The wind turbine technicians of the world do an important job. They get and keep the blades turning to generate renewable energy. They master the wonders of electricity, as well as enormous machines and all of their parts. Wind turbine technicians install or repair wind turbines and maintain productivity and profitability for their company.
What Exactly Is a Wind Turbine?
Turbines are an energy-generating utility structure resembling a tall windmill, with wind pushing tower-top blades to turn and create power. Wind turbines have three main parts: the tower, blades or rotor, and nacelle or hub. The nacelle/hub is where the brakes, generator, and gearbox are encased. It’s also the mechanism that helps generate energy to be sent or stored as electricity.
Tower height varies from several dozen feet to several hundred feet, with blades of proportionate length. A windtech installs, maintains and repairs these turbines and works in any way possible to eliminate or reduce their downtime. The object of the system and the bottom line is to keep the blades turning to generate energy.
How Do I Become a Windtech and How Long Does It Take?
How long it takes to gain competence as a wind turbine technician depends on how a student goes about gaining the skills and, to some extent, the student’s time, motivation and capacity. It’s safe to say the process takes at least one year, if not two, for someone to become a windtech.
It’s always possible to get hired as an apprentice windmill technician by a wind-energy company or contractor if a person fits the criteria. They must:
- Be least 18 years old
- Have a high school diploma or GED
- Have completed at least one year of algebra with a grade of at least C
- Have the physical and mental ability to do the job.
On the road to becoming a safe and knowledgeable technician, an apprentice will need to acquire 144 technical hours and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. Plenty of people start as an apprentice then work their way into new responsibilities over the years.
It takes time to acquire the skills, and an education in the field provides much of the data employers seek in their technicians. A degree becomes a marketable tool that can be used to negotiate a good employment situation.
Those who want to target a career in wind turbines can enroll in classes at an accredited technical school or community college that offers an associate’s degree of applied sciences, and preferably a program geared toward wind turbine technicians. Demand in the field is great enough for employers to hire from those two-year programs and sometimes recruit students while they’re still in school.
Wind turbine technician training will include at least 12 months of manufacturer’s on-the-job training, as well as ongoing education and safety training.
It’s a great start if a person is mechanically inclined. For example, maybe they worked on cars, are good with their hands and have excellent problem-solving skills. A technician learns the following:
- The wind turbine and all its parts
- How the parts fit together
- What common situations occur
- How to evaluate the electrical and other systems
- A long list of best practices for safety
Other wind-energy professionals include civil engineers, electricians, environmental scientists and researchers who earned a four-year or advanced degree in science. Most degree holders also gain some kind of practical experience during or after college.
How Much Do Wind Turbine Service Technicians Get Paid?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ national research says the 2012 median pay for a wind turbine technician was $22.10 an hour, or $45,970 a year. That average sits above the $34,750 median for annual pay for all workers in the same year.
It’s logical to reason that brand new windtechs with little or no experience might make less than the industry average for a wind turbine technician salary; for example, they might earn an annual pay in the mid 30s range. Somebody with their associate’s degree, a few years of experience, and all the proper safety training could command more money than the average; for example, he or she might earn a yearly salary in the low-to-mid 60s.
National statistics say the lowest 10 percent of earners made around $33,000 per year, and the top 10 percent of earners made around $66,000 per year.
The amount of pay varied across the industry by type of employer in 2012:
- $48,720 from power generation and distribution companies
- $45,870 from commercial and industrial machinery companies
- $44,130 from utility-system construction
Growth potential for wind turbine service technicians looks ripe since the occupation had 3,200 jobs in 2012, and that number is projected to grow by 24 percent during the next 10 years. Those numbers translate to opportunity for those seeking a wind turbine technician job, more so than the average growth of 11 percent expected across all occupations.
What Type of Work Does a Wind Turbine Service Technician Do?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics says windtechs install, maintain, and repair wind towers. One veteran tech describes the job being part electrician, part mechanic, and part monkey.
Many more wind turbine technician job descriptions agree that windtechs may do the following:
- Inspect the inside and outside of wind towers
- Check the blades and troubleshoot problems, noises, or poor performance
- Analyze the data flow from a tower
- Test electrical systems or service the underground transmission system
Wind turbine service technicians can expect to work with a lot of math and calculations. They’re frequently outdoors and often climb to the high heights of the turbine or crawl into the small, tight spaces of an electrical area to work in confined quarters. The commercial-type towers have a ladder on the inside, which isn’t the case with all types. It is not unusual for a windtech to rappel down the tower in a safety harness to reach a part of the turbine that needs service.
Some job descriptions for wind turbine service technicians ask the following questions:
- Are you ready to climb a 260-foot ladder to get at your work?
- Will you be OK working in a confined space sometimes?
- Do you have the physical strength to lift 45-pound parts?
- Do you have the stamina needed to complete an installation or a repair?
- Can you work hand and power tools proficiently?
A wind technician automatically enters the broader field of renewable, green energy but will probably be most concerned with the tower, rotor, and hub. A broad base of knowledge is needed to work safely around wind turbines:
- Electric and hydraulic maintenance
- Brake system
- Mechanical components
- Blade inspection
- Programmable control systems
- Physical fitness
- Technical writing and communication
- First Aid/CPR
Not every technician works at the wind farm daily. He or she might be dispatched by one of the many small, renewable-energy businesses or attend corporate meetings for one of the big energy companies. Unless it’s an emergency or special project, a wind tech normally works during daytime business hours, and their work or job sites are often in remote areas.
