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How To Become A Wind Turbine Tech

Imagine if you will, gazing out on the vast golden plains of America, stretching endlessly into the distance. The horizon is punctuated only by the occasional mountain peak or mighty white spire. Your vantage point? One of those same spires, 300 feet tall, with three massive rotating blades at the top — a machine harnessing the natural power of our atmosphere’s wind to create electricity.

It’s another regular day at work, and this is your office. But such a job doesn’t exist only in your imagination. Fueled by the increasing need for renewable energy sources, wind power is a rapidly growing field with no shortage of opportunities on the horizon.

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The environmental impact of switching to ecological energies such as wind cannot be overstated. In 2014 alone, it is estimated that wind power production in the United States saved an estimated 125 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over fossil fuel alternatives, as well as 68 billion gallons of water that would otherwise have been required to cool thermal power plants.

With wind turbines currently responsible for but a few percentage points of national power output, you can just imagine the long-term effects as more and more wind farms take hold. The United States is the world’s current top producer of wind energy as measured in megawatt hours (MWh), and with billions of dollars being invested into the industry each year, job openings here at home are only going up.

A career in wind power is a career in sustainability. In addition to the positive impacts you’ll have on the local environment, you will also enjoy the chance to give back to and improve your community as a wind turbine technician. Jobs are plentiful and ever increasing, offering excellent stability and prospects for advancement to those who get in now on the ground floor. Why delay any longer?

A Brief Overview of Wind Power

From the sailboats of antiquity, to the first recorded versions of ancient Greek windmills, to today’s large-scale regional power generation, humans have been harnessing the power of wind in one way or another for much of recorded history. Wind has been used for tasks such as transportation, grinding grain, pumping water, and even recreation (in the form of air and water sports). But it is only in the last few decades that wind power generation truly took hold in America, in part due to clean energy tax credits that are currently encouraging the development of new wind farm facilities.

Most of today’s turbines appear somewhat similar to the easily recognizable, traditional European windmills of the last several centuries, at least from the outside: a tall structure with several (usually three) blades on a cap, rotating with the wind. Others may have a more curved, eggbeater-like shape (the Darrieus wind turbine) and rotate around a vertical axis. Rather than being made of brick and mortar, modern turbines are sleek steel towers, featuring a full suite of electronics and mechanical components hidden within.

The turbine’s blades are connected to an interior shaft. As the blades begin to rotate under the influence of wind, this shaft spins a generator within the structure and creates electricity. This is transferred through underground cables to a central substation on the wind farm. From there, it flows into the regional energy grid, supplying homes and businesses with power.

No fossil fuels to be burned, no millions of gallons of water to cool the facilities, and no toxic waste or runoff — just clean, renewable energy. In fact, because fast-moving air currents are in part due to the uneven heating of the atmosphere, wind can be thought of as just another form of solar energy.

A Day in the Life of a Wind Turbine Technician

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Wind turbine technicians usually start their days on the early side, rising with the sun, if not before it. Turbines can’t be climbed safely in periods of high wind, and since currents tends to pick up later in the day, any tasks that involve climbing the towers need to be done sooner rather than later. Besides, most turbines are spread out, and located in fairly rural areas, so commuting to and from the job site — or even along access roads between individual turbines — can take some time. After fueling up with a hearty breakfast, it’s time to head out to the facility’s headquarters to receive the day’s assignments and gather any materials that might be needed.

Wind techs are responsible for all sorts of maintenance and repair tasks related to turbine operation. Often, these will be relatively straightforward and routine: carry out physical inspections of the towers, collect data, and perform simple upkeep on worn-out parts.

You’ll likely make plenty of trips between the facility’s warehouse and the turbines to which you’ve been assigned. Much of the maintenance process revolves around inspecting the status of existing turbines, and taking preventative measures to replace aged or damaged components before they endanger the integrity of the machine. Occasionally, you may even get to take part in the installation of a brand-new turbine.

At other times, technicians will need to strap into a safety harness and ascend to the tops of the turbines, rising hundreds of feet into the air, before carrying out urgent checks and/or repairs on the exterior of the building or on the wind blades themselves. This is certainly not a job for those who fear heights. Working outdoors is a common opportunity for technicians: one that many can do on a daily basis.

For all the possible excitement you’ll encounter each day at work, it can be comforting to know that in some ways, life as a wind turbine technician is like many other 9-to-5 jobs. Most techs hold full-time positions that operate more or less during normal business hours, making it easy and reliable to balance work with family life and other outside obligations.

That said, technicians may be required to remain on-call at times, ready and prepared to handle emergencies as they occur, even on evening and weekends. For turbine owners, malfunctioning towers mean lost revenue — and for local residents who rely on their power, it can mean brownouts and serious inconvenience, or worse. Quick response time and problem resolution is critical.

