The Life and Work of Bill Heronemus,
Figure 1: Design for a multiple-array wind turbine structure, produced by Bill Heronemus and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts in the early 1970s. The concept predicted offshore windfarms. The turbines on this array were based on the Russian Yalta machine of the 1930s, as described in the classic book by Golding (reprinted 1976).
In 1972, Bill founded the Wind Power Group in the UMass Engineering Department. Bill personally enlisted other professors from mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering to lend their leadership and expertise to the program, notably, Jon McGowan, Dick Monopoli, Duane Cromack, Bob Kirchhoff, Frank Kaminsky, Al Russell, and Merit White. This team of professors generated a group of undergraduate and graduate students to work in renewable energy under Bill. The major efforts were offshore windpower and ocean thermal energy. Since we were all eagerly learning about wind turbines, Bill and the author gave the first course in windpower engineering to the students in 1972. Under Jim Manwell’s leadership this course has continued as an official UMass engineering course of study, unbroken ever since then, culminating with a comprehensive textbook.33
This UMass Renewable Energy Project was long-lived, due to Bill’s consistent lobbying and pushing the DOE toimplement solar, wind, and ocean thermal energy. The graduates from the windpower course numbered 8 in 1974. These were the students who designed and built the Wind Furnace. In subsequent years, the number of students grew, and this cadre of graduates formed the core of the US wind industry, both in founding wind energy companies and staffing the national agencies, principally NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory). Dozens of Bill’s students still work in the wind industry and DOE, and the “UMass Mafia,” as it is fondly known, is still the strongest core of close professionals in the field in the world. These UMass graduates were, and still are, eagerly sought by the now-large wind turbine companies.
During the 1980s, Bill worked on ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).31 He proposed large OTEC plants abroad and in the US, along with wind turbines in appropriate locations, at a yearly cost starting with two billion dollars and increasing over the years. He took leave from the University to start his own company, Ocean Wind Energy Systems. Cooperating with the Alfa-Laval company, the plan was to build a prototype OTEC. The estimate was that such energy systems should cost no more than current generating plant, but would produce no pollution, no fuel shortages, no price increases, and a simple, labour-intensive technology offering more ample and more balanced employment.
US Windpower was founded by Stanley Charren and Russell Wolfe in 1976; the company became the first major US wind turbine manufacturer. This company undertook to build “windfarms” based on Bill’s ideas and the original Wind Furnace design. US Windpower (later Kenetech) became the largest wind energy firm in the world, and succeeded in erecting thousands of windmills. Charren and Wolfe credit Bill with the vision and plan which “created the entire windpower community,” and then “staffing it with his own students and graduates.” Bill lived to see windpower grow into a major industry and way of life in the world. He particularly enjoyed the offshore windfarms. He pursued his own research and designs through the ’80s and ’90s, with help from his previous students. In 1998, Bill and the author founded Ocean Wind Energy Systems, Inc. to implement the Wind Turbine Array, Windship, Wind Furnace, and Hydrogen Flotilla, and codify Bill’s vision and designs in patents.
Bill Heronemus was a member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, ASME, American Society of Naval Engineers, International Solar Energy Society (ISES), Marine Technology Society, Sigma Xi, Phi Eta Sigma and the American Wind Energy Association. He was the recipient of the Chancellor’s Medal at UMass in 1977, an NSF grantee, 1963–68, and awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Wind Energy Association in 1999: “In recognition of the inspiration that he provided to an entire generation of wind energy engineers and of a vision for the wind industry that is only now starting to be realized.”
In his AWEA 1999 acceptance speech, Bill said:
“There is an absolute requirement for the Earth to remain in thermal balance within our solar system. There is only one ultimate solution to the global warming problem: total reliance upon solar energy. And the most productive of all solar energy processes is the wind energy process.” He continued, saying, “Wind power needs to be developed at a steady and appropriate pace, but the free market capitalistic system that we hold so dear will not do the job. There is need for massive governmental interference. If we wait for the private sector to reduce the greenhouse gases linked to our fossil fuel use, it will be too late.”
He remained active until the last days of his life, writing in 2000:32
“Renewable energy is mandatory for the future of mankind. Wind energy is one of the best sources, and the technology already exists to tap it. Europeans are moving quickly in this direction, while Americans are dragging their feet.”
In conclusion, the following paragraph is taken from a published obituary:34
“Heronemus’ crusade to expand energy sources makes sense to us and is more relevant than ever today, when many people believe the quest for oil is a destabilizing factor in world politics. But ideas such as his found little favour in the US, where “black gold” has always been king. Wind power, being less tangible than other energy sources, just doesn’t excite the imagination of the energy industry the way a gushing oil well does. The industry’s fears of competition also played a part in its rejection of Heronemus’ ideas. A source of power that is easily obtained, renewable and doesn’t require extensive supporting industries — in short, one that upsets the established order and could compromise profits — is viewed as a threat rather than a possible solution to a problem.... We don’t want to give the impression that William Heronemus’ struggle to promote alternative energy sources was in vain. Far from it; his vision is becoming a reality in Denmark,which hopes by 2040 to supply 50% of its electricity through renewable energy sources — a large portion of it from offshore wind turbines. William Heronemus is gone, but his ideas live on. They are needed now more than ever, and we’d like to see them given more consideration, especially in the United States. There is little to lose and much to gain.”
Woody graduated from Amherst Regional High School in 1962 before going to M.I.T. where he received his B.S. (1966) and M.S. (1968) in aeronautics and astronautics. Woody then joined the Air Force where he worked on designing helicopters and vertical take-off aircraft at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. Woody left the service in 1972 to return to Amherst, where he began applying his talents to the then emerging field of wind energy. His dream was to help create and promote wind power, a new, non-polluting, renewable source of energy. Working with Prof. Bill Heronemus and a group of younger graduate students Woody helped build the UMass Wind Furnace on the Northeast side of campus. He received his Ph.D. in Civil/Ocean Engineering in 1979. Woody spent the rest of his 34-year career pursuing his dream by writing grants to fund research, battling resistant public utilities and lobbying state and federal agencies to promote interest in alternative energy he is regarded as an expert in his field of structural dynamics, aerodynamics, design and development of wind turbines. He wrote over 50 technical reports on the subject and in 1987 co-authored the highly regarded textbook Wind Turbine Engineering Design. He was awarded an Academic Achievement Award in 1988 and, recently, a Lifetime Achievement Award, both from the American Wind Energy Association. Woody Stoddard died in 2007.