William Heronemus testifying on Renewable Energy in front of the US Senate

Educator, Renewable Energy Pioneer, Naval Architect, Sea Captain, Mentor

Excerpted from The Life and Work of Bill Heronemus, Wind Engineering Pioneer
(see Library of Works for the entire article and citations.)

Bill Heronemus is known the world over as the "father of modern windpower" and the inventor of the wind turbine array, windship, wind furnace and offshore hydrogen flotilla ideas. He is generally credited with the invention of the terms "windfarm", "windshaft" and "windsmith" in wide use today. All the present researchers in wind turbines owe the grasp of the fundamentals to Bill Heronemus' work of the 1970s, when he and his cadre published many, many reports on windpower, along with the earlier pioneers forming the backbone of all the engineering, which was yet to come. Wind turbine engineers the world over know of Bill's work, and quietly credit him with the original plan and vision, because most of us knew that he steadfastly avoided any public adulation or praise for his work, which he considered just to be "plain old common sense". Bill Heronemus was an engineer's engineer. He was humble, and would have been horrified and embarrassed to see his life in print like this. But he gave us a vision and a legacy for our own dreams, and changed many lives.

The exerpt below was written in 1968 by Bill Heronemus as Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst:

"In the immediate future, we can expect the 'energy gap' to result in a series of crises as peak loads are not met. The East Coast will be dependent on foreign sources for most of its oil and gas. The environment will continue to deteriorate in spite of ever-increasing severity of controls. Air pollution, oil spills and thermal pollution are likely to be worse, not better in 1985. In the face of the continuing dilemma: power us. pollution: a third alternative [to nuclear and fossil energy} must be sought. It may be found in the many and varied nonpolluting energy sources known to exist in the US or its offshore aggregate. These energy sources, tied together in a national network, could satisfy a significant fraction of our total power needs in the year 2000"

Thus Bill Heronemus not only predicted the worldwide energy difficulties which were to come, including nuclear power plant failures, but saw the grand scale of future of renewable energy development. This included solar thermal, land-based and offshore wind [29], and ocean thermal energy. He had encyclopedic knowledge of power plants, oceanography and engineering, and he was able to present his arguments in a practical and convincing way.

Bill Heronemus attended the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, and was commissioned Ensign, USN, on December 19, 1941. After the war, he attended MIT to complete his MS in Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering; his chief interest was the propulsion of warships and submarines. At the Portsmouth Naval Yard in 1948, he became a Submarine Engineering Duty Officer, and he spent the next 17 years in the US Navy working on the design and construction of the US nuclear submarine fleet. He was a central figure in the unprecedented Cold War effort to establish a formidable US nuclear submarine fleet under three Presidents, which was pivotal in maintaining detente. In 1963, Bill Heronemus became the Assistant Naval Attaché to the Court of S1. James in London, England.

In 1967, Bill took the job of starting an Ocean Engineering department at the University of Massachusetts. The OE work included oceanography, marine biology and geology as well as naval architecture, which Bill taught personally in a very difficult two-semester course. We were lucky to have had him for a teacher and mentor.

In the late 1960s Bill Heronemus correctly predicted a coming energy crisis, and began a national debate on energy policy, advancing the use of "Grand Scale Renewables" to replace gradually fossil fuel and nuclear energy. Bill was already an expert on structures, power systems and the oceans, and quickly learned ocean thermal and wind energy by using the literature available in the 1960s, the work of the other pioneers: Juul, Champly, Hutter, Betz, Percy Thomas, Golding, Shefter, Lacroix, Helge Petersen, Sabinin, Vadot, Stodhart, Putnam, LeCours, Honnef, Claude, Chilcott, and many others. To their work, he added support structures for Multiple Arrays (Fig 1), Wind Ships, Flotillas and a Hydrogen Storage System to firm the power. He enlisted practically the entire engineering faculty of UMass, and presented a landmark proposal urging the National Science Foundation in 1971 to accelerate renewables research and development. The Proposal was audacious, including putting many wind turbines on a space array, on Wind Ships out at sea in Flotillas, to harvest the wind energy there producing hydrogen fuel and anhydrous ammonia fertilizer via electrolysis. The Grand Scale Offshore Wind Power System was showcased in the December 1975 issue of National Geographic Magazine. It depicted a 34-turbine array Wind Ship moored at sea in a Flotilla, converting seawater to hydrogen fuel. This concept was widely circulated in the technical and popular press, but no funding came to UMass because the competing interests were too strong. The offshore windpower concept was eagerly adopted by the Energy Research and Development Administration (later the US Department of Energy), who funded GE and Westinghouse, using Bill's ideas. Their results were mediocre, and seemed to discredit offshore windpower, but our technological culture is very close to realizing that vision now.

Bill's energy debate grew, with his appearances before Congress and many government agencies and utilities, each time presenting feasible plans for renewable energy. This culminated in the Carter Administration recognizing the wisdom of the Plan, and in 1975 with UMass getting a contract with NSF to design and construct the Wind Furnace and Solar Habitat, a 10m wind turbine heating a single-family solar home via large hot water storage tanks (Northeast Utilities would not permit us to produce grid electricity). The WF-I was commissioned on Nov. 6, 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.

This UMass Renewable Energy Project was long-lived, due to Bill's consistent lobbying and pushing the DOE to implement 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). 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, labor-intensive technology offering more ample and more balanced employment.

In his AWEA 1999 acceptance speech (for a lifetime achievement award), 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."

For more information about WEH, see the full article and other of his papers.

William Edward. Heronemus, Captain,. USN (Ret.), Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, born April 16, 1920, died November 2,2002

This site was last updated 11/30/11