Dr. Thomas Acker

Dr. Tom Acker is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Northern Arizona University, where he has been since 1996 after receiving a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University.  He is currently the director of NAU’s Sustainable Energy Solutions Group, and teaches and performs research related to energy systems and renewable energy.

During 2003-04 he spent a sabbatical year working at the National Wind Technology Center of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado, focused on grid integration issues related to wind and hydropower resources, as well as region-wide transmission planning. He previously spent three months in 1997 on a faculty fellowship to the National Wind Technology Center studying wind turbine aerodynamics.

Acting on behalf NREL, he is the “Operating Agent” in charge of leading an international effort to study wind and hydropower integration for the International Energy Agency. His recent research activities include wind power integration, wind flow modeling via meso-scale and micro-scale (CFD) methods, wind assessment, water/energy projects, Native American applications of renewable energy, and agricultural/energy projects. He also recently led an effort at NAU to plan a new Master’s of Science in Engineering degree with an emphasis in Sustainable Systems Engineering.

Educational background

  • PhD, Mechanical Engineering, Colorado State University, December 1995
  • MS, Mechanical Engineering, Colorado State University, May 1990
  • BS, Engineering Science, Colorado State University, May 1987

Employment history

  • Northern Arizona University - Department of Mechanical Engineering, 8/96-present.
    Responsible for teaching courses in Fluid Mechanics, Aerodynamics, Gas Dynamics, Combustion, Thermodynamics, and Energy Systems. Areas of research include renewable energy systems, wind turbine energy systems and electrical system impacts, aerodynamics, combustion instabilities, and high temperature gas dynamics.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colorado. 9/03 – 4/04
    Sabbatical Fellow, 2003- 2004 Academic Year; Studied the feasibility and impacts of integrating wind electric and hydro electric generation resources on the utility transmission grid.
  • Faculty Fellowship, Summer 1997; Performed research pertaining to the analysis of dynamic stall on wind-turbine blades. Studied current analytical models of dynamic stall and experimental data from an actual turbine rotor that demonstrate dynamic stall.
  • National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, 7/95 - 8/96.
    Software Engineer: Responsible for implementing modifications to the component models of an atmospheric global circulation model run on Cray and IBM supercomputers, to incorporate new capabilities, numerical approximations, and physical parameterizations.
  • Combustion Systems Analysts of Colorado, Livermore, Colorado, 1991, 1995.
    Consulting Engineer: Hired as a consultant to assist in modifying and enhancing computer codes for predicting liquid rocket engine acoustic combustion stability. Contract work funded by Aerojet-GenCorp and NASA.
  • Electric Propulsion Laboratory, Tehachapi, California, 1990.
    Research Engineer: Performed experimental and analytical investigations into the operation and performance of advanced electric rocket designs; special focus on hydrogen arcjet thrusters and an innovative electrostatic plasma accelerator.

Courses and topics usually taught

  • fluid mechanics
  • aerodynamics
  • gas dynamics
  • combustion
  • thermodynamics
  • energy systems

Research interests

  • thermal-fluid system analysis
  • aerodynamics system analysis
  • viscous fluid mechanics
  • combustion-driven acoustic instabilities
  • renewable energy systems
  • statistical thermodynamics
  • compressible gas dynamics
  • wind turbine aerodynamics

Honors, awards, and professional activities

  • Professor of the Year Award, College of Engineering and Technology, 2001-02 Academic Year
  • Mechanical Engineering Professor of the Year, Northern Arizona University, 2000-01 Academic Year
  • Outstanding Mechanical Engineering Graduate Student, Awarded by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1992
  • Awarded the Colorado Graduate Fellowship, 1991
  • Awarded the Rockwell International Graduate Fellowship, 1989
  • Outstanding Student Achievement Award, Awarded by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1987

Professional activities

  • Cumulative research funding awarded at NAU: $25,500,000 (through 1-09)
  • Master’s students advised: 16
  • Operating Agent for the International Energy Agency Annex on the Integration of Wind and Hydropower Systems, on behalf of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 5-04 – present
  • Director, NAU Sustainable Energy Solutions Group, 2001-2003, 2005 - present
  • Member, Journal Editorial Board, Wind Engineering, 2007 – present
  • Reviewer, ASME Journal of Solar Energy Engineering, ASME Journal of Heat Transfer, Wind Energy
  • Member, ASME, AWEA, ASES, ASHREA, ASEE, AIAA, IEEE
  • Member, Governor’s Solar Energy Advisory Council, AZ Department of Commerce (2000-2003)

Recent publications

  • Acker, T, Zavadil, R., Potter, C.P., and R. Flood, (2008) “Wind Integration Cost Impact Study for the Arizona Public Service Company: Modeling Approach and Results,” Wind Engineering, Vol. 4, No. 30, 2008, pgs. 339-354, special issue on wind integration.
  • Holttinen H., Milligan, M., Kirby, B., Acker, T., Neimane, V., and T.Molinski, (2008) “Using standard deviation as a measure of increased operational reserve requirement for wind power,” Wind Engineering, Vol. 4, No. 30, 2008, pgs. 355-378, special issue on wind integration.
  • Acker, T.L., (2008) “Special Editorial: Wind Integration Issue,” Wind Engineering, Vol. 4, No. 30, pgs.iii-iv.
  • Acker, T.L., Atwater, C., Glauth, M., Smith, D.H., and E. Wolf, (2008) “Energy and Water Use in Arizona Agriculture,” accepted for publication in Energy Sources, Part B, July 2008.
  • Williams, S, Acker, T, and M Greve, “Estimating the Economic Benefits of Wind Energy Projects using Monte Carlo Simulation with Economic I/O Analysis," accepted for publication in Wind Energy, 2008.
  • Acker, T, Williams, S, Duque, E, Brummels, G, & Buechler, J., “Wind Resource Assessment in the state of Arizona: Inventory, Capacity Factor, and Cost,” Renewable Energy 32 (2007) 1453-1466.
  • Acker, T.L., (2007), Chapter 7: Task 24 Integration of Wind and Hydropower Systems, In IEA Wind Energy Annual Report 2006, Implementing Agreement for Co-operation in the Research, Development, and Deployment of Wind Energy Systems, PWT Communications: Boulder, CO, 272 pages, ISBN 0-9786383-1-X.
  • Smith, D. H., Acker, T., & Jones, C. (2007), “Energy Planning for Indian Nations within the WRAP: A Field Guide,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 30 (4).
  • Acker T., Auberle, W., LaRoche, D. , Eastwood, J. , Ormond, A., Slack, R., and Smith, D. H., (2006), “Recommendations for Reducing Energy Consumption and Improving Air Quality through Energy Efficiency on Native American Lands,”. Energy Sources, Part B (1), 223-234.
  • Smith, J.C, Parsons, B., Acker, T., Milligan, M., Zavadil, R., Schuerger, M., and DeMeo, E., “Best Practices in Grid Integration of Variable Wind Power: Summary of Recent US Case Study Results and Mitigation Measures,” Proceedings of the 2007 European Wind Energy Conference, Milan, Italy, May 2007.
  • Acker, T., “IEA Task 24: Integration Wind and Hydropower Systems,” Proceedings of the 2006 Global Wind Power Conference, Adelaide, Australia, September 2006.
  • Acker, T., Knitter, K., Conway, K., and Buechler, J., "Wind and Hydropower Integration in the Grant County Public Utility District, Washington," Hydrovision 2006, Portland, OR, August 2006.