It is an awe inspiring sight witnessing massive wind turbines generating electrical energy from the power of the wind, symbolic of the generational shift from conventional energy to clean energy.
Vishal Murali, our next pathbreaker, Wind Engineer at Wind Pioneers, works as part of a team that designs and develops wind farms for customers across the globe and handles different aspects of wind resources management.
Vishal talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his masters thesis focused on optimizing an offshore wind farm that helped him understand the multidisciplinary nature of wind farm development.
For students, there are a lot of people around who do not have access to electricity. Let’s do our part to make clean electricity available for them!
Vishal, your Background?
I am basically from Chennai and belong to a family of 4. My dad works in the private sector and my mom is a homemaker with a law degree. I did my schooling in 6 different schools in India. It helped me to understand the importance of different cultures and the need to adapt.
I love playing team sports, be it cricket, football, tennis, etc. I have played cricket and badminton at a competitive level. I play the violin occasionally and never miss out on an opportunity to read whenever I have the time.
I was studying in my 6th grade in Kolkata, and I was the only student from south India in my class. We had our first geography class and, our teacher started explaining the concept of Indian Monsoons and in the process asked me a question:
Why does Chennai experience the monsoon in winter and not during summer?
I knew that Chennai has its monsoon season from November – December but I did not know the answer as to why this is the case. My teacher explained the concept of trade winds, surface heating, sea breeze, land breeze, and the formation of the Indian monsoon. She described the importance of the Himalayas, western ghats and explained to me the physics behind Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu receiving the monsoon rains during the winter season. I still remember this incident as if it happened yesterday. This entire concept fascinated me, and, from that day, geography was one of my favourite subjects at school.
In the same year, I had an opportunity to attend a workshop for school students organized by NASA. This workshop was on water conservation and how society needs to take care of mother earth. They explained the importance of global warming and the need to curb pollution. Even though I was very young, I started to understand the importance of nature conservation after this workshop.
I came down to Chennai during my 7th grade and studied in a reputed school till grade 12. When I was in grade 8, Chennai experienced heavy rains and the locality I was staying at was waterlogged. We had no access to electricity for two to three days. It was probably the first time I came across the terms Nature Fury, Global Warming, Climate Change, Electricity issues, etc.
During my summer vacation in 2009, my family and I visited Madurai and drove to Kanyakumari. On the way, I saw many gigantic structures on either side of the highway. At that time, I was curious as to why these structures were there. My dad explained to me the working of these structures (wind turbines) and their importance in generating clean electricity. I must say that I was super fascinated by these structures.
What did you study?
I did my BTech in Mechanical Engineering from SRM University and M.S. in Sustainable Energy Technology (SET) from the Delft University of Technology.
I wanted to study a course that would provide me the platform to dive into all forms of renewable energy and specialize in wind energy. I felt TU Delft was the best option as it was one of the top universities in this field. The master’s program was a different experience altogether. For example, every subject in the course had a group project. These group projects allowed me to interact with students from diverse backgrounds. It helped me in improving my soft skills and critical thinking ability. Moreover, this program helped me interact with many industry experts during guest lectures. The interactions with the industry experts helped me shape my career to a large extent.
Tell us, how did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional, and uncommon career?
The first two years of my Mechanical degree helped me grasp most of the technical subjects that my degree had to offer. During my third year, Chennai experienced one of the worst floods in its history. Many homes were washed away. There was a shortage of food all over the city and no access to electricity for a week. From a personal point of view, I felt like a Deja Vu, even though the floods disrupted the daily life of all the citizens with a far greater magnitude this time around. We felt that we were alienated from the rest of the country.
Even though both the floods occurred during the winter monsoon season, I heard the experts saying that these floods are potentially man-made disasters. I started reading up on this concept and, in one of the newspaper articles, it was mentioned that we need to limit our dependency on fossil fuels and focus on renewable energy. Hence, I decided that I wanted to contribute to this change and make the world a better place for future generations.
I soon realized that there are many renewable sources of energy. I wanted to learn all forms of renewable energy at a basic level and specialize in a specific form of energy. It was an easy decision for me, and I wanted to specialize in wind energy as I was fascinated by wind turbines and global wind circulation and, wind energy had both ha-ha.