Where Are the Wind Turbine Technician Jobs?
Ask someone the best state for a career as a wind turbine technician, and the answer will probably be different from every person asked. There is wind power just about everywhere, and potential technicians can view and interpret data, study map locations, and read industry publications as well as anyone to find a good fit.
Do they go where there are the most wind farms? Should they target companies with the best reputation? Is the size of the business important? How soon will offshore work be more available?
Wind towers or wind-energy farms exist in the majority of states:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
It’s always good to check at home and in surrounding states to see what wind-technician jobs are available. The USGS features a map which shows all the known wind-tower locations in the United States. It also gives the following characteristics about each:
- Start date
- Tower type
- Blade length
- Rotor-swept area
- Attribution confidence
Potential windmill technicians can also get a good geographical overview from the map. This shows the locations of all towers and clusters of turbines. The following labor statistics show the percentage of wind service technicians in three different areas of the industry:
- 29 percent at commercial and industrial machinery equipment repair and maintenance companies
- 29 percent at generation/transmission/distribution businesses
- 13 percent doing utility-system construction
The BLS national research calls job prospects for wind techs “excellent.” In North American Wind Power magazine in 2015, Irving, Texas-based Shermco shared that it would hire 75 technicians in the United States and Canada. Other companies in America and around the world have similar stories about needing wind turbine technicians and about how the power of wind energy is growing stronger.
Is Being a Windtech Safe?
Safety takes priority in the profession. Wind turbines are tall and highly charged with electricity, so anyone working with or around them needs the right training to remain safe. Everyone in the profession is, or will quickly become, intimately familiar with the safety requirements, especially regarding electricity.
For example, many wind turbines and their parts are not made in America and therefore may not meet US-based safety standards. No wind farm intends to be unsafe, but each one’s management style may vary anywhere from slack to excellent. Through the course of wind turbine technician education and training, windtechs become aware of the challenges and how to master them.
The United States makes laws relevant to safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), demand safe practices for wind turbine technicians and put forth stringent standards for their training.
Why Is Electrical-Safety Training So Important?
Injury or even death can result from one bad encounter with electricity. It takes effort to develop a keen awareness of it – and all of its obvious and hidden dangers. Any employers that don’t provide the necessary safety training for technicians face stiff financial penalty. A wind turbine technician may not do an electrical job every day but needs to be well trained to interact with electricity and power sources.
For example, Technical Skills Development Services (TSDS) offers 13 years’ experience in training for electrical safety and delivers the onsite classes employers need to comply with OSHA and NFPA 70E. A one-day, eight-hour course teaches the lessons needed for safe workplace practices, such as:
- Picking and using the right voltage meter
- Protecting against arc-flash charges
- Determining shock boundaries
The NFPA 70E/Arc Flash Training course can be customized to a company’s needs and protects technicians against the inherent hazards of electricity. The lessons are essential and teach the following:
- How electricity is applied in the wind industry
- Basic hazards and risks of working with electricity like shock, arc flash and arc blast
- Shock and arc flash boundary education
- Advanced hazards of the wind turbine site such as nacelle
- Risk categories from 0-4
- Choosing protective equipment for the type of risk
- How to test electrical equipment
Wind turbine technicians need to know these things for proficiency, and all the workers of a company are safer when everyone has the needed training and experience.
How to Get Started: Wind Turbine Technician Training
Check out the closest colleges to see where classes are offered. Talk to the career counselor at a junior college or technical school. Find wind energy company websites and review the job opportunities and talk to a wind turbine service technician.
Some two-year colleges allow online learning to be combined with practical lab and classroom time, but wind turbine service technicians will find they need to physically be in class for hands-on demonstrations. Vista College in Texas, for example, has several campuses, holds night classes, and offers a two-year diploma plan that fits the wind turbine technician’s career path.
The electrical technician’s degree includes an introduction to electricity, theories, and commercial wiring, among others. To some extent, the applied science degree can include some options about which classes a student takes, and other lessons may include composition, computer science, project management, or psychology.
Is There Room for Advancement in the Windtech Field?
Yes, there is room to advance in the industry. The Electronics Technicians Association International offers certification for installing small wind towers and will soon offer certification for installation of the big, commercial towers.
Wind turbine technicians can become any of the following:
- Specialized electricians
- Renewable energy experts
- Power generation professionals
- And more
Wind turbine service skills tend to transfer easily with professions that require similar duties or have common characteristics such as elevator installers, heating and refrigeration, industrial machinery, plumbers, pipe fitters, and others.
While a wind turbine service technician is part of the operations and maintenance sector of wind energy, many more opportunities are available including project development, manufacturing, research, land acquisition, environmental, and other areas. The broader arena of renewable energy holds even more potential in other forms such as natural gas and hydropower.
What Do People Like About Being a Wind Turbine Service Technician?
Wind turbines crank out megawatts of power and prove they’re a viable part of the nation’s renewable energy portfolio. Job growth and pay projections show upward trends for wind energy, and educational options and training make it easy to get started in the field.
Different windtechs like different things about their job and might cite the travel, technical challenge, learning, or peacefulness they find high in the air on the tower. Plenty of people like the pay, job security, and learning new things, but one aspect of being a wind turbine service technician seems to hold universal appeal: most of them enjoy being a part of the overall renewable energy team. They’re not only able to take pride in their profession but also reach new heights in their career.