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UMass Hosts Inaugural Meeting of North American Wind Energy Academy

Ninety-two participants representing 22 universities, eight commercial companies, and four government laboratories throughout North America gathered at UMass Amherst from August 7 to 9 for the inaugural meeting of the North American Wind Energy Academy (NAWEA). The newly formulated academy connects research institutions, universities, and industry. It is the mission of NAWEA to facilitate the formation of high-quality, national scientific research collaborations to address high-risk, multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research problems that present barriers to the widespread use of wind energy in North America.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sponsored the meeting through a subcontract with UMass Amherst as part of the Workforce Development task, and through a previous grant to investigate the NAWEA concept.

Dr. Matthew Lackner of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department headed up the committee that planned the event and, as he says, “was more or less the overall conference chair and chaired a session.” MIE Professor James Manwell, director of the Wind Energy Center at UMass Amherst, served on the committee that worked on the draft charter. At the inaugural meeting, Lackner gave the “Welcome and Introduction” address, while Manwell described the formation of the NAWEA up to this point.

The vision of the NAWEA is that wind power can achieve at least a tenfold greater contribution to the electricity needs of the continent. Challenges to this growth can be overcome by substantially reducing cost while exceeding current levels of service and performance. The NAWEA’s members agreed to collaborate and share their knowledge, skills, and capabilities to promote education in wind energy technologies. The NAWEA will enhance opportunities for education and training of the needed skilled human resources at all levels, but with special focus on graduate-level research.

“Going forward,” says Lackner, “Jim [Manwell] and I are both going to be involved in educational activities for the academy. I'm heading up an effort to start a graduate student paper competition, and Jim will be on a committee looking into curriculum coordination.” 

Several UMass graduate students from the MIE, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and other UMass departments attended the meeting and presented their research, and a few undergrads from MIE were there as well.

At the meeting, Jose Zayas, program manager of the DOE Wind and Water Power Program, spoke about DOE’s vision and challenged the group with the aggressive plan to significantly reduce the cost of energy from full wind energy plants and remove the barriers to development.

Other speakers included Mark O’Malley, professor of electrical engineering at the University College Dublin, Michael Goggin, manager of transmission policy at the American Wind Energy Association, and Roger Schonewald from General Electric – Energy.

Dana Christiansen, deputy laboratory director for science and technology at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), encouraged the participants to endorse the draft charter and to support the development of the NAWEA by saying, “For wind to grow we need an ecosystem to support growth that is multidisciplinary. Energy runs the economy and wind energy must provide security, reliability, and affordability.”

The first day of the meeting included a full-day workshop on how to use the wind turbine computer-aided engineering tool, Fatigue, Aerodynamics, Structures, and Turbulence (FAST), developed by NREL, to predict the loads on operating machines. Fifty-six students and researchers attended the FAST workshop.

On the morning of the second day, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) presented a half-day primer on the application of atmospheric sciences to wind energy issues. The primer included a talk by Christopher Clack of the University of Colorado at NOAA on how the weather-driven energy source matches electrical demand across the entire continent Jim Wilczak of NOAA and Sue Haupt of NCAR teamed up to provide the attendees with insight into the current state of the art in atmospheric boundary layer research and weather systems and showed how this work is relevant to the design, operation, and performance of wind energy systems.

On the final morning of the meeting, graduate students from the universities in attendance gave presentations and held a networking session. This session allowed them to present their research to each other and discuss their results with peers.

In the final session of the meeting, an interim board was put in place comprised of the signatories to the draft academy charter. Robert Thresher, NREL research fellow, was selected as the inaugural academy director, or “launch director,” to lead the establishment of the academy as a working institution in North America. The final session also gathered ideas on initial activities for the academy in both educational and research directions. Volunteers were empowered to lead and push forward on the academy’s priority activities.  (August 2012)