will continue to grow as the technology to utilize deeper waters develops. It is anticipated that offshore wind will already contribute a third of wind energy’s total by 2050.”

Manwell also wrote in the report that “In principle, the concept of offshore wind is simple: take existing wind turbines, place them on suitable support structures in the ocean, and connect them electrically via submarine cables to the onshore electrical grid. In reality, the situation is more complicated. First of all, the support structures that are required are substantial in and of themselves – much more so than land-based towers and foundations. Second, the marine infrastructure that is required to install and maintain offshore wind turbines is significant and expensive.”

As Manwell clarified this second point, the electricity generated offshore “needs to be brought ashore in relatively few high-capacity submarine cables. As more offshore wind plants are built, the siting of multiple cables may become problematic, and the effect on the operation of the grid will become more significant. Appropriate grid management and possibly energy storage will need to be applied.”

One of the growing challenges for implementing offshore wind energy is also a grand opportunity for creating jobs: that is, educating a professional workforce to develop the resource.

As Manwell wrote, “It is estimated that the U.S. wind energy industry will need approximately 340,000 on-site and supply-chain jobs by 2050, including 85,000 jobs requiring a graduate-level education. Based on projections, the offshore wind energy sector will need at least a third of those jobs. To reach such numbers, there needs to be a substantial increase in the number, size, and capability of advanced-degree educational programs in the U.S.” 

This educational challenge has been spearheaded, in part, by the College of Engineering, its Wind Energy Center, support from GE Renewables and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, our recently completed NSF IGERT graduate program in Offshore Wind Energy, and our talented academics who are specializing in the advancement of wind energy in North America. (February 2019)