Nina Welding | February 3, 2020
A high school internship in an Air Force laser laboratory inspired Danielle Merfeld’s interest in technology. As a Notre Dame freshman intent on majoring in electrical engineering — the best field for a student keen on lasers, they told her — Merfeld ’94 asked if she could work in a lab, rather than in a cafeteria, to fulfill her work-study requirement.
“That gave me this very early look into the life of someone doing research,” she says. “It’s easy to be intimidated as a young woman thinking about getting a higher degree in a technology space. But meeting with graduate students and seeing their day-to-day work, and seeing that they were just regular people . . . gave me the vision that I could do that, too.”
Merfeld went on to earn a doctorate in electrical engineering from Northwestern University and has ascended the corporate ranks to become chief technology officer at GE Renewable Energy, a senior executive in a corporate division with 22,000 employees in 80 countries. Before taking on her current role at GE, Merfeld was a leader in the company’s global research and solar divisions. Renewables won her heart, and the pace of their growth has quickened her pulse.
She says most people are unaware of the scale and pace of change that is making renewables the “most affordable source of energy on the planet.” Public policy and environmental advocacy aren’t driving the change on their own anymore, she adds. “It’s actually a real economic decision that people are making.”
More than half of the power-generating capacity added around the world in recent years has been in renewable sources such as wind and solar, according to the International Energy Agency. Meanwhile, GE and some of the world’s other top manufacturers are racing to see who can build the most powerful offshore wind turbine.
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