Wind energy is the fastest growing source of renewable energy in the world, and recent reports indicate that 20 percent of the electricity demand in the United States may be met by wind energy by 2030.
CU-Boulder is likewise among the leaders in wind energy research and education, with faculty and students helping to advance wind power technologies for greater cost-efficiency, power capture, and safer operation.
Electrical, computer, and energy engineering Professor Lucy Pao recently led the establishment of a Front Range wind energy center, partnering with Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory located in Golden. Called the Center for Research and Education in Wind, the center’s mission is to make wind power more accessible by reducing costs and increasing its reliability and efficiency.
Even though wind energy is priced competitively with coal and natural gas, Pao says the technology still has pressing problems that need to be remedied. Among these are the need to control wind loading to mitigate turbine damage and avoid shut-downs during high wind conditions, to optimize turbine control for greater efficiency of operation, and to determine turbine placement within wind farms and coordinate control for the best overall capture and generation of power.
A specialist in control systems, Pao is leading students in an investigation of novel controls for variable-speed wind turbines, which are designed to follow wind-speed variations to maximize aerodynamic efficiency.
CU students get a strong foundation in the fundamentals, as well as extensive elective courses that allow each student to specialize in a specific interest area. Areas of specialization include electromagnetics and wave propagation,optoelectronics, digital signal processing and communications, power electronics, solid-state materials and devices, controls, and computer engineering. Curricular options in biomedical engineering and renewable energy and power electronics also are available. Electrical and computer engineering undergraduates gain hands-on experience through extensive laboratory components within the curriculum as well as undergraduate research projects, NASA-funded design and build projects through the Space Grant program, Earn-Learn apprenticeships, internships, and co-op positions in industry.
The department hosts the Colorado Power Electronics Center and the Center for Environmental Technology, as well as the following research groups: biomedical engineering, communications and signal processing, computer engineering, dynamics and controls, electromagnetics, RF and microwaves; nanostructures and devices, optics and photonics, power electronics and renewable energy systems, remote sensing, and VLSI/CAD.
Electrical and computer engineers work for a wide range of manufacturers, computer and data processing service firms, engineering and business consulting firms, and governmental agencies in jobs ranging from design engineer to technical sales. CU graduates are employed at such companies as General Electric, Micron Technology, Emerson Process Management, Hewlett Packard, Intel, Space Systems/Loral, Fluke Networks, and SparkFun Electronics, to give only a few examples.
About 20 percent of CU-Boulder engineering bachelor’s graduates (college-wide) continue onto graduate school, gaining admittance to top schools such as MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, University of California Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin.
Electrical and computer engineers are expected to have a slower than average growth rate with employment growth projected to be about 2 to 4 percent through 2018. No data is available yet on the new emphasis in energy. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
The average salary nationally for an electrical and computer engineering graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2010 was $61,360; CU-Boulder graduates reported an average starting offer of $63,870.