Wind Turbine Technician Careers
In today’s world, reducing reliance on fossil fuels is more imperative than ever. As one of the lowest-cost renewable energy sources, wind energy – known scientifically as eolic energy – is ahead of the curve in greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and social impacts. In fact, wind energy farms make up a large part of the strategy many countries are using to reduce the environmental impacts of energy consumption.
So, how does wind generate electricity? Through the use of wind turbines. Wind turbines capture the movement of the wind through the use of blades, causing the system to spin. The energy of the spinning blades is then converted to electricity through a gearbox in the shaft, which increases the rotation speed by a factor of 100. The gearbox, in turn, spins a generator that produces electricity.
Building this complex equipment and keeping it in working order is essential to the continued production of electricity, making wind turbine technicians, also known as windtechs, a necessity in the industry. These highly trained professionals keep wind turbines functioning with as little interruption as possible. Working in the field will require an aptitude for mechanics and an ability to withstand extreme conditions, especially heights and small spaces.
If this sounds interesting to you, and you are wondering how to become a wind turbine technician, this article will provide you with the necessary information to get started in this career.
Wind Turbine Technicians at Work
As mentioned above, wind turbine technicians work at extreme heights, installing, troubleshooting, maintaining and repairing all the wind turbine’s components.
The turbine consists of three parts: a tower, three blades and a nacelle. The nacelle houses the energy generating portion of the wind turbine and comprises of an outer shell, the gearbox and brakes. Reaching up to 350 feet in height, with the nacelle located at the top, technicians regularly need to climb up the tower, often carrying tools and equipment, using a ladder or climbing pegs. Climbing can occur with or without the assistance of a motorized climbing unit. In addition, wind turbine technicians need to rappel to various sections of the turbine when they are in need of inspection or repair. Therefore, technicians in this trade need to have excellent climbing skills, motor coordination and physical fitness.
Much of the wind turbine technician’s job is done inside the nacelle, so in addition to working at great heights, technicians will also spend a significant amount of time in a cramped space. Inside the nacelle, various electronics are housed, which often need repair or replacement. On the outside of the nacelle, the technician might work on instruments that measure wind speed and direction, while tethered with a full-body harness for safety.
Tools used in the trade include voltage testers, multimeters, oscilloscopes, infrared testers and fiber optic equipment. Wind turbine technicians also use more familiar tools like electric torque wrenches, bolt tensioners and hydraulic torque wrenches. Climbing harnesses are also vital in the trade.
Aside from climbing, typical job duties for wind turbine technicians include inspecting and maintaining tower integrity, collecting data for analysis, replacing components that are worn or malfunctioning, performing routine maintenance on wind turbines, and testing and troubleshooting hydraulic, mechanical and electrical components.
The work involves a great deal of responsibility, as a malfunctioning or unstable tower could lead to serious injury. Wind turbines will need to be on a regular maintenance schedule as recommended by the manufacturer. Additionally, the turbines are remotely monitored for problems, and wind turbine technicians are sent out to perform repairs as needed. Technicians may also be involved in the building of new turbines.
Computer proficiency is a vital skill for wind turbine technicians, as monitoring and diagnostic procedures are often performed on a computer. Other necessary skills include manual dexterity, problem-solving and deductive reasoning. Excellent communication skills are also a must, as technicians usually work in teams for safety.
Climbing and working at such heights comes with an increased risk for injury, and technicians will need to be aware of potential problems and use safe practices at all times. Among the most significant hazards wind turbine technicians face is the risk of falls from climbing or rappelling. Mitigating these deadly incidents is a top priority in the industry. Trainees in the trade are taught basic safety and first aid, including CPR, in addition to the proper use of safety equipment. Moreover, experts in the industry are evaluating working conditions such as ladder rung type and potential obstructions to safe climbing and descending. Wind turbine technicians are trained to follow safe climbing procedures and use a safety harness at all times during the climb. Other risks in the trade include shocks, burns and muscle strains.
The job requires working outdoors much of the time, with travel to rural locations a very regular activity. Most wind turbine technicians work full-time jobs. However, the job may require on-call hours, weekends and overtime. As such, stamina is essential for those in the trade.
Licensing Requirements for Wind Turbine Technicians
Licensing requirements can vary from location to location, but in general, wind turbine technicians do not have a specific licensing requirement for the trade. In some states, a contractor’s license may be required, especially for independent contractors. There may also be a requirement for licensure in certain cities, counties or townships, so it is essential to research the laws in the areas in which you expect to be employed.
Education for Wind Turbine Technicians
Training for wind turbine technicians can occur either through an apprenticeship or through a reputable training program. Regardless of which path you choose, a high school diploma or equivalent is a required prerequisite. Once acquired, you can seek the training program of your choice.
For those who are considering this career, it would be helpful to have a background in mechanics and electricity. Therefore, if you are able to take mechanical and electrical training courses as part of your high school curriculum or independently through a local technical school, it would be helpful to your trade education and future as a technician.
