Thresher to retire from NREL

Bob Thresher, research fellow with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is retiring and becoming a researcher emeritus.

Thresher is a wind and marine energy pioneer with a 40-year career. He received a PhD in mechanical engineering from Colorado State University in 1970 and became assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Oregon State University.

Thresher began his first wind energy research project for Oregon People’s Utility Districts in 1973 and took a two-year assignment with the Energy Research and Development Agency, the predecessor to the U.S. Department of Energy, in 1976. He returned to OSU in 1978, where he began research on wind turbine dynamic response to wind turbulence and served as a consultant to early wind companies, including Boeing, Hamilton Standard, U.S. Windpower, Atlantic Orient Corporation and Northern Power Systems.

In 1984, Thresher joined the Solar Energy Research Institute, the laboratory that would later become NREL, as principle scientist. A decade later, NREL’s National Wind Technology Center was created by Hazel O’Leary, secretary of energy, at the Flatirons Campus location south of Boulder, Colo. Thresher directed the center from 1994 to 2008.

He was appointed NREL research fellow in 2008 and together with Walt Musial secured DOE funding for NREL’s Water Power program.

“I think labs are at their very best when they’re sorting out new concepts and new ideas, trying to get things focused on a path or several paths that lead to successful technology that could be commercialized,” Thresher said. “As time went on, I just didn’t see a place where I could have a bigger impact or change the way we produce energy any more effectively than at NREL. We’re looking to do good and make things happen, so it’s kind of an altruistic opportunity that, to me, just is not available any place else.”

Although he started his career in wind, Thresher is also considered a pioneer in the marine energy industry.

Marine energy is “very rich in terms of concepts,” which is what ultimately lured Thresher to the new area of study and allowed him to get his feet wet in an enticing, new field once again. “He’s had an imprint on the entire marine energy portfolio,” said NREL Water Power Laboratory Program Manager Al LiVecchi.

Though it holds significant promise, marine energy in the U.S. is still in the early stages of research and testing devices, “where wind was back in 1985,” Thresher said. For example, while the cost of land-based wind energy in the Midwest is now “as low as 1.8 cents/kilowatt hour (kWh), offshore wave energy is estimated to be between 75 cents and $1, while tidal energy is nearer to about 25 cents,” he said.

NREL says enthusiastic and energetic innovators are working on technologies such as tidal turbines and wave energy converters to turn the tide, so to speak.

NREL is a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC.

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