Though wind power presents several exciting opportunities, there are as many challenges in the form of complex aerodynamic requirements and energy storage technologies.
Chaitanya Majjari, our next pathbreaker, Assistant Lead Engineer at Vestas Technology R&D (Portugal), works on the design of Wind Turbines which are used to generate energy using wind power.
Chaitanya talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his master’s thesis for a research project between Fraunhofer IWES (Germany) and wind power OEMs where he developed approaches to control the aerodynamics of wind turbines.
For students, wind energy is a technology with tremendous scope and potential from an engineering perspective !
Chaitanya, your background?
I’m from the southern part of India, born and brought up in Hyderabad. I come from a middle class family background. Till 12th standard, I studied within the vicinity of my home and after that, I did my bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from VNR Vignanajyothi Institute of Engineering & Technology. I was an active kid during my childhood, though I transformed into an introvert from an extrovert during my high school. I could not recall the reason for this transition, but this helped me develop a habit of observation. I had to face the challenge of coming out of the introvert phase as I was representing the school during my 10th standard. The first challenge I faced was to overcome my speech disability, when I used to stammer while addressing a large audience. We neither had any psychological programs in my school nor any mentor to help with my situation. I struggled a lot to overcome my introverted nature.
I had three job offers during the last semester of my bachelors of which I chose one to begin my professional career. I was doing great in my professional career, but I had this feeling to contribute to and represent something bigger. It led me to look for options to pursue higher studies in a foreign nation. To come out of my introverted nature and to move out of my comfort zone as well as to shape my career, so that I could work for a bigger cause, I decided to emigrate. I’m also a person who has likes nature ever since my childhood and spends a lot of time in nature whenever possible. Maybe it could also be a reflection of my introverted character and nature which further helped me to enjoy my solitude. Considering my interest towards nature , I chose my education and the career in a field in which I’m currently working.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
My interest towards nature led me to study renewable sciences. I pursued my Masters in Renewable Engineering from Hochschule Flensburg (Germany), with a focus on Wind Engineering. My interest towards the renewables industry and my engineering skills helped me design products which could generate electricity without adding any CO2 footprint.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
There were several reasons that led me to be in the career which I’m currently pursuing. One of the biggest challenges which I tried to overcome ever since my childhood was to come out of my shell. I always try to put myself out of my comfort zone, which led me to choose my higher education in Germany, where I had to lead a life in a new culture, new language, and a new environment.
As a person who loves nature, I had a dream of working for the environment, where I could also make a living out of it. This led to choosing my career in the renewables industry.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
I started my professional career as an engineer in a product-based company called Hexagon. As a mechanical engineer and with programming skills, I used to develop products used in the energy industries. Though I was doing good in that role, I had two thoughts which kept disturbing me. The first is my affinity towards nature. The industry for which I used to develop products was a non-renewable energy sector which is against my interest towards protecting nature. The second is my zeal to overcome my challenge of being an introvert. Though the work involved team collaboration and stakeholder management, I always wanted to be in a place where I could represent a bigger cause and where I could meet new people. I moved to Germany to pursue my Master’s in Renewable Engineering.
I had to take several small jobs to finance myself while doing my Masters in Germany. Some of the jobs which I did were completely irrelevant to my qualification, and some included physical activity as well. I worked as a waiter, hotel staff, line man in a factory, helper in a supermarket and brewery. However, these are the best jobs I did so far, and I have learnt a lot about life doing these jobs. I have also observed that I successfully tackled my issues of being an introvert and began to meld in any situation and circumstance. I began making new friends and started respecting other cultures and languages.
I got an opportunity to start my professional career in Germany as an intern in a research organization called Fraunhofer IWES, where I worked as a research assistant working on engineering tools. My skillset, attention to details and engineering abilities helped me to successfully defend my thesis with an A grade.
