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Robert Thresher — Research Fellow

Dr. Thresher has more than 40 years of research, development, engineering, and management experience in wind technology, plant engineering, and aerospace systems.

At NREL, he has been a principal researcher developing early wind technology and an architect of the wind program at NREL and creation of the National Wind Technology Center.


As a professor at Oregon State University he worked with DOE to develop early wind technologies. He has been a strategist and spokesperson for the initiation of a national research program to develop offshore wind, wave, tidal and current energy technology. Dr. Thresher provides unparalleled expertise in research, development and commercialization of wind and ocean energy technologies. Dr. Thresher's key career accomplishments include:

  • Developed NREL's wind program from $5 million to $30 million
  • Received the H.M. Hubbard Award in recognition of outstanding leadership and initiative in science and technology management in 1990 by the Solar Energy Research Institute and the Midwest Research Institute
  • Recognized as the 1997 Person of the Year by the American Wind Energy Association
  • Inducted into the Academy of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Michigan Technological University, "in recognition of significant contributions to the engineering profession," October 1996
  • Awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Wind Energy Association in 2001
  • Received the Pioneer Award from the World Renewable Energy Network at the World Renewable Energy Congress VIII, 2004

Professional Experience

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Director, National Wind Technology Center (1994-2008)

Prior to his appointment to Research Fellow, Dr. Thresher led the research and development for the Federal Wind Energy Program. Under his direction, the Center managed the development of advanced wind turbines with rotor diameters in excess of 90 meters and power outputs of several megawatts. In addition, Dr. Thresher had responsibility for the startup of the new Federal Waterpower Program, including the development of advanced hydrodynamics and aerodynamic models, structural, and electrical power analysis methods required to design innovative and more costeffective advanced wind turbines and ocean devices.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Director, Utility Systems Division (1993-1994)

When Dr. Thresher was promoted to manage NREL's Utility Systems Division, he worked with DOE upper management to secure use of a 280acre site at Rocky Flats and developed the National Wind Technology Center. As Director of the new facility, Dr. Thresher worked closely with DOE to make the Center a focal point for national wind research. He successfully partnered with the Sandia National Laboratory to collaborate with NREL on wind technology development initiatives that impacted R&D programs at both laboratories. He also created new codes, new methods of analysis for wind turbine testing and new methods to develop advanced research turbines. The wind turbines at the Center were tested according to international standards required by the commercial power industry throughout the world.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Manager, Wind Research (1989-1994)

By 1989, the DOE wind program had grown to $12 million with $8 million assigned to NREL. The wind program's focus shifted from research to development of new wind technology. To achieve this goal, NREL promoted Dr. Thresher to manage the wind research program and a staff of 35 employees. Dr. Thresher's group was responsible for the next generation wind turbine development and to precondition the wind power market for new commercialized technology. Dr. Thresher initiated development activities by fostering relationships with wind industry members that included Zond, Atlantic Orient Corporation, Kenetech, Advanced Wind Turbines, Inc., and Northern Power Systems. To build confidence in these new turbines and accelerate commercialization, an operational testing program was created to condition the market. The wind program was a success under the direction of Dr. Thresher, and by 1994, Dr. Thresher was directing more than 45 people and managing a budget of $20 million per year.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Principal Scientist (1984-1989)

Eighteen years ago, NREL sought out Dr. Thresher to help integrate NASA's large machine program that was phasing out of NASA and into the NREL wind program. He began as a Principal Scientist with technical oversight of 2030 employees and a $5 million program to establish codes, carry out analysis to prove the ability to predict performance and loads for wind turbines and research to determine the effects of atmospheric turbulence.

Oregon State University, Full Professor (1970-1984)

In his position as professor at Oregon State, Dr. Thresher demonstrated his abilities as a leader in research and development, and project management. In 1976, Dr. Thresher was asked to work for two years with DOE in Washington D.C. to manage the innovative wind turbine research project through an intragovernmental personnel loan program. The innovative wind research program was managed through the DOE wind program office and started with a $3 million budget and contracted about 10 researchers at various universities around the country.

In 1978, he returned to Oregon State to lead and direct the research efforts on the effects of turbulence on structural dynamics of wind turbines and developed new modeling techniques. He was a major contributor to the engineering analysis and development of advanced wind turbine configurations. In 1976, the Oregon State University and DOE recognized him for his research in structural dynamics and analysis of the dynamic response of wind turbines exposed to turbulence. He developed the original "flap code" that provided the starting point for the structural dynamic analysis models of wind turbines that are currently researched at NREL today.