I worked on a couple of projects during my BTech. The first project was on a mini wind turbine design that could charge LED bulbs and batteries. My final year project was on estimating the potential of using a flying kite to harness electricity. I would be the first to admit that both these projects were not a success at all levels. My team did face a lot of challenges. For me, it was looking at the larger picture. I learned a lot from the projects and gained a lot of experience in this field.
Tell us about your career path. How did you get your first break?
I had an opportunity to intern at the National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE) as a wind engineer for three months. My task was to design an offshore wind farm on the coast of Tamil Nadu and estimate the overall energy generated by the wind farm. I did some work on cost calculation and estimated the Levelized cost of energy for the wind farm. This internship provided me with a platform to interact with the leading engineers in this field.
In my master thesis project, I worked on a design of an offshore wind farm. My research focussed on optimizing the wind farm using multiple objective functions. The thesis helped me understand the multidisciplinary nature of an offshore wind farm. The regular interactions/conversations with Ph.D. candidates, professors, and engineers helped me improve my critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities.
I must say that the overall learning experience from both these projects helped me a lot in my growth, and I felt that I was ready to enter the wind industry.
Shortly after my master’s, I started applying to several jobs within the wind industry. LinkedIn was of massive help, and I tried to use my connections and socialize wherever possible.
I joined Wind Pioneers as a wind and site engineer. Wind Pioneers is a specialist technical consultancy that partners with investors and developers to help develop investment-ready wind farm sites.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Wind energy specialisation:
Wind energy as a subject is very niche. However, there are many topics and subtopics, that are interdisciplinary. For example, some of the domains in wind energy that we have are:
- Site conditions
- Turbine design
- Farm design
The above topics include concepts applied using mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil and structural engineering, mechatronic engineering, etc. Hence, it is necessary to know the basic working of the system and become a specialist in one specific domain.
Searching for a job
Again, the biggest challenge is which domain to enter?
Do you want to work as?
We have a lot of options available. Apply to positions which you are interested in as each domain is significantly different.
What is your current role as a Wind Engineer?
We at Wind Pioneers provide a range of prospecting and pre-construction services from site selection to investment grade energy yield assessments. The core work at Wind Pioneers includes:
- Wind Farm Development
- Wind Measurement Analysis
- Site Prospecting
- Design and Development Services
- Energy Production Assessments
- Development of inhouse tools
To expand a bit further, we focus on anything related to wind resources and wind farm development. We work on tool building, research work, and help clients to design the best wind farm sites.
The development of a wind farm involves many stakeholders. For example, the development of a wind farm involves developers, banks, OEM’s, site engineers, and consultants. Hence it is necessary to have good communication skills as we need to communicate with many stakeholders. Moreover, not everyone on the stakeholder’s list will have a technical background, so an engineer must explain the technicalities in the simplest way possible.
Furthermore, I feel that an individual needs to have good critical thinking and analytical skills. It is necessary to have an open mindset and be prepared to learn on an everyday basis. Wind energy is very much research driven. We will see a lot of innovations in this field in the coming decades. So, an individual needs to have an open mind to adapt and keep learning.
One of the cool things about my job is that I get to work in different markets and interact with many clients across the globe. Currently, I am working on projects in South East Asia and Europe, and my day-to-day activities differ based on the project.
Moreover, I believe that innovation and constant learning are key in this industry. My job helps me to have a crack at both and I am enjoying doing so!
How does your work benefit society?
There are a lot of people around who do not have access to electricity. Let’s do our part to make it available for them!
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
When my first wind farm design was under construction, it gave me a sense of satisfaction, and hopefully there will be many more to come!
Your advice to students based on your experience?
My first advice would be to follow and chase your dreams. There will be challenges along the way but if you follow the process, I am pretty sure you will succeed.
Secondly, make sure you interact with professionals/researchers/social media to understand the recent market trends.
I plan to continue to grow as a wind engineer and hopefully play a role in people having access to clean electricity in the coming decades.