Published: June 20, 2023 By

Nikhar Abbas cycling by wind turbines.Nikhar Abbas (PhDMechEngr’22) is taking his research on wind turbine control systems to the international stage.  

Abbas received the 2023 European Academy of Wind Energy (EAWE) Excellent Young Wind Doctor award. EAWE, an international non-profit organization that supports wind energy science, annually recognizes doctoral students who have defended a thesis of significant impact on the development or implementation of wind power. 

Abbas has been only one of two U.S. students to earn this distinction from the EAWE since 2008. 

“It’s been exciting to know that my work is seen and my own ideas have had its reach,” said Abbas. He will be delivering the keynote speech at the EAWE PhD seminar in Hanover, Germany, this September. 

Abbas was nominated for the award by his advisor Lucy Pao, professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. 

“As part of his PhD dissertation research, Nikhar integrated his Reference Open-Source Controller (ROSCO) framework into the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s software toolset with great attention to detail in order to allow as many other users (who may not have control systems expertise) to automatically design a controller for land-based, as well as fixed-bottom and floating offshore wind turbines,” said Pao. “I nominated Nikhar because I was noticing just how much ROSCO is being used by the wind energy community. Nikhar was the lead developer for ROSCO and it has really been nice to see the impact that ROSCO is having.”

Abbas’ research focuses on wind turbine design and control systems. These control systems are necessary to optimize the performance, safety and stability of turbines. His work helped to automate these controllers for fixed and floating offshore wind turbines.   

“Turbines try to get as much energy from the wind. A lot of people don't know that blades on wind turbines actually turn themselves to prevent wind turbines from spinning too fast,” said Abbas. “We’re specifically making sure we have automated controllers to do this well and design controllers that can be applied easily to any new turbine designs.” 

As wind electricity generation increases globally, so does the interest in these turbine control technologies for both onshore and offshore wind turbines. Floating wind turbine farms, which are installed in deeper waters than commercial fixed turbines, are seen as the next frontier in the wind energy portfolio. Harnessing power miles offshore will require rotating turbines that are among the largest ever built. Abbas’ research pertaining to wind turbine control optimization is relatively new, but critical in the field. 

“The controller side of things is pretty secretive from the big manufacturer's point of view, and the details are not well known in the academic space,” Abbas said. “My research has focused on making standard control algorithms available to researchers and developers in all fields, and then has applied the controller to control co-design of floating wind turbines and wind turbines with active aerodynamic control devices called trailing edge flaps.”

Abbas always had a fascination with science growing up, earning his bachelor’s in environmental engineering and master’s in mechanical engineering at the University of California San Diego. During his time in southern California, he spent a couple years serving as a lab technician at the renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 

In consideration of his PhD, Abbas was inspired by several aspects. His internship at NREL’s marine hydrokinetic division, mentorship with Pao and enjoyment of Colorado’s outdoor recreation all drew him to CU Boulder. It was that internship that sparked his curiosity for mechanical engineering research. 

“One day I was walking outside and it was windy and I kind of looked up and there's a turbine spinning,” he said. “I realized that wind energy was something where I could really see myself spending time researching and building a career on.” 

Abbas developed open-source model algorithms for wind turbine controllers, which has garnered the attention of thousands of people around the world, including energy labs.

“A big part of this motivation was improving the accessibility of wind turbine controls and design ideas to the corporate world and actual manufacturers.” 

Upon completing his PhD program, Abbas did just that and moved abroad to Copenhagen with his partner and took his experience in wind research by working as a control engineer at Siemens Gamesa, a global leader in renewable wind turbine energy. 

“My hope is that optimized controllers become more of a standard baseline that the industry can use and especially the academic world,” he said. “There's ongoing work and feedback that has been received has been exciting to see.”

Top photo: Nikhar Abbas on a bike trip in northern Italy, just outside of Verona.