Participating in an apprenticeship with a qualified wind turbine technician comes with myriad advantages. Foremost among them is the ability to earn a living wage while learning the specifics of the trade. Apprentices also gain a ton of hands-on experience under the guidance of an experienced tradesperson. If an apprenticeship feels like the right choice for you, this website can help you find a match in your area.
Training programs are an excellent choice for those who enjoy learning in the classroom along with hands-on experience. Training may also serve as a precurser to an apprenticeship, giving you an edge when applying for open positions. When choosing an educational program, you will want to find one that teaches the trade’s essential skills. Some subjects to expect include rescue and first aid, CPR, electrical maintenance, braking systems, hydraulic maintenance, mechanical systems, tower and blade inspection and computer control systems. Below is a listing of some of the programs available in the country for wind turbine technicians.
- Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas, offers a Wind Technology Certificate. Along with classroom instruction, the program encourages attendance at weekly “boot camps” where students can acquire hands-on experience on state-of-the-art, real-world equipment. Students are required to complete 32 hours of instruction to graduate from the program.
- Northwest Renewable Energy Institute in Vancouver, Washington, offers a graduate diploma. The six-month program promises students will become proficient in the trade through lab work and habit-building coaching. The institute boasts small class sizes, graduate placement assistance and affordable tuition.
- Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado, offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Wind Technology. Instructed by industry experts, the program focuses on graduate outcomes and student safety. Graduates will be ready to work in the field upon graduation.
- Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska, offers both a diploma and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Wind Energy. Students will build on electrical systems and mechanical repair basics, with specific skills for wind energy equipment and turbine repair. Rigging and climbing safety are an essential part of the coursework.
- Clinton Community College in Plattsburgh, New York, offers both an Associate of Applied Science degree and a certificate in Wind Energy and Turbine Technology. The program promises to train students in the fundamentals of wind-based renewable energy production, with a strong emphasis on safety practices and system maintenance.
Salaries for Wind Turbine Technicians
Data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) from 2019 showed an average annual wage of $56,700 for wind turbine technicians. Salaries in the profession ranged from $39,820 to $80,150 in the same year. Entry-level technicians and apprentices should expect wages in the lower half of the scale, with opportunities to increase their earnings coming with experience and promotion. Salary differences can also reflect the different costs-of-living in various areas throughout the country.
According to the BLS, there are approximately 5,960 wind turbine technicians employed in the country. The highest numbers are employed in electric power generation companies, commercial and industrial machinery companies, utility system construction companies, scientific and technical consulting companies and local governments. There is some overlap in top-paying industries for wind turbine technicians, which include enterprise and company management, electric power generation companies, scientific and technical consulting companies, architectural and engineering companies and utility system construction companies.
Geographically, the best places for wind turbine technicians to earn top dollar include Denver, Colorado; Riverside, California; San Francisco, California; Bakersfield, California; and Portland, Oregon. The states with the highest reported wages included West Virginia, North Dakota, California, Colorado and Pennsylvania. However, it is essential to note that the BLS data is incomplete, with many states not reporting specific incomes for wind turbine technicians.
Future Projections for Wind Turbine Technicians
Renewable energy production is growing in general, and wind turbines are among the leading technologies in that arena. In fact, wind power farms are expanding rapidly to meet the load of modern reliance on electrical power. Additionally, today’s consumers are more aware of the environmental short-fallings of fossil fuel power, and conscientious consumers are on the rise. As such, the demand for more sustainable energy sources is increasing exponentially and shows no signs of letting up.
High demand for wind-produced power is great news for wind turbine technicians, as the job market will need to expand to meet them. In reality, job growth is nothing new for the industry, as it has been continuously growing since 2004. According to Projections Central, wind turbine service technicians are facing a whopping 56.1 percent growth between 2018 and 2028. This data translates to an estimated 3,700 new jobs opening over the 10-year period. Current estimates place annual job openings at 1,300. These new jobs are created both by the increased demand for technicians and openings left when current technicians permanently leave the profession.
Opportunities for Wind Turbine Technicians
Wind turbines need to harness the wind and therefore are built in places where the wind is unobstructed. Because of this, wind farms typically exist in rural areas of the country or offshore. In the United States, wind turbine technicians work for companies like Tetra Tech, Pyramid Energy Services, LLC, Wind Tech Recruiters, Fairwind, Fieldcore, Alliant Energy, Spencer Ogden and Unisource Energy Corporation.
With so many opportunities, the question is not whether or not you’ll be able to work. The real question is: Where do you want to take your career and how will your future in the trade unfold? Wind turbine technicians could spend a long career doing technical work, climbing towers and performing physical tasks, or they could advance into supervisory or management positions. Technicians can also become employed as wind turbine inspectors, electrical generation specialists or renewable energy advisors.
Working as a wind turbine technician is the perfect choice for anyone who enjoys technical and physical work. For many, the climbing and rappelling aspects of the job are part of the appeal, as well as the ability to work outside and travel to job sites. Whatever the draw is for you, working as a wind turbine technician could be the perfect fit for your aptitude and personality.