Offshore Wind Power Opportunities Fuel Aspirations of Tufts Graduate Students

Following diverse paths in the Offshore Wind Energy Engineering program, they share high hopes for careers in an expanding industry rising to meet clean energy goals

As governments race to reduce carbon emissions and avert the impact of climate change, Tufts University is preparing tomorrow’s renewable energy leaders through its School of Engineering’s Offshore Wind Energy Engineering program. The first offshore wind graduate program dedicated to infrastructure, supply chain, and transmission, the Tufts offering is capitalizing on the rapid growth of the offshore wind industry.

Since the program’s launch in 2019, Tufts has placed 100% of its alumni in jobs related to offshore wind power and assembled a thriving research community of more than 20 faculty, Ph.D. students, and post-doctoral researchers, said Eric Hines, professor of the practice and Kentaro Tsutsumi Faculty Fellow, who directs the program.

Collectively, they have been awarded over $6 million in funding for Tufts-led research related to offshore wind and wave power infrastructure, supply chain, and transmission, he said.

New jobs are emerging as the U.S. demand for offshore wind professionals with graduate-level training is expected to surge.

As Hines recently told Tufts Now, he projects that the United States needs at least 1,000 engineers a year educated for the next 30 years to be able to meet the nation's 2050 carbon neutrality goal. In another projection, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Vision report posits that more than 50,000 university-educated professionals with advanced degrees will be needed to support wind energy development. 

“At Tufts we have marshaled the university’s strengths in collaboration and innovation to help advance this energy frontier,” said Hines. “It is a promising strategy that will help the world meet the urgent need to replace fossil fuels and increase the production of electricity to meet ongoing demand for a skilled workforce.”

Babak Moaveni, professor of civil and environmental engineering, shares that positive outlook; he has found his own new opportunities in the offshore wind arena as co-principal investigator on turbine research at Block Island Offshore Wind in Rhode Island, and has with an another structural engineering project coming up this fall off the Virginia coast.

“There is a lot of excitement for this field from both faculty and students,” said Moaveni.It seems that it's a unique time – I would say like a gold rush. Everybody wants to get involved. There are good paying jobs, companies are looking for the kind of expertise we can provide, and we contribute to a good cause – our national interest in green energy. Everything is aligned.”

Offshore wind energy, given ramped up investments by the Biden administration, is indeed positioned for accelerated growth. Today about 6 percent of the nation’s electricity is supplied by wind energy, but the U.S. Department of Energy envisions the nation generating 20 percent of its energy by wind by 2030.  

In Massachusetts alone, offshore wind power as a renewable energy source is quickly gaining momentum. Off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Vineyard Wind 1 is set to become the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States by 2023. Many of its parts will be constructed and assembled at the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, built in 2015 under the engineering leadership of Tufts faculty and alumni, while the Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown, Massachusetts, tests and certifies turbine blades. To help supply wind power to other regions, an Italian company plans to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for subsea transmission cables in Massachusetts.

At the policy level, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, in 2016, signed the Act to Promote Energy Diversity, which allowed for the procurement of up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2027.  In 2018,  Massachusetts expanded its leadership in offshore wind power with the Act to Advance Clean Energy, requiring the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to explore procurements for up to another 1,600 megawatts. (By the end of 2021, said Hines, Massachusetts had procured all 3,200 megawatts and set its sights on a raising the overall target to 5,600.)

As this growing industry opens up fresh career opportunities, Tufts Now reached out to five Tufts engineering students to learn how they see themselves in the future of offshore wind.  

Luisa Sanoli Sano Santana Offshore Wind Program graduate student

Luisa Sanoli Sano Santana. Photo: Miranda Richmond

Luisa Sanoli Sano Santana, E21, EG23 
Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Luisa Sanoli Sano Santana came to the United States to begin her college education in engineering at MassBay Community College before transferring to Tufts to continue at the School of Engineering.

One industry trend is building more efficient turbines; their blades are larger, and so they sweep more area, capture more wind, and produce more electricity. I’m interested in contributing to that structural side of offshore wind energy; turbine behavior and ports infrastructures in particular. One of my capstone projects as an undergraduate was researching what it would take to build a testing facility that would be able to handle the larger blades that are being made now, and that may get even bigger.

