“The class I liked least when I was at Stevens was energy conversion. I was like, ‘Ugh. I don’t want to do that.’ Guess what I do now?” asks Alla Weinstein ’77, founder and CEO of Trident Winds.
That class Weinstein felt so much disdain for so long ago focused on the conversion of solar power. Yet, ironically, she has been at the forefront of renewable energy, as a pioneer in marine renewables, ocean energy and offshore wind technologies, since 2000.
And nowadays, she is often mingling with powerbrokers — on the state, national and international levels — to try to move the offshore wind energy agenda forward. The longtime Seattle resident, who is married to Stevens alumnus Dennis Weinstein ’76, was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to serve on the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council in 2014.
In addition, she has met business and world leaders, as well as dignitaries like Caroline Kennedy, and participated in influential climate change events like the Global Climate Action Summit in 2018.
However unexpected, Weinstein’s long career speaks to a steely determination forged by a persistent ability to adapt to larger forces beyond her control.
Fear of change is simply not part of her makeup.
“Just the opposite. I thrive on it. I thrive on uncertainty.”
Coming in From the Cold, Stevens Grad is Honeywell-Bound
Weinstein’s fearlessness and mental toughness helped carry her through a rigorous curriculum at Stevens — and the culture shock of life in America.
A Jewish émigré from the Soviet Union, Weinstein moved to the United States in 1974.
She came to Stevens with a great deal of university coursework she had completed in the Soviet Union. And while she received credit for hard sciences like physics and chemistry, she had to juggle freshman, sophomore, junior and senior courses at the same time to satisfy her major in electrical engineering.
On top of that immense course load, she was faced with the challenge of adjusting to a new language.
“In one of the tests, I had to ask the professor what the word ‘integer’ meant. Things like that, you remember.”
After graduation, Weinstein joined Honeywell as a test equipment engineer, even though she was qualified for much higher-level positions in high frequency processing.
“Those jobs required U.S. citizenship, which I did not have at the time,” she points out.
Still, that entry-level job at Honeywell served its purpose, catapulting Weinstein to positions at that company ranging from design engineering to program manager and international business development.
A Desire to ‘Make Things Happen’ Forces a Career Leap
After two decades, and on the urging of her late brother, she left Honeywell and started her own engineering consulting business.
That phase of her life lasted only two years as she realized that her temperament and hands-on approach to problem solving were ill-suited for the inherent nature of consulting.
“I didn’t want to just give advice and go away. I wanted to make things happen. And in consulting you don’t have that opportunity.”
It was at this time that she was approached by a former client with a business proposition that would dramatically change the course of her career. It was to help turn a new technology — to convert ocean waves into electrical power — into a viable business.
“I said I knew nothing about wave energy, oceans and electrical power systems because my experience was in electronics not electrical power, which is a very different field.”
Despite the unknown and her lack of experience, Weinstein, with her characteristic gumption, agreed to lead the effort.
“I was thinking, hmm, it’s good for the world, it’s international, and it has never been done before. I might as well do it. I have a master’s in international management. I needed a challenge and, of course, I can do this,” she recalled.
That spark set Weinstein on a 20-year mission to bring marine renewables — particularly wave energy and offshore wind — to commercial viability. Development had to be done in Europe, where the demand and financial support for such innovation was at the time.
In 2008, she cofounded a company, Principle Power Inc., located in California, to develop floating offshore wind technology to open deep water locations, previously unattainable. Principle Power installed its prototype in 2011. It was the first installation of the U.S. floating offshore wind technology that just happened to be located 3,000 miles offshore in the territorial waters of Portugal. That prototype served as proof of concept for five years in that location, until it was re-installed in the United Kingdom as part of a pre-commercial project.
Weinstein’s ambitions for floating offshore wind technology only grew from there.
After leaving Principle Power, and forming a new company, Trident Winds, in 2015, Weinstein took steps toward what may be her boldest project to date when the company submitted an unsolicited lease request to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), an agency under the Department of Interior, to build and install a 1,000 megawatt floating offshore wind farm off the central coast of California, near Morro Bay.
That project is currently in waiting for the lease auction that will be conducted by BOEM, once it receives clearance from the Department of Defense.
The expansion of floating offshore wind will continue to play a more vital role as the global demand for renewable energies grows, she says, “and floating offshore wind is the future of offshore wind.”
“When people say it’s more expensive, well not really. It was at the beginning — but not anymore,” says the woman who helped make that evolution possible.