U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
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Wind Power Pioneer Interview: Carl Weinberg, Weinberg Associates

Carl Weinberg

Carl Weinberg, principal and founder, Weinberg Associates, Walnut Creek, California (PIX12066)

Wind Power Pioneer Interview: Carl Weinberg, Weinberg Associates

Date: 3/1/2003

Location: Walnut Creek, CA

"Carl is a leader of the renewable energy effort in the United States. While at Pacific Gas & Electric during the 1980s, Carl managed the leading U.S. electric utility program in the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies. Wind became a major focus of that program, including installation and evaluation of leading prototype hardware and participation in a utility-manufacturer consortium to develop variable-speed wind technology. Through the PG&E program, Carl developed a cadre of professionals dedicated to renewable energy— many of whom, like Carl, are today's leaders in the renewable energy community. A tireless spokesman, Carl continues to lead the charge for renewables by articulating his vision." — Ed DeMeo, Renewable Energy Consulting Services Inc.

Q. How did you get into wind energy?

A. In 1974, I retired from the Air Force and went to work for PG&E. Around this time, we started to see changes in the utility industry: oil price shocks, environmental impact reports, and struggles with nuclear power. I was given the opportunity to look at the utility industry from a fresh perspective, which led me to wind and its potential.

Q. What have been the most significant breakthroughs/developments that affected wind energy implementation during your career?

A. The most significant technology breakthrough has been the cooperation between the industry and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)/National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) R&D. Focusing DOE/NREL on components and the industry on systems has worked well.

The most significant policy breakthrough has been the market pull incentives. The most significant was the Public Utility Regulatory Act (PURPA) of 1978. By removing barriers to entry, it allowed unregulated electricity producers to sell power to utilities. This was followed by California's "Standard Offer Four," which kick-started the wind industry. Today it is the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which at least allows some recognition of wind's beneficial attributes.

The technology push and market pull have worked together to propel the continued development of wind power and allowed the organizational learning necessary to turn a technology into a viable industry.

Q. What has been your key contribution to moving wind forward?

A. My main contribution was developing a strong group of individuals in PG&E's R&D department that tackled technology concerns related to wind and its integration into the electricity industry. We studied wind speed measurement, variable speed drives, drive train stresses, evaluation of intermittent operation, capacity credit, and portfolio value concepts. We operated a 2.5-MW Boeing turbine and conducted noise and TV-interference measurements. Many of the industry concerns we studied still exist today. My main contributions were allocating R&D dollars; acting as a spokesman for a wonderful, innovative group of individuals; and helping to translate from technical language to business language in the context of electricity services.

Q. What are you currently focused on, and what are its prospects for wind energy?

A. I retired from PG&E in 1993, so I've lost my technology edge. I am focused on policy and recognition of sustainable energy services. Any sustainable electricity system must, by necessity, have a large wind component.

Q. What are the key issues that still need to be addressed to make wind a mainstream electricity generation option in the United States?

A. Many of the issues have been around for a while and are slowly being solved. All of the issues revolve around the institutional structure of the electricity industry and its rules that are biased in favor of fossil-fuel-based systems. This leads to an overestimated cost associated with intermittence and an undervaluing of wind power's benefits in air quality, fossil fuel price risk, portfolio value, economic development, and national security.

Q. Where will the industry/technology be in 2010?

A. It will be in good shape. We will have doubled generation capacity, with machines in the 1.5- to 2-MW range, and most of the institutional problems will have been solved.

Q. How important will carbon credits/trading be to wind development in the next 10 years?

A. I really don't have an answer to that. I know it is a means of valuing the environmental attributes of wind. It will help in the short term—maybe in the next ten years—but it is not a lasting solution.

Q. If you were king for a day, what one thing would you change/institute?

A. I would initiate a national effort to develop the wind power in the heartland of America, similar to what happened with hydropower. My effort wouldn't have to involve as much government funding, but it would at least provide the same assistance to wind as hydro, coal, nuclear, and gas receives.

Q. What has been the highlight of your career?

A. For about 10 years, as manger of PG&E's R&D program, I was able to develop a group of talented, innovative individuals that looked at the utility in a new way. We dealt with renewables, wind, solar, early gas turbines, the start of distributed power and distributed values, energy efficiency, dynamic transmission management, and many other concepts.

Being able to manage and inspire that group of individuals has been the highlight of my career.

Q. Looking back and forward, what lesson/experience would you highlight for the benefit of future pioneers?

A. You need a vision. Surround yourself with smart, capable people and treat them with dignity. Then make your vision simple and understandable, and pitch it over and over again.

This information was last updated on August 02, 2011