“I feel like my entire education has been leading up to the Tufts program. It began with my decision to attend a technical high school to study electrical Installations and maintenance. One day we had a guest speaker who explained the etymology of the word engineering. Engineering, he said, is derived from the Latin ingenium, meaning “cleverness” and ingeniare, meaning “to contrive,” to plan with great cleverness. That was the moment I told to myself I am going to be an engineer.

“I met Professor Hines during my first semester and the school had just launched the Offshore Wind Energy Engineering Program that fall. I was fascinated. I reached out to everyone who could provide insight into the program. That hard work paid off: at the end of my senior year, Professor Hines presented me with a fellowship opportunity, and I am grateful to be an Ocean Winds Fellow. This fellowship is designed to bring people like me —women in STEM, people of color, and immigrants -- into the field. I am honored and proud to represent these communities while doing a job I am passionate about.

“I first wanted to be an engineer to help mitigate the effects of climate change in my country, the Dominican Republic. As an islander, I am particularly concerned about rising sea levels. I was born and raised just three miles from the Caribbean coast, and the coconut trees I climbed as a kid are now buried by the sea.  While I no longer live there, I know that I do here in Massachusetts can impact the future of the Dominican Republic, and all island nations, by bringing new ideas to the global climate crisis. There are challenges ahead for offshore wind power, but I know that we can do it. I am a person who has overcome many challenges. While the idea of me attending college in the United States seemed impossible at first, now I am a double Jumbo and an intern at Ocean Winds, a company with one of the largest offshore wind projects in Massachusetts. Nothing is impossible.”

Caleb Weinstein-Zenner, graduate student in offshore wind power

Caleb Weinstein-Zenner. Photo courtesy of Caleb Weinstein-Zenner

Caleb Weinstein-Zenner, E22, EG23  
Caleb Weinstein-Zenner grew up on Cape Elizabeth, Maine. An electrical engineering student pursuing a B.S./M.S. dual degree, with a focus in offshore wind and renewable energy, he spent one summer researching the effects of adding offshore wind turbines to the U.S. East Coast power grid. He also worked on the Tufts TransItION project, which focuses on the transition to U.S. carbon neutrality through offshore wind. He hopes to help build the nation’s future power grid to harness renewable power sources.

“When I heard about the Tufts offshore wind research program, I immediately fell in love with it. Just seeing all the ways one could contribute, and all the architecture of it— it is really architecture in a way—was absolutely mind blowing. I saw it as an opportunity to make positive change.

“The work I did with Professor Hines last summer turned into a capstone project with three other students. We created interactive maps of the New England coastline, down to the Carolinas, that show where wind energy areas can be placed or where wind turbines can be placed and how they can connect to our power grid.

“In a sense we are pioneers, in that we are trying to develop a common language. I believe language shapes where we go. With regard to offshore wind power, it’s a roadblock right now because different groups are talking about offshore wind integration from a ton of different perspectives. Economists are thinking about the power grid purely based on cost, and power system engineers are looking at issues such as power loss. I want to be able to help bridge that communication gap.”

wind turbines
Photo by: Shutterstock

Explore Offshore Wind Engineering at Tufts

Be a part of the transition to a clean energy economy. Prepare for jobs in international industry, academia, and the public sector.

Bridget Moynihan, Offshore wind power graduate student

Bridget Moynihan. Photo: Laura Ferguson

Bridget Moynihan, E21, EG26 
A first-year Ph.D. candidate, Bridget Moynihan melds her passion for sustainability and civil engineering, with a specific interest in monitoring how well wind turbines perform. The highlight of her undergraduate career was winning a travel grant from the Tufts Institute of the Environment to present findings at the Society for Experimental Mechanics Conference in Houston from a summer research project analyzing how wind turbine parts wear out. (She was first author on the published paper.) She recently completed a safety training program at Mass Maritime Academy, which opens the way for her to test turbine performance on location.

“I’m looking forward to a career where I can apply structural engineering principles to the next generation of wind turbines. The United States has a perfect opportunity to build a new industry from the ground up and in an equitable way. We can make good use of this moment.

“At Tufts I got my start with two summer research projects with Professor Moaveni that involved the structural health monitoring of offshore wind turbines. It’s an amazing field. I see so much potential to the industry. It’s more than technology though. I also enjoy collaborating with people all over the world. 

