“I decided to be an engineer during high school, in large part because I had incredible science and math teachers who helped me make the connection between my passion for the outdoors and environmental work and a career,” Kristen Graf, executive director, Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE) and a mechanical engineer, said. “I was so excited about the concept that wind technology could significantly change our electricity system — and in a way that just made so much sense.”
Wind power makes sense on a number of levels. Each large-scale wind farm that pops up generates significant megawatts, dramatically raising the percentage of renewable energy produced. The technology is easily scalable, and the economics of scale work quickly in its favor.
“Wind is particularly exciting for those of us with a passion for math and science because it’s a great machine technology,” Graf said. “There’s always something amazing going on. Two of the challenges we’re trying to solve are how to make the hub height of a turbine higher and the blades longer, to get it into the purest wind stream possible. You can also get higher wind speeds offshore, where longer blades give you a larger swept area, increasing the overall power generated.
“Especially in the U.S., blade length is usually limited by transportation technologies, not the materials,” she continued. “If you build a super-long blade, you still have to transport it through some very rural communities to get to the areas with the most wind. If it’s transported by train, what sort of structure is needed to secure a blade that long? If it goes by truck, can the truck navigate turns in the small towns it must pass through? Offshore, turbines can be substantially larger, because you can just take it to the site by boat, so these are some of the things we’re challenged by.”