August 03, 2017
CEE Alum Paul Murphy Oversees Nation’s First Offshore Wind Farm
As Vice President of Operations and Engineering at Deepwater Wind, CEE alum Paul Murphy has a job unlike any other in the United States. That’s because Murphy is in charge of operating the nation’s very first commercial offshore wind farm, Block Island Wind Farm.
Since joining Deepwater Wind in 2010, Murphy has touched everything from the design, development, construction, and, today, the operation of this 30-megawatt wind farm with five turbines, located about 16 miles offshore of Rhode Island.
Murphy describes his role throughout the project as doing whatever was necessary to keep everything moving—work he describes as both challenging and rewarding. “Being the first offshore wind farm in the US, there was no model to follow. There wasn't a supply chain of companies to support building it. There wasn't a supporting infrastructure: ready-made ports or the right kind of vessels,” says Murphy. “We had to solve first-of-a-kind problems on each phase of the project.”
During the project’s earliest stages, Murphy gathered information through marine surveys and scientific studies. Later, he focused on details like cable routes and supporting real estate agreements and permits, before transitioning to hiring and managing contractors to design and install the project’s foundations, cables, and turbines. In December 2016, after nearly seven years of development and construction, Block Island Wind Farm began commercial operation.
Historically, Block Island had ferried in around one million gallons of diesel fuel every year to generate power for the island’s one thousand or so inhabitants. Since the project’s completion, the island runs primarily on wind power and no longer relies on diesel imports, with excess wind power delivered to the mainland via a newly installed undersea cable.
With larger projects already in development near Long Island and Maryland, Murphy is optimistic about the potential of offshore wind as a valuable energy source. “With the number of people living between Boston and Washington DC, this region is so densely populated that it's difficult to site new onshore power plants or high voltage transmission lines, but you have a good steady breeze just over the horizon in the ocean,” he explains.
Murphy has always been drawn to tackling tough problems, and earning his MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon in 2004 gave him a solid foundation for doing so. “CMU helps you develop a strong analytical skill set that gives you a way to think about the world and about big, important, interesting problems,” he says.
Beyond his classes, school organizations and research allowed him to not only dive further into his studies, but also to build leadership skills and become adept at communicating with and working alongside diverse audiences. “To present what you've done, see what others have done, and have an exchange of ideas, where people are supportive but also asking critical questions, those experiences set you up for your professional life,” he says.
Reflecting on his professional success, Murphy explains, “What’s been most useful to me is seeking out challenging problems and throwing myself into finding meaningful solutions for those problems. I really believe in what we’re working towards at Deepwater Wind—that this could be a viable new source of energy for the US Northeast, help to upgrade our coastal infrastructure, and potentially create thousands of regional jobs. Knowing there are so many positive things you're working towards makes every day meaningful and pushes you to do your absolute best.”