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Wind Power Advocate Interview: Jim Manwell, University of Massachusetts

A photo of Jim Manwell

Jim Manwell, University of Massachusetts, was awarded the Wind Powering America Regional Wind Advocacy Award for the Northeast Region.

Wind Power Advocate Interview: Jim Manwell, University of Massachusetts

Date: 11/10/2005

Location: MA

Jim Manwell, University of Massachusetts, was awarded the Wind Powering America Regional Wind Advocacy Award for the Northeast Region.

Q. Tell us how you became interested in wind energy.

A. My interest in environmental issues began in the 1960s. On the one hand, I was in the Boy Scouts and spent weeks canoeing in the wilderness; on the other hand, living near Cleveland at the time, I could not help noticing the down side of fossil fuel use (such as the burning Cuyahoga River). In the 1970s, after graduating from college, I closely followed energy issues, including the debates on nuclear power and the effects of the oil crises of that period. Living close to Amherst, I heard of the renewable energy program at UMass and became intrigued with Professor Heronemus' grand visions of a wind-powered future. Although I had originally studied science (rather than engineering), I decided to make the switch to applying science to help make those visions a reality.

Q. UMass has a long history of wind energy education, including the work of professor and wind energy advocate Bill Heronemus. Can you tell us about this history? What legacy did Heronemus leave that has affected your work/attitude?

A. The wind energy education program at UMass began in the early 1970s. Bill Heronemus, then a professor of ocean engineering, was certainly one of the principal initiators of the program, although many other faculty were involved in the renewable energy and energy efficiency area as well. Bill came to UMass from the U.S. Navy, where he had been a captain and a naval architect. He had very strong opinions and was not hesitant to voice them. He was a font of grand visions. With his naval architecture and engineering background, his concepts were technically plausible, even if many of them were not realizable at the time. With his "full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes" attitude, "The Captain" (as he was known) inspired his students and engendered loyalty and determination.

Q. Tell us about some of your work in wind energy over the years.

A. My own work has included a number of areas in wind/renewable energy. One of those areas has been system integration and system analysis, particularly in isolated or remote power systems. This has included wind-space heating (an early UMass concept), wind/diesel systems, hybrid power systems (which may also include solar photovoltaics, batteries, and other components). In the early 1980s, I studied a number of offshore wind concepts with Bill Heronemus. More recently, I have been involved in the development of design standards for offshore wind turbine, particularly in regards to evaluation of external conditions (wind, waves, etc.)

Q. You have been and continue to be active in New England wind energy development. What do you see happening with onshore wind implementation in the area in the next 5 years?

A. Development of onshore wind energy project is difficult in New England because of the NIMBY factor. I expect to see slow, steady progress in wind energy development over the next few years. As people see more turbines (and get used to them) and as the price of electricity increases, the pace may pick up a bit.

Q. What has to happen to successfully implement offshore wind in New England?

A. The Cape Wind experience has shown that the NIMBY factor can be as important offshore as it is onshore. Few people in the United States have ever seen a real offshore wind turbine, and fear of the unknown contributes to the resistance against that project. Over the next 5 years, an offshore project probably will be built somewhere in the region. Once that happens and people see what it actually looks like, I expect that the general anxiety level about offshore wind will decrease.

There is a great deal of interest in developing technology to install wind turbines in deeper waters. Once such technology becomes available at an acceptable price, offshore wind energy could really take off. First, the available resource will increase greatly once deeper waters can be used. Second, the visual impact will be much less. This should make public acceptance and permitting much easier.

Q. What role does the university system play in moving wind energy forward, technically and commercially?

A. The primary role of the university is education. The more students who are trained in all aspects of wind energy, the better it will be for all sectors involved with the technology. Our graduate students are all involved with research or development projects. Many of these projects are of particular relevance to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or other states in the regions. They help to push development forward in many ways.

One of the most successful recent examples is our work with the Town of Hull. Hull acquired the first large (660-kW) wind turbine in the state in 2001 and has ordered a second turbine (1.8 MW), to be installed in early 2006. Hull has also begun looking closely at developing a small offshore wind farm. We also work with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) and the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources to help push wind energy forward in the Commonwealth. In this regard, we provide technical support to policy makers and undertake wind resource assessments on behalf of the MTC's Community Wind program.

Q. Alaska and Australia seem to be serious about commercializing wind/diesel technology. As one of the pioneers in this area, can you tell us what needs to be done from a technical aspect to bring this potential significant international market to commercial reality?

A. Research and development over the past 25 years have brought wind/diesel technology to the point at which it clearly works and results in fuel savings. Challenges for the future are to continue to improve the technology, particularly with respect to design, installation, operation, and control so that it can work easily, reliably, and cost effectively. The technology needs to be simple enough so that the various components can be easily installed and be reliable and any problems can be quickly identified and fixed. It has to be as simple to install and operate a complete wind/diesel system as it is to install and operate diesel generators today.

The latest wind turbine designs also need to be downsized and modified to produce a good choice of turbines in the medium-size range. Such turbines are needed for wind/diesel applications. These would probably be pitch controlled, with suitable power electronics to make them readily compatible with diesel generators and weak grids. They would ideally be self-erecting and be serviceable without a crane.

Q. New England is the NIMBY capital of the United States, yet historically people in this region have been concerned with environmental quality. How do you see this playing out over the next 20 years?

A. Speaking as a native New Englander, that's a tough assessment of us, but it may well be true! So far, much of the discussion about environmental quality has been abstract, and it has been harder to realize actual projects here than to talk about the wonders of renewable energy. The situation is actually more complex and perhaps fluid than it appears on the surface. There are many factions involved in the energy debate, and it is certainly possible that with increasing energy prices, weather effects that are linked to fossil fuels, the need for economic development in the region, and a change in administration, enough people may come over to the side of renewables that a great deal of activity could suddenly begin to take place.

Q. What has been your most rewarding wind project/activity?

A. There have been many very rewarding wind projects that I have participated in or that have grown out of our work here at UMass. Some of the highlights are building and operating a wind/diesel system simulator here at UMass; getting the Hybrid2 computer code completed and having it be useful; moving the original ESI-80 from California and getting it to work again here; being part of the first Hull wind turbine project (and subsequent ones); visiting the operating wind/diesel projects in St. Paul, Kotzebue, and Selawik, Alaska; and participating in the first serious attempts to bring offshore wind energy to the United States.

Q. Where are you going to place your emphasis over the next 5 years?

A. Over the next 5 years, I plan to turn my attention toward consolidating the renewable energy educational program here at UMass and developing partnerships with other educational institutions, in the United States and abroad. I plan to continue to press for offshore wind energy development here in the United States and to participate in research and development activities that will eventually result in cost-effective wind plants for deeper water. In the hybrid area, I plan to continue working with hybrid energy systems and to apply experience gained there to central grid systems with potentially high wind energy penetration.

This information was last updated on 8/9/2011

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