Beneath the Surface

Meet the staff powering NREL's water power research and development.

The seabed as viewed underwater overlain with water-related icons.
Photo from iStock, modified by Tara Smith, NREL

The research and advances in hydropower and marine energy at NREL is only possible thanks to the hard work of the staff beneath the surface. Check out this running profile series in the lab's water power newsletter, The Current, and water power news that highlights interviews with members of NREL's water power team, in which they share their stories from career path to passion for their work and hopes for the future of renewable energy.

Learn about joining NREL on our Work With Us page.

Tina Ortega

How a High School Essay Steered Tina Ortega Toward a Career in Marine Energy

Tina Ortega’s connection to and reverence for the natural world inspired her to seek out a career that would help protect the environment.

Alec Schnabel

Alec Schnabel Has the Power (and the Power Electronics) To Advance Wave Energy

Alec Schnabel, who is part of the first generation to watch climate change happen in real time, decided early on in his career that he wanted to help find solutions to combat the crisis.

Nicole Mendoza

Nicole Mendoza Is a Supersonic Environmentalist

Learn how Nicole Mendoza is building extra-sustainable clean energy technologies, including kelp-like wave energy devices that mimic her beloved nature.

Headshots of Charles Candon and Rebecca Fao layered on top of an image of light shining underwater

Beneath the Surface: Black Boxes, Robot Arms, and a Beloved Wave Tank

Charles Candon and Rebecca Fao are part of NREL’s testing team, which helps test and hone water power technologies as they journey from model to market. We spoke to them about their career origins and their day-to-day work.

Headshots of Jenny Wiegele, Dale "Scott" Jenne, and Heidi Tinnesand superimposed over a photo taken beneath the surface of a body of water with the sun shining through.

The Spark Squad Behind the Spark Squad

Learn about the spark squad—Jenny Wiegele, Dale "Scott" Jenne, and Heidi Tinnesand—behind the Spark Squad comics, a series created to inspire today’s kids to become tomorrow’s clean energy champions. Turtles, flopping fish, and a chemist dad are what inspired these three to create a series featuring narrator Power Office Gina and the three joules.

Patrick O'Byrne overlain on a black-and-white photo underwater.

From Holes to Coal to Tides: Patrick O’Byrne’s Journey to Clean Energy

When Patrick O’Byrne, a water power intern at NREL, recalls summer vacations on Massachusetts’ beachy Cape Cod, he doesn’t mention sandcastles or boogie boards; he talks about discovering the ocean’s “wild natural systems,” as he calls them. Now, O’Byrne is an engineer, specializing in those wild ocean systems. Read more about his work upgrading all manner of power plants, efforts on the Living Bridge project, and future career plans in renewable energy.

Kerry Strout Grantham overlain on a black-and-white photo underwater.

How Kerry Strout Grantham Negotiates Sustainable Human Growth (and Some Stinky Hikers)

In the early 2010s, Kerry Stout Grantham trekked along Maine's Appalachian Trail, asking hikers what they thought about wind turbines in the mountains. Now, Grantham, the coastal energy systems lead at NREL, is partnering with coastal, island, and remote communities to help them bring renewable energy to their homes. Read more about Grantham's path from Massachusetts to scuba diving on Saipan in the Pacific Ocean to helping balance human and environmental needs.

Ritu Treisa Philip overlain on a black-and-white image of underwater.

Ritu Treisa Philip's Life on the Ocean and on Stage

Growing up in Chennai, India, Ritu Treisa Philip saw frequent, long power outages. That's what got her interested in renewable energy. Philip is now a research engineer at NREL where she investigates how to turn waves, currents, and tides into affordable sources of clean electricity. Read more about how Philip ended up researching novel marine energy technologies from recovering energy from residual slag in India, her hobbies in theater and music, and her favorite aspects of NREL.

Aaron Levine overlain on a black-and-white image of underwater.

A Champion of Renewable Energy

"And one more thing!” That is how a young Aaron Levine often ended his arguments for a new toy, a later bedtime, or a different dinner. His parents knew their child would end up in law or policy. Now a senior legal and regulatory analyst at NREL with two law degrees in environmental and natural resources law and policy, Levine focuses on the regulatory barriers that could slow the growth of renewable energy—including hydropower facilities, geothermal systems, solar panels, and wind turbines.

Sherry Stout poses for a photo in front of a dam.

From Priceless Art to Disintegrating Coastlines, Sherry Stout Is Building Resiliency One Community at a Time

Sherry Stout is not a typical engineer. As a member of NREL's Alaska Campus in Fairbanks, Stout specializes in addressing energy challenges in rural, remote, tribal, and developing communities—and, on occasion, Washington, D.C. That means consulting on the Capitol's archives insulation as well as helping remote villages, like those in coastal Alaska, transition to renewable energy. Read more about her work and the importance of coordinated, diverse stakeholder groups in energy planning.

Three women's headshots overlain over a black-and-white underwater scene with water icons.

More Power to the Women

In the second of two in a Women's History Month series, three more women answer a few questions about their career paths and help inspire the next generation. Read more from Jennie Jorgenson, an energy systems modeling engineer, Aryana Nakhai, a water power techno-economic engineer, and Sherry Stout, an integrated design support engineer.

Three women's headshots overlain over a black-and-white underwater scene with water icons.

Power to the Women

In the first of two in a Women's History Month series, this article showcases a handful of NREL's outstanding women researchers in water power. How did they get into science? What barriers did they have to overcome? And what do they do now? Read the answers of Sarah Awara, an energy systems researcher, Hannah Ross, a water power postdoctoral researcher, and Sara Wallen, a water power research technician at NREL's Flatirons Campus.