Fraunhofer IWES is one of a group of research organizations which specialize in providing services to organizations specifically in the wind energy domain. Fraunhofer has a test bench to test the bearings of Wind Turbine Tower Top and it also holds a giant 10 MW test bench to simulate the loads. In addition to that, they also have a blade test factory where the Wind Turbine blades are tested for different dynamics. I joined Fraunhofer as research assistant to support the development of their inhouse aero-elastic load simulation software. I have developed and verified aerodynamic models for the aero-elastic tool. While working as student assistant, I also worked on my master’s thesis to implement an advanced unsteady aerodynamic model for wind turbine blades with trailing edge flaps. This was for a research project between Fraunhofer and other OEM’s such as Vestas, Senvion, Enercon and many other partners. This is a unique project to control the aerodynamics of wind turbine by deforming the blade shape without activating the pitch. The aerodynamics study of deforming blade shape requires advanced and complex stall models to assess the results. My thesis addresses this issue by implementing an unsteady aerodynamic model for deformed blade profiles.
After my Masters, I moved back to India for a family reunion and due to certain family constraints, I had to stay in India. I have not seen this as a setback, instead I began to look for opportunities to work for the renewables industry. I got an opportunity to work with Vestas Technology R&D, Chennai and I have been working here over the past 5 years. I work for the engineering, design, and development of the wind turbines, which is one of the energy sources of the growing renewables sector. My current role fulfills my zeal to work for the benefit of the environment and to work in an environment where I can meet new people and work for a bigger cause.
I was done with most of the family responsibilities, for which I have moved back to India and since the last two years, I started to work towards making a move out of the country. I had several rejections and the pandemic further worsened the situation. However, I kept trying and fortunately, I found an opportunity to move to Portugal. I’ve been working in the same organization here in Portugal for the past one year. Moving to Portugal further helped me to move out of my comfort zone and embrace new culture and new language.
How did you get your first break?
The first break is always a memorable one. My undergraduate college had a very good reputation and is famous for good placements. However, I was rejected during the first mass recruitment phase. The rejection was due to me being very last in the list of interview candidates. It was my first rejection and obviously it was a bit painful. However, it helped me prepare myself to face failures. I started to improve my presentation, communication, and technical skills. I also started looking at the bigger picture of every activity. I cracked every placement interview and ended up with three job offers after my bachelors.
The next major rejection I faced was in obtaining an internship during my Masters in Germany. I wrote nearly 100 applications before I landed my first internship.
All these helped me become a strong man and accept any outcome. In fact, I started enjoying the failures a lot more than the success as the failure enables me to change my perception, expand my horizons and look for different opportunities.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: To overcome my introvert nature
Action: I started to put myself outside my comfort zone. I travelled and moved to new places different from my culture and language, which helped me to build my survival instincts, which is key to beating the introvert nature
Challenge 2: To work for nature.
Action: I looked for ways to transition my career towards renewable energy and one of which was to pursue my education in the renewables sector.
Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?
I currently work for an industry leader in the Wind Energy sector, Vestas Wind Systems. As a part of my job, I work for the design of the Wind Turbines, which are used to generate energy using wind power.
Vestas is world leader in Wind Energy OEM industry, and stands 2nd in the world’s most sustainable companies ranking list. Vestas stands has been in the market for more than 7 decades, but in the wind energy market for the last 3 decades. We have cumulatively installed wind turbines of capacity 164 GW and hold a revenue of around 16 billion euros. Vesta’s clients include major power generating industries, wind farm owners and several small players. For every new product to be launched, it requires extensive engineering work and testing of the product considering real time scenarios. My work in Vestas involves designing of new products, incorporating new technologies and optimizing the design of the wind turbines through extensive real time testing strategies.
What skills are needed in your role? How did you acquire the skills?
The skills required for these jobs include good knowledge on structural mechanics, design knowledge of wind turbines and good programming skills.
What’s a typical day like?
My typical day involves interacting with stakeholders to update them on the progress of the projects and to prioritize the projects based on the requirements. It also involves working towards the design of the wind turbine and also working on the root cause of any design related issue or customer requests.
How does your work benefit society?
My work results in development of wind turbines, which are used in generating renewable energy and leading us towards greener society.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
My everyday work basically helps us to move towards the green world which is always close to me. In addition to that, I also volunteer in many social and sustainable projects, outside my work
Your advice to students based on your experience?
I don’t have any advice, but I would say that every step, every action we take has certain consequences. Some consequences bring happiness and joy for us while others bring pain and depression. So, there is no right or wrong activity, it’s just how we perceive the consequences of the activity. Have a goal and embrace and enjoy every aspect in the journey of reaching the goal
My future plan is to reach my goal and continue doing the current voluntary activities in India as well.