Rutgers Powers Up for Offshore Wind Energy Research 

Kris Ohleth
While there are 10,000 offshore wind turbines operating between Europe and Asia, the U.S. currently has only seven, said Kris Ohleth, the keynote speaker at the symposium and director of the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind,
Jeff Arban/Rutgers University

Rutgers researchers recently shared their expertise in offshore wind energy with each other and those expected to play a key role in New Jersey’s effort to help the nation fight global warming by shifting to offshore wind energy. 

“We’re well positioned to support needs of the offshore wind industry,” said Denise Hien, vice provost for research at Rutgers-New Brunswick at the Rutgers University Offshore Wind Energy Symposium. 

Organized by the Rutgers Offshore Wind Collaborative, the symposium attracted nearly 200 registrants – from academics at Rutgers and other state universities, to fishermen, environmentalists, nonprofit leaders, industry representatives and government officials. Gov. Phil Murphy has set a goal for the Garden State to generate 11 gigawatts of electricity from offshore wind energy by 2040. 

“The collaborative brings together the tremendous expertise at Rutgers, creating an opportunity for sharing the broad diversity of capabilities needed to achieve the governor’s goals for offshore wind energy,” said Peggy Brennan-Tonetta, senior associate director of Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) and one of the collaborative’s three leaders. 

More than 40 Rutgers faculty – including experts in marine and environmental sciences, engineering, business, economics, public policy and psychology at Rutgers–Camden, Rutgers–Newark, Rutgers–New Brunswick, NJAES and Rutgers Cooperative Extension – have joined the collaborative, and participation is growing, Brennan-Tonetta said. 

The symposium included five-minute “lightening talks” from 20 professors about their research. Topics included turbine technology, power storage, ocean and marine life monitoring, wind speed forecasting, supply chain development, the psychology behind acceptance of recent technology and regulations for ensuring diversity and inclusion in the offshore wind energy economy. 

State Sen. Bob Smith, chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, said it is imperative that New Jersey lead the offshore wind energy charge to reduce greenhouse gases and save the planet. “We don’t have that many years left to get our act together,” Smith said, telling the gathering, “You’ve got to help us make wind energy viable across the country!” 

While there are 10,000 offshore wind turbines operating between Europe and Asia, the U.S. currently has only seven, said Kris Ohleth, the keynote speaker and director of the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind, an independent think tank. “This is still seen as science-fiction” in the U.S., Ohleth said. 

Offshore wind is a limitless, renewable energy source that can reduce reliance on natural gas and coal, as well as nuclear power. The Biden administration reported the industry can slash carbon emissions and create 77,000 jobs by 2030.  

New Jersey is well suited for offshore wind farms because of high winds off the coastline, a relatively shallow ocean depth that can accommodate ocean floor-based turbines, and a dense population in need of energy, Ohleth said. 

The Rutgers alumna likened power distribution in the U.S. to the cardiovascular system. Fossil fuels are largely produced in the west and sent east, with New Jersey shore towns functioning as the capillaries of the system. Offshore wind energy would put a “heart” in the ocean, and reverse the flow, Ohleth said. 

Symposium participants considered the technical, economic and social pros and cons of offshore wind energy development and discussed the effects on the fishing industry, tourism and marine wildlife. There is a need, they said, to build the industry workforce, get students interested in careers and provide training for minority communities and fossil fuel industry employees in order to make the transition to offshore wind energy jobs. These and other recommendations will be incorporated into a white paper for Rutgers faculty and will also be shared with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA).  

Tolu Omodara, one of 13 Rutgers students to receive a NJ Wind Institute Fellowship, said she felt energized by the symposium. “This has been instructional, insightful and inspiring,” said Omodara, who is pursuing a master’s in public administration at Rutgers–Camden. “We need to create a pipeline of leaders.”  

Sharonda Allen, founder and executive director of Operation Grow, Inc., a social advocacy nonprofit training young adults from marginalized communities for good-paying jobs in the solar energy field, is interested in finding out more about the job opportunities for communities that are most affected by pollution. “My question is, what are you doing to train and prepare them for jobs in this field?” she said.  

Frank Florio, a retired fisherman and firefighter, said the symposium provided him a better understanding of the industry and its impacts. “Down deep, I think offshore wind energy is a good thing, but there’s so much that’s uncertain,” he said.  

Eileen Murphy, vice president of government relations at New Jersey Audubon, said there are a number of factors involved in developing this renewable energy resource. “I’m focused on the environmental impacts of this, that I forget about the engineering challenges involved in getting offshore wind successfully implemented,” Murphy said.  

Rutgers Oceanography Professor Josh Kohut, one of the leaders of the Rutgers Offshore Wind Collaborative, said he was fascinated to learn about social science research “on how communities and individuals are responding to the introduction of renewable energy as a response to the climate crisis.” Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension coastal county offices will play a key role in answering communities’ questions and concerns about offshore wind energy environmental impacts.  

“The symposium catalyzed networking opportunities across the Rutgers community,” as well as with external partners, he said. Kohut said he also has been inspired to spread the word to Rutgers students about the expansive career opportunities offered by off shore wind.While there are 10,000 offshore wind turbines operating between Europe and Asia, the U.S. currently has only seven The event “was an awesome chance for the Rutgers University community to come together and learn about all these different aspects of offshore wind energy, and make important connections,” he said.