“One important asset of the Tufts program is that we are encouraged to keep our education and our perspectives broadly focused. We know that the first and most important step to understanding a problem is to step back and assess the big picture. I have lots of opportunity to do that in this program: one group research paper was on the offshore wind power supply chain in the United States, and another was on offshore turbine foundations. What was great about that paper was that because the industry is so new, we can ask the naive questions. I've found those questions beneficial. They are making me think about the industry in a new way, 

“I didn’t know much about offshore wind energy when I came to Tufts, but by being active in sustainability efforts, including Students for Environmental Awareness, I grew more aware that energy transition is one of the world’s biggest challenges. I came to see it as an entry point for my career. Climate change was the number one driver in deciding what to study; it was about applying what I thought my skillset was in the best way possible to be the most effective.”

Offshore wind power graduate student Aloysius Udenweze

Aloysius Udenweze. Pboto: Jenna Shad

 

Aloysius Udenweze, EG26 
Ph.D. candidate Aloysius Udenweze earned his bachelor's degree in petroleum and gas engineering from the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. With his Tufts education, he’s making a pivot to renewable energy. 

“The Tufts program is exciting partly because it is in a nascent stage, and it has arrived at just the right time to join the offshore wind power race. Most importantly, it has a serious mission. The decisions we make now will determine the future of energy and whatever course we take will impact all our lives and the lives of future generations. Obtaining energy sustainability is key!

“The renewable energy field is particularly exciting because everyone is trying to figure it out from several angles. One angle that fascinates me is green hydrogen fuel. It’s an option gaining traction in Europe, and to me it makes a lot of sense; hopefully, the United States will be developing it soon. Essentially, electrolyzers placed at wind farms capture the excess electricity generated by the turbines to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, synthesizing green hydrogen. Ships will pick up the hydrogen and carry it to other places to convert it back into electricity. In some configurations, they could be immediately converted to electricity and transmitted onshore. More importantly, they serve as backup electricity in peak demand periods.” 

“With respect to potential for offshore wind energy, one need only heed the dire warnings about what will happen if we don’t develop renewable energy sources. We are rapidly moving toward an uninhabitable Earth if we continue our greenhouse gas emission pace.

“I made the decision to come to Tufts from Nigeria because this region has the capacity to deliver significant amount of renewable energy, given its high winds and proximity to the deep waters—productivity that will also reduce overall energy costs. There are lots of challenges ahead: cost reduction, component recyclability, grid integration, and safe transmission, among others. But I am confident with programs like the one at Tufts, we will rise to meet them.” 

J. Harris Offshore Wind Power student

Julie Harris. Photo: Laura Ferguson

Julie Harris, F22, EG26
For Julie Harris, F22, climate change and sustainability studies are interwoven with her interest in a career in international environment and resource policy. She will enroll in the Ph.D. program this fall, armed with a master’s degree from The Fletcher School, where she was vice president of Fletcher Nuclear Affairs Community. A 2017 graduate of Swarthmore College, she holds both a bachelor of science in engineering and bachelor of arts in studio art.

“Thinking about a career that would help build sustainability and resiliency brought me to The Fletcher School, and when I heard about the offshore wind program, it really stood out as a clean energy area that I wanted to explore. I took a class taught jointly by Professor of the Practice Barbara Kates-Garnick and Professor Hines, where I also completed my capstone Fletcher project: a report on how the offshore wind energy industry is growing in the Northeast and outlining how the MBTA could directly purchase that energy. Now I am excited to keep deepening my knowledge with the graduate Tufts offshore wind program. To be working in this quickly growing field with someone like Professor Hines is an incredible opportunity. 

“One of the challenges about achieving the full potential of offshore wind power is logistics: how do we get an older, and aging, power grid in shape to move all the electricity to land and deliver it to consumers? I'm going to be focusing on the policy part of that question.

“I think it’s important that I continue my education at an engineering school. There often can be a disconnect between engineering questions and the policy questions, when in fact they need to be integrated. There will be environmentally protected areas, for instance, that we can't be moving cables through, so where can we actually put them? That’s not only a technical, scientific question, but also a social, economic, and political issue.

“Looking ahead I would like to be like working with policy makers and helping to interpret engineering expertise. I’m excited to see offshore wind is growing so quickly and to be a part of it—and not just here in the United States. All over the world countries are trying to figure out how to shift to sources of clean energy, and I believe it will happen most effectively through cooperation.”

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