At Oregon State, Dr. Thresher also served as Director of the Energy Research and Development Institute from 1981 to 1984. This position involved obtaining funding and directing energy research efforts for graduate students and professors.

Throughout his tenure at Oregon State University, Dr. Thresher focused his research on wind energy. He worked with local and regional utilities, NASA, Battelle National Laboratories and DOE to develop wind technology and to research wind energy systems. He directed research assistants and managed a small budget from DOE.

Technical Advisory Roles in Public Service

  • Alternate Member for the Department of Energy to the Department of the Interior's Federal Advisory Committee for Wind Turbine Guidelines. The Committee has the mission of developing guidelines for the deployment of wind energy that protects and minimizes impacts to wildlife. Starting February 2008.
  • Member, ITI Energy Advisory Board, Scotland, UK. The Board has the provides high level advise to ITI Energy's Executive Director on strategies for developing new energy technologies that have the potential for Scottish economic development opportunities. The ITI Energy Mission is to perform R&D in partnership with industry, academia and the financial community to create new commercial opportunities. Also, a member of the Advisory Committee on Offshore Wind for ITI Energy.
  • Member, The Science Advisory Committee for the Development of the "California Guidelines for Reducing Impacts to Birds and Bats from Wind Energy Development", California Energy Commission, 20067.
  • Member, The Wildlife Society's Technical Review Committee on Wind Facilities and Wildlife, 2007
  • Member, EPRI Technical Advisory Team for the "Wave Power Feasibility Demonstration Project", 2003 - Ongoing
  • Testimony before the Senate U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the "Feasibility of Wind and Wave Development on the Outer Continental Shelf", April 19, 2005

Recent Lectures and Presentations

  • Thresher, R. (2008). Scenarios for Green Energy in the Americas, International American Development Bank. 22 January 2008, Washington, DC. Expert Panelist on Technology Applications.
  • Thresher, R. (2007). The Status and Future of Wind Energy Development: Wind Energy: The Answer is Blowing in the Wind (Oral Presentation). Department of Defense Workshop, Energy Conversions. 23 July 2007, Arlington, Virginia.
  • Thresher, R. (2007). The Status and Future of Wind Energy Development (Oral Presentation). MMS Workshop to Identify Alternative Energy Environmental Information, 2628 June 2007, Herndon, Virginia.
  • Thresher, R. (2007). Urban Revision: Competitions for Visionary Thinkers. 45 May 2007, San Francisco, California. Expert Panelist and Judge.
  • Thresher, R. (2007). Wind Energy's Potential to Transform Agriculture in SubSahara Africa and Asia (Oral Presentation). National Academies Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, 16 October 2007, Golden, Colorado.
  • Thresher, R. (2007). Wind Energy: Status and Future (Oral Presentation). Whitney Symposium: Sustainability, GE Global Research, 23 April 2007, Niskayuna, New York.
  • Thresher, R. (2006). Wind Energy Status and Future (Oral Presentation). Defense Science Board Research and Technology Panel. 6 October 2006, Boulder, Colorado.
  • Thresher, R. (2006). Wind Energy Status and R&D Challenges (Oral Presentation). Laboratory Energy R&D Working Group, 8 February 2006, Golden, Colorado.
  • Thresher, R. (2003). The Future of Wind Energy Technology (Oral Presentation). Electric Power 2003, 4 March 2003, Golden, Colorado.
  • Thresher, R. (2002). Avian Interactions with Wind Power Structures (Oral Presentation). EPRI Avian Workshop, 17 October 2002, Jackson, Wyoming.
  • Thresher, R. (2002). Evolution and Future of Wind Turbine Technology (Oral Presentation). National Academy of Engineering Annual Meeting, 7 October 2002, Washington, DC.

Publications and Patents

Conference Publications

  • "To Capture the Wind," IEEE power & energy magazine, Volume 5 Number 6, November/December 2007 with Michael Robinson and Paul Veers.
  • "Advanced Wind Technology: New Challenges for a New Century," presented at the European Wind Energy Conference, 27 February 2 March 2006, Athens, Greece 12 pp.; with A. Laxson; NREL Report No. CP50039357.

Journal Editorships

  • Wind Editor of the International Solar Energy Society, SOLAR ENERGY, 19791984
  • Founding Chief Editor; Wind Energy, "An International Journal for Progress and Applications in Wind Power Conversion Technology," Wiley Interscience, 19882002. Currently serving on the Editorial Board.


  • Spray Pickling Method for Zirconium Alloys, 1983, at Teledyne Wah Chang

NREL Publications

View all NREL publications for Dr. Thresher.