University of Maine faculty will help meet the workforce demand of the offshore wind industry by offering students more training for future careers with new courses, micro-credentials and an undergraduate concentration in offshore wind energy, made possible with a $266,669 award from the Governor’s Energy Office’s Clean Energy Partnership program.

The initiative, OffshoreWind4Maine, led by Amrit Verma, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will offer hands-on curricula that will give high school and UMaine students and working professionals knowledge and skills in this growing industry. These new offerings are expected to benefit more than 300 undergraduate and graduate students in a single year and continue to establish Maine as a global leader in offshore wind research and workforce development. 

OffshoreWind4Maine integrates with Maine’s goals for the production of floating offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Maine to address local energy needs, reducing impacts on the climate and creating economic opportunity through Maine-based manufacturing, operations and maintenance of floating turbines. The state’s strategy is detailed as part of the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative, and the development strategy under way as part of the Maine Offshore Wind Road Map. The road map team recently completed the 2022 Maine offshore Wind Talent Analysis, which informs and supports the creation of the OffshoreWind4Maine initiative.

The federal government seeks to support the creation of 77,000 jobs in offshore wind energy as part of its effort to install 30 gigawatts by 2030 and 110 gigawatts by 2050, which would include 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind energy by 2035. Verma says employers struggle to find workers in the U.S. with the necessary skills, prompting them to recruit talent from elsewhere. At the same time, the number of UMaine students interested in studying offshore wind energy is growing, with the graduate-level concentration in it being one of the most popular offered by the Department of Mechanical Engineering, he says. 

These new programs and curricula will not only meet student demand, but also bolster Maine’s offshore wind workforce and support the state’s effort to become carbon neutral by 2045, says Verma. Their implementation is a joint effort between the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center and the School of Marine Sciences. 

The award also will provide opportunities for curriculum development for Maine high school students through the Windstorm Challenge, an engineering design competition for Maine middle and high school students to design a floating offshore wind hull and test it at the ASCC. The Windstorm Challenge, which will be held May 12, 2023, is free for all students and will highlight the unique opportunities for research and training in offshore wind energy at UMaine.

Other UMaine faculty and staff involved in the project include Richard Kimball, Presidential Professor in Ocean Engineering and Energy; Andrew Goupee, Donald A. Grant Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Damian Brady, Agatha B. Darling Associate Professor of Oceanography; Rebecca Fisher, a program manager with the ASCC; Taylor Ward, communications manager at ASCC; Matthew Tomasko, offshore wind business manager at ASCC and Wilhelm Friess, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.

“There are so many exciting opportunities in the offshore wind industry. Thanks to our insightful faculty and the generous support of the Governor’s Energy Office, the University of Maine is helping more students follow their passions, aiding workforce development and preparing future leaders in this field,” says UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. “This initiative is also another example of our commitment as a top-tier, R1 university to providing meaningful learning opportunities in the latest research and serving the people of Maine and beyond.” 

New micro-credentials created through this effort will include offshore wind model testing, lab instrumentation, protected species observing and remotely operated vehicle utilization. Verma says they will provide students with certifications in skills suited for specialized areas of the offshore wind industry, research and development and environmental impacts analysis, which will help them earn jobs or promotions. 

The new courses include a graduate-level Wind Energy Engineering course, an Offshore Wind Farm Engineering course for undergraduate and graduate students, a Marine Operations class about building and installing offshore wind technology and the interdisciplinary course Offshore Wind Energy Stakeholder Challenges. 

With these new classes and existing ones, the Department of Mechanical Engineering will be able to create an undergraduate concentration in offshore wind energy, complementing the one currently available for graduate students. Verma says the new concentration will help undergraduate students secure careers in offshore wind.  

“We are leading offshore wind efforts in the U.S. with our floating concrete VolturnUS hull technology,” Verma says. “As a result of our cutting-edge research, we have made several advances in the field of offshore wind. As part of this project, ‘OffshoreWind4Maine,’ we will take advantage of our several years of experience in this area to train students at the university and provide them with essential employability skills relevant to offshore wind. In addition to fulfilling domestic demand, the training programs and courses will make Maine’s students more competitive internationally. Also, these efforts will uniquely position UMaine and the state of Maine to attract offshore wind students from around the world.” 

“Micro-credentials provide students with the opportunity to apply academic knowledge and build employability skills in an authentic work environment,” Fisher says. “Through work and research experiences at the ASCC, students earning micro-credentials in Offshore Wind Energy will gain competency in specialized technical skills as well as essential career skills needed to contribute to this growing field.”

UMaine has become a leader in the research and development of floating offshore wind energy technology over the years with innovations like the VolturnUS technology, which has more than 70 patents. 

ASCC faculty, led by founding director Habib Dagher, have partnered with New England Aqua Ventus LLC — a joint venture between Diamond Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corporation, and RWE Renewables — to develop an 11-megawatt demonstration project using the center’s floating platform technology. Verma says his initiative will complement the project and the state’s effort to develop a 150-megawatt floating offshore wind research array, which also will use the Composite Center’s technology. 

In Maine, offshore wind energy represents the largest untapped natural energy resource, with more than 156 gigawatts, or 156,000 megawatts, of clean power off the coast from the Gulf of Maine’s high-quality offshore wind resource. Mainers currently use 2.4 gigawatts of electricity each year and New England population centers with high electrical demand are nearby. Tapping this renewable resource could provide significant, locally produced energy for Maine and the region.

Maine has the deepest waters near its shores, approximately 200 feet deep at three nautical miles, and 89% of Maine’s 156 gigawatts offshore wind resource is in deep waters. The state also offers extensive maritime industry infrastructure and proximity to one of the largest energy markets in the country.

“More than 14 years ago, the University of Maine’s ASCC launched a floating offshore wind research program to address high gasoline and heating oil costs, create jobs and protect the environment. We’ve since built an offshore wind program that has launched the first grid-connected US offshore wind turbine in 2013, the 1:8 scale VolturnUS floating hull off Castine, Maine. Today, this program houses one the largest floating offshore wind research and engineering teams in the world,” says Habib Daghher, founding director of the Composites Center. “This state-funded workforce training initiative is possible because of the research and design expertise gained over the past 14 years. Through this workforce initiative, we continue our drive to make responsibly-sited offshore wind a reality, creating clean energy Maine jobs, while protecting our traditional fishing industry. The program will provide a pathway for our students to become tomorrow’s leaders.”

Gov. Janet Mills announced this award and eight other clean energy workforce grants, totaling $2.5 million, on Dec. 1. The Clean Energy Partnership, which supports the development of good-paying clean energy and energy efficiency jobs, is funded by her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan. The Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan is Gov. Mills’ roadmap, approved by the Legislature, to invest nearly $1 billion in Federal American Rescue Plan funds to improve the lives of Maine people and families, help businesses, create good-paying jobs and build an economy poised for future prosperity.

For more about Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, visit maine.gov/jobsplan.