Photo of Robert Thresher

Robert Thresher

Contingent Worker-Emeritus Researcher

Orcid ID

Dr. Thresher has more than 45 years of research, development, engineering, and management experience in wind energy technologies, ocean energy, 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
  • Originator and co-Principal Investigator for NREL’s ocean energy research program
  • Founding director of the North American Wind Energy Academy
  • 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
  • Elevated to the position of NREL Research Fellow in 2008.


Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, Colorado State University; M.S. and B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Michigan Technological University

Professional Experience

NREL, Research Fellow (2008-2020)

As a Research Fellow, Dr. Thresher advised laboratory management on the strategic direction of science and technology research at NREL and ensured the laboratory’s work met the highest standards of quality and objectivity. He served as Water Power Program Manager and team leader until 2016, and provided strategic advice on fundamental research activities to advance the development of wave, tidal, and ocean current energy technologies.

NREL, Director, National Wind Technology Center (1994-2008)

As Director, 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 cost effective, advanced wind turbines, and ocean devices.

NREL, 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 280-acre 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.

NREL, 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.

NREL, Principal Scientist (1984-1989)

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 20-30 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.

Memberships and Advisory Roles in Public Service

  • NREL Science Advisory Committee, 2008–present
  • NREL Research Fellows Council, 2008–present
  • Igiugig Village Council Technical Advisory Committee for river current energy project, 2016–present
  • Cornell Energy Institute Advisory Council, 2010–present
  • Served as the U.S. Alternate Representative to the Ocean Energy Systems Technology Collaboration Program of the International Energy Agency, 2010–2018
  • Serving as Launch Director for the North American Wind Energy Academy since 2014
  • 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, 2006-7.
  • 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.

Lectures and Presentations

  • Thresher, R. (2020, 2019. 2018). Research and Development for Wind and Ocean Energy, (Guest Lecturer). Colorado School Mines Energy Course, Golden, Colorado, 21 March 2017.
  • Thresher, R. (2017). Renewable Wave and Tidal Ocean Energy: The Status of research and Development, (Keynote Address). Society of Triboligists and Lubrication Engineers Annual Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia. 22 May 2017.
  • Thresher, R. (2016). An American Perspective on Wind’s Path to Commercialization: Tales of the Early R&D, (Keynote Address). Invited Keynote by the European Academy of Wind Energy at their Conference on the Science of Making Torque from Wind. Munchen, Germany. 5 October 2016.
  • Thresher, R. (2015). A Historical Overview of Wind and Wildlife Research. (Invited Briefing). A workshop for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Washington, DC USFWS Offices Arlington, Virginia, 9 July 2015.
  • Thresher, R. (2013-14). BOEM Offshore Renewable Energy Workshops: Ocean Wave Energy Technology, (Workshop Presentation). Three workshops on offshore renewable energy sponsored by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Portland, Oregon, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Sacramento, California, 2013-14.
  • Thresher, R. (2012). Status and Future of Marine Hydrokinetic Energy in the U.S. (Presentation). The MTS/IEEE Oceans’12 Conference, Yeosu, Republic of Korea, 21 May 2012.
  • Thresher, R. (2012). Power Systems for a Sustainable Electricity Future, (Presentation). 2012 IEEE Power Electronics and Machines in Wind Applications Conference, Denver, Colorado, 16 July 2012.
  • Thresher, R. (2011). Our Electricity Needs: Why is Wind Growing So Fast, (Presentation). Northwest Wind Energy and Wildlife Workshop. Portland, Oregon, 7 June 2011.
  • Thresher, R. (2010). Our National Energy Picture: A pathway to Marine Renewable Energy. (Workshop Presentation). A workshop hosted by the Southeast National Marine Energy Center on renewable ocean energy and the marine environment. Palm beach, Florida, 3 November 2010.


Conference Publications

  • “Ocean Energy Policy: Lessons Learnt,” Workshop report for Ocean Energy Systems for Ocean Energy Systems a Technology Collaborative Program of the International Energy Agency. Held in May 2016, Smogen, Sweden.
  • “Designing for Reliability of Wave and Current Marine Energy Converters,” Workshop Report for Ocean Energy Systems a Technology Collaborative of the International Energy Agency. Held in February 2015, Lisbon, Portugal.
  • “Computational modeling and analysis of wave and tidal converters,” Workshop Report for Ocean Energy Systems a Technology Collaborative of the International Energy Agency. Held in February 2015, Lisbon, Portugal.
  • “Open Water Testing,” Workshop Report for Ocean Energy Systems a Technology Collaborative of the International Energy Agency. Held in February 2015, Dublin, Ireland, October 2012. 
  • “Commercialization Path and Challenges for Marine Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy.” NREL/CP-5000-49959, IEEE PES (Power and Energy Society) General Meeting: The Electrification of Transportation and the Grid of the Future, 24-28 July 2011, Detroit, Michigan 8 pp, Thresher, R., 2011. 
  • “Future of Wind Energy Technology in the United States.” Presented at the 2008 World Renewable Energy Congress, Glasgow, Scotland, UK, July 19–25, 2008 12 pp.; NREL Report No. CP-500-43412, with Robinson, M.; Veers, P.
  • “Status and Future of Wind Energy Technology: Introduction to Wind Energy and Modern Wind Technologies in the United States,” Hafemeister, D., et al., eds. Physics of Sustainable Energy: Using Energy Efficiently and Producing It Renewably, 1-2 March 2008, Berkeley, California. AIP Conference Proceedings, Vol. 1044. Melville, NY: American Institute of Physics (AIP) pp. 340-359; with Robinson, M.; Veers, P.
  • "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.


  • Wave Energy Conversion Incorporating Actuated Geometry, 2016, R. Thresher, M. Lawson, N. Tom, J. Cotrell, Y.H. Yu, and A. Wright
  • Wind Turbine Blade Testing System using Base Excitation, 2014, J. Cotrell, R. Thresher, S. Lambert, S. Hughes, J. Johnson 2014
  • Spray Pickling Method for Zirconium Alloys, 1983, at Teledyne Wah Chang.