We caught up with Hiram Mechling, Associate Director and Vice President, USA to find out about his role, career path and what the future might hold for offshore wind.
What got you into engineering?
That goes back a long way! My dad owned a construction company, so I hung out on site. I have other family members in engineering so that really sparked the idea. My sister is a Professor of Engineering at a college in California, so seeing her go through college and get her career started was a huge inspiration to me.
What is it about engineering you love? What attracts you?
With so many disciplines to choose from, I ended up going with civil/structural engineering and then further specializing in offshore wind. What attracts me to engineering is that you can see the results of your design hopefully built. And in the offshore wind engineering, this is on a very large scale. That’s very gratifying and satisfying to see the tangible result of what you created.
What are the projects you are you most proud of over your career?
I’m working on the thing I’m probably most proud of right now! In the past - Block Island Offshore Wind Project and Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) in the United States were great projects to be involved with. But I’m probably most proud of, and it’s still being built, the Vineyard Wind project. To see that completed and pushed over the finish line will be the highlight of my career. That should be happening in the next few years. It will be great to see all the hard work pay-off. It will be extremely gratifying.
What’s your specialty within offshore wind?
I guess I’m considered an offshore foundation expert – at least in the US! Designing fixed bottom offshore foundations – like monopiles or jackets. What I have also become good at is project management and project directing. Working with all the different disciplines and bringing everything together to make a project happen.
Looking at your current project, Vineyard – what’s your role?
I’m the Senior Project Manager for foundation designs. I’m also the Professional Engineer of Record, so my PE stamp will go on all documentation and I take legal liability. I make sure everything is completed on time and on budget. And I also make sure that all the technical details are correct.
What was your career journey to now?
Originally I’m from Idaho and then moved to New Orleans for college. I have a bachelor of science degree in physics and a bachelor of science in civil engineering degree from Loyola University and Tulane University, respectively. I interned at different companies throughout my undergrad years, but first got into offshore engineering in 2005 working at McDermott International, they were a pioneering offshore engineering construction company that started way back in the 1940s in Louisiana. Then Hurricane Katrina happened, and that change things for me and a lot of other people. I ended up moving to Seattle and simultaneously working for URS (formally Washington Group International) in the power/energy sector and getting my masters of science civil engineering degree in structural engineering from the University of Washington. At that point, I knew I wanted to go into renewables, so I applied to the Valle Scholarship program through the University of Washington to study/research at institutions within Scandinavia. My application was accepted and I was off to Denmark to study and research at the MSc Wind Energy program at DTU.
Eventually I moved back to the US and was lucky enough to get hired at Keystone Engineering, which started my career in the offshore wind industry.
Why did you want to get into Offshore Engineering?
There are so many factors to consider with offshore structural engineering – you have to consider everything mother nature can throw at it. For me, it was the most interesting.
The US offshore wind market – has it changed now? And why?
Absolutely it’s changed! In 2011 when I first started doing offshore wind there just wasn’t a market, some aspirational small projects, and some grand ideas, but not much. Today is completely different. Things are moving very quickly with market expansion and the possibility of what could happen. Companies are investing in the US – major multinational corporations and it’s caught the attention of all the major energy players in the world. It changed because around 5 years ago, US states started putting out procurement timelines, for megawatts, which created a revenue stream. Before offshore leases were bought and sold but there was no direct way of selling electricity. On the Federal level, offshore wind is receiving more support and clear guidance.
What are the barriers to the opportunity becoming reality?
Barriers are coming down. What we need to see is the first major commercial offshore wind farm built. The Vineyard Wind Record of Decision was a huge barrier lifted; it gave the industry a clear path. On a Federal level, this gave the industry what we needed. I think things are moving in the right direction.
Looking forward to floating structures – do they have a large part to play in US?
I think so, on the west coast no doubt. There is lots of interest in California and things seem to be moving quickly.
What are you most excited about for the future in offshore renewables energy?
I think the Vineyard Wind Project, I’m very excited to see this move forward. The other thing, on a broader level, week after week different announces about offshore wind are made from US states and the Federal government. This is all great news. There is huge potential on the West coast, California is a such a big market, requires huge amount of energy. Everything is moving very quickly and I’m excited to see how this all pans out.
Why Wood Thilsted?
There is a huge amount of talent all under one roof, it’s very hard to find that talent in one company. Wood Thilsted is poised to continue to serve the global offshore wind market.