Today’s leaders in wind energy are hard at work each day, building a better tomorrow for their children and their country. By easing dependence on traditional energy sources such as fossil fuels, we can pave the way for a more sustainable future. With every mighty rotation of the turbine’s blades comes the reminder that this is a job where you can make a real difference each and every day.

Training and Requirements

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Are you a natural problem-solver? Interested in engineering and machinery? Physically fit — or just planning to get into better shape? Are you passionate about leaving a positive impact on the environment and on your community? If you’ve answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, then a career as a wind turbine technician might just be your calling. Getting started is easier than you might have ever imagined.

Most wind turbine technicians learn the fundamentals of the trade in specialized programs at vocational-technical schools and community colleges. These two-year degrees in applied sciences are often aimed specifically at would-be turbine technicians, and they are designed to prepare students for jobs immediately upon graduation.

A portion of the technician’s duties will be highly job-specific, related to the particular model of turbine they will be expected to maintain. These are best taught in on-the-job training courses following hiring. With that being said, basic coursework in computers, mechanical systems, electrical systems, hydraulic maintenance, safety, and CPR/first aid techniques — all of which are provided in wind turbine technician training programs — is invaluable.

Many schools will also have on-site turbines to be used in practical coursework and live demonstrations. This is vital experience that can hardly be replicated through self-study. If available, internships with wind turbine servicing contractors are also an excellent way to bolster both your resume and your practical skillset.

Associate degree programs are not the be-all and end-all of wind energy technician training. Some techs choose instead to break into the field with paid apprenticeships, undergone in cooperation with workers’ unions and/or individual contractors.

If you have a prior educational background in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects and/or working experience as an engineer, electrician, or other related job, you will certainly have a small leg up — but turbine-specific training is still necessary. A willingness to travel and/or relocate is helpful, as the best available positions may not be located close to your current home — or even in your current state.

No matter how you choose to gain your basic background knowledge and experience, any hopeful technician can benefit from additional instruction. Wind tech certification programs and workshops in subjects such as electrical hazards or tower safety and rescue can do much to showcase your capabilities and increase employability. Because technicians must work on a daily basis with highly specialized heavy machinery and small quantities of potentially hazardous materials, it’s important to stay up-to-date on safety regulations and any other changes in the industry.

As in any other field, going above and beyond the most basic requirements speaks volumes about your dedication and drive. Demonstrate your commitment to continual skill acquisition — hiring managers and field supervisors are sure to take notice.

Job Outlook

Wind energy is rapidly making a name for itself in the United States. With total wind power capacity increasing nearly tenfold in the last 10 years, and nearly 1,800 new turbines in 2014alone, it’s not an exaggeration to say that there has truly never been a better time to break into the industry.

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In their recently published report Wind Vision, the Department of Energy envisions as much as 20 percent of the United States’ power coming from wind energy by the year 2030 — and a whopping 35 percent by the year 2050.

As the number of wind turbines around the country grows, so too does the demand for qualified technicians. Employment in this field is expected to increase by about 24 percent from 2012 to 2022 — an amount that far exceeds the average growth across all industries.

Barriers preventing wind farm creation are being chipped away at each and every day, with technological breakthroughs allowing for increased tower size (in order to generate more power per unit), making offshore construction more affordable. Large tech companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo! have expressed specific interest in running their offices and servers on wind energy rather than the alternative options, owing in part to its stable prices and reliability.

Since this is a job that few are already trained for and involves occasional work at great heights as well as in confined spaces, competition for each available position is often rather light. As rewarding as being a wind tech can be, it’s not the right choice for everyone.

Salary and Job Locations

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wind turbine service technicians can expect to earn a mean annual wage of $51,790 — a number that has steadily risen over the last several years. Jobs are available nationwide, but the highest concentrations tend to be in states with plenty of wide, open space — where wind farms would, of course, be most viable. Some of the states currently employing more wind turbine technicians than anywhere else include Texas, California, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

If you’re hoping to work specifically in other areas, don’t worry too much. Coastal regions and the Midwest — both naturally heavy in wind activity — may see considerable growth in employment in the coming decade. Sea-based platforms in particular are projected to increase in prevalence, and technicians with the training to work offshore can anticipate plenty of lucrative opportunities. It’s just another reason to expand your qualifications.

With some on-the-job experience and additional safety certifications, technicians may be excellent candidates for promotion to higher paying positions, such as site supervisors and safety officers. As new wind farms are developed and employees are needed in greater numbers, some businesses are also advancing technicians into these supervisory positions.

Get Started on Your Training

Whether you’re considering the bright future of a new career as a wind turbine technician, or you’re simply looking to boost your existing credentials, consider enrolling in on-site wind turbine certification training offered by Technical Skills Development.

Our eight-hour safety course follows OSHA’s standards for accepted practices and introduces participants to the relevant fundamentals of electrical troubleshooting, risk and hazard management, and equipment selection and use. Certificates of completion are available upon successful fulfillment of course requirements. Get started today by visiting our program page for more details and contact information.