In the United States alone, wind-generating capacity grew nearly 40 percent each year in the span from 2004 to 2009. With the increase in energy demands, it is expected to grow even faster in the coming years. This means job opportunities for employees seeking careers in a new high-tech industry. Wind farms are only part of the equation—technicians and workers will be needed in factories and offices to design and manufacture the turbines and all their system components.
A wind turbine consists of a large fan connected to a motor. It usually sits atop a tall pier structure in the face of the wind. Incoming wind blows on the turbine blades, causing rotation. The blades rotate a shaft or nacelle inside the turbine. The shaft connects to a gearbox which increases the shaft rpm. A generator makes use of the high spin by converting the rotational energy into electricity. A transformer jumps up the electricity to 33,000 volts and then distributes it to waiting stations. It is a simple form of converting kinetic energy into rotational energy which is then harnessed to produce electricity. No energy input is required since the source of the wind is free and a product of nature. The only limitations are the areas where turbines and wind farms are located—they must be in areas that supply a consistent form of wind on a regular basis.
Project and Development Phase
The field of project and development in the wind farm area is the initial process to get the program started. It involves choosing or scouting the appropriate site. The selection of the site has many factors: durability of the ground to support up to 1000 tons, availability of land, wind variability and speed, access roads into the area that will support heavy construction equipment and environmental impacts on the flora and fauna. Positive community relations must also be fostered since wind turbines are large, imposing structures that produce noise. After site selection, the mandatory permits must be obtained and all finances must be secured. Access roads must be in place before any components or equipment arrives on the site for assembly and construction.
With the land purchased and the access roads permanently in place, the construction phase can begin. All of the parts are trucked in and laid out in an organized fashion. Either the wind turbine company or local contractors may be called in to erect the towers and place the turbines. Qualified crane operators stack the segmented tower parts on top of each other while technicians perform the necessary connections and joinery work. Electricians must be used to construct the plant’s electrical distribution system and make the final connection of the turbines to the power grid.
Maintenance and Operation Phase
Wind turbines are generally self-sufficient, requiring limited human supervision. The energy companies hire monitors either remotely or locally, to observe energy flows and energy output. If anything goes wrong, like a problem with the blades or turbine motor, a technician is called in to fix the problem. The technicians are responsible for keeping the turbines running at maximum efficiency, providing adjustments to the blades, cleaning, lubrication, voltage tests and other typical maintenance chores. Company or contract machinists are often used to manufacture parts or make repairs. The monitors and “wind techs” are responsible for keeping the turbines running full time and to exacting specs since any down time costs the company money in the way of lost energy.
Careers in wind energy are projected to continue growing. Wind energy is a vital link in the “green economy” paradigm. The wind farm industry, both onshore and offshore will supply jobs in manufacturing, operation, maintenance, research and development, science, ecology and many other related fields of study. Today, most US states employ wind energy workers to work on or off site. Growth is expected to be rapid in the foreseeable future. Since the industry combines so many disciplines of skills and education, many people will be offered permanent and lasting positions.
The last decade has seen the biggest strides in wind energy development. The American Wind Energy Association states that in 2000 energy capacity in the US was lower than 3,000 megawatts. In just over eight years, the capacity climbed to over 35,000 megawatts, which could provide enough electricity for 9.7 million homes.
Education and Training
A bachelor’s degree is typically held by engineers who enter the industry. An engineer must be licensed and required to enroll in continuing education to keep up on future advancements and technology. Some of the high-tech positions that combine several areas of knowledge and skill require a doctoral or master’s degree. Manufacturers like to see three-to-five years of experience in an engineer’s respective field before enrollment. Entry level engineers may be taken on as junior team members or given intern assignments. Technicians usually acquire an associate degree or become certified in a technical school or community college. Companies have their own training programs, and depending upon the position, require licensure or certification in the field of study.
Zoe Chanel is a Colorado native and a lover of words. She is interested in travel, career development, and education.
- License: Creative Commons image source