Wind Turbine Technician

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The sun warms the earth, but not all areas are heated evenly. Warm air rises, and cool air moves in to replace it. Wind results from the air movement. When harnessed, wind is a natural source of renewable energy that is non-polluting. Turbines are machines that produce energy by revolving. Technology has enabled humans to convert the power of wind into a reliable source of electricity by means of wind turbines.

Wind turbines resemble windmills mounted on tall narrow towers. The towers are several hundred feet high, which is where the wind is stronger and more turbulent. Most of the contemporary wind turbines have three blades that face the wind, which makes them spin. The length of the blades is proportionate to the height of the tower. The blades can spin as fast as 200 miles per hour. In addition to the tower and blades, wind turbines have a hub or nacelle. The nacelle is filled with the parts needed to convert wind power into usable electrical power (i.e., a generator). Altogether, a wind turbine has as many as 8,000 components functioning to produce thousands of watts of electricity.

Wind turbines are built on land and on platforms offshore in large bodies of water. They’re usually constructed in a group called a wind farm. An emerging source of renewable energy, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA) credits wind energy for providing 8 percent of the operating electric generating capacity in the United States in 2016 which was more than any other renewable energy source (USEIA 2017). What’s more is that with more than half of the United States’ wind capacity being sourced from five states with large landmasses and populations, careers in wind technology are expected to grow.

Wind turbine technicians, also known in the industry as ‘windtechs,’ are the workers who install all the components and keep everything working smoothly. Power companies depend on a consistent flow of power and part of a technician’s job is to minimize wind turbine downtime.

Once a wind turbine installation is complete, windtechs must clean, inspect, maintain, and service everything. Most technicians work full time and are on-call for emergencies. The job sites are frequently in remote areas, and most work is performed outside. Windtechs are part of a team but may work alone on some jobs.

Safety is a primary concern for all workers. Because of the height at which they work and the inherent dangers of working in high winds, wind technicians must wear safety harnesses. Windtechs must also have a comprehensive understanding of electricity. At times, windtechs are exposed to toxic chemicals while exposed to the elements, so there’s little leeway for careless mistakes. Windtechs undergo extensive training before they are allowed to independently set foot on a wind farm worksite.

As the demand for renewable and green energy continues to escalate, the need for more wind turbines and wind farms is propelling job growth. And as climate change becomes a higher priority, jobs for wind turbine technicians will continue to grow. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) wind turbine service technicians are the second-fastest growing occupation in the United States (BLS 2019). Wind technology technician careers are projected to increase by a staggering 57 percent between 2018 and 2028—a rate which is much faster than the national average of 5 percent predicted for all occupations (BLS 2019).

What Does a Wind Turbine Technician Do?

Wind turbine technicians ensure that the equipment continues to operate efficiently. Their work requires them to climb very tall ladders while carrying heavy parts and safety gear with them. Working inside the nacelle requires the ability to function in small, cramped spaces. Windtechs working on towers may have to rappel to the area that needs to be serviced.

When installing a new wind turbine, windtechs are responsible for testing the equipment and how it is operating to diagnose and remedy potential startup problems. Existing installations must be routinely and thoroughly inspected and tested, including the tower as well as the blades and equipment inside the nacelle. Technicians must be able to accurately troubleshoot electrical, hydraulic, and mechanical components. Any malfunctions must be diagnosed and parts quickly repaired or replaced so that the wind turbine can continue to generate clean, renewable energy.

Wind turbine technicians also collect data for analysis. They are proficient at math and complex calculations. An exhaustive understanding of electronics is essential for testing and calibrating control systems.

Windtechs are responsible for servicing and maintaining electrical transmission systems, which may be located underground or underwater. They must have strong communication skills to relay information verbally to their teams or in writing for documentation purposes. Many windtech training programs include first aid and CPR training, as well as wind energy rescue training.

Windtech Zane Wolf explains more about the safety components emphasized in his training on the American Wind and Energy Association website: “My studies taught me important techniques, like how to rescue someone by using an emergency descent device if they cannot climb down a turbine alone. We also learned how to effectively use emergency descent gear for ourselves if an unusual situation occurred. Keeping safety at the top of the list and understanding these techniques helps prevent accidents from happening.”

Prospective windtechs can be assured that while the requirements for jobs in wind energy include inherent risk, safety is highly prioritized in training programs.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Wind Turbine Technician?

Wind turbines are highly technical. Individuals who install, maintain, and repair them must be specifically trained in the intricate technology that keeps wind turbines moving smoothly. Although some training is acquired on-the-job, workers need to have served an apprenticeship or completed relevant coursework. As previously mentioned, wind technology technicians typically complete rigorous safety training.

A wind turbine technician cannot be afraid of heights as most of the work is done several hundred feet in the air. He or she must be physically strong and able to ascend and descend ladders. Excellent communication skills are necessary while working with other windtechs to keep everyone safe. Effective technicians are detail-oriented and keep precise records of their work. Teamwork is a must-have quality for windtechs able to work safely, but are also able to make critical decisions when working independently.

Mechanical skills are fundamental to the nature of windtech jobs. Although specific mechanical skills can be learned while training, individuals who are experienced in other mechanical fields will have an advantage in comprehending proprietary wind turbine technology more quickly.

Specializations are also available in some wind technology programs and having specialty knowledge can equate to higher pay. According to self-reported data from PayScale (2020) from 421 wind technology technicians, the highest-paid windtech professionals are skilled in electronic troubleshooting, wind energy/wind power maintenance, and systems troubleshooting.

What Are the Steps to Becoming a Wind Turbine Technician?

Wind turbine technicians may obtain entry-level positions without prior training, but they are the exception rather than the rule. The technology and safety procedures mean that nearly all windtechs have served in an apprenticeship or attended school. Four of the common steps to becoming a wind technology technician (and average completion time for each) are detailed below.

Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma or GED (four years).

High school students aspiring to begin windtech careers are encouraged to complete at least one year of algebra as well as courses in computers, electronics, and science. Woodshop, metalworking, or other classes that emphasize mechanical skills are recommended.

Involvement in after-school sports and taking extra physical education classes can help develop the physical stamina required of wind turbine technicians. Volunteer or job shadowing working opportunities with electricians can help develop the electrical skills needed for this career. Students are encouraged to keep their grades as high as possible to gain entry into a reputable trade school or community college educational program.

Step 2: Become an apprentice or attend formal classes (several months to several years).

Apprenticeship applicants must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) requires approved apprenticeship programs to be: “high-quality apprenticeship programs, wherein an individual obtains workplace-relevant knowledge and progressively-advancing skills, that include a paid-work component and an educational or instructional component, and that result in an industry-recognized credential.”

Entering a location in the Apprenticeship Finder Tool can help individuals find companies in their area that sponsor apprentices.

For those seeking a technical certificate or community college route, these options typically take one to two years to complete. Graduates may earn a certificate of completion or an associate in applied science (AAS) degree. The U.S. Department of Energy maintains a list of wind energy education and training programs which are searchable by state and type of institution.

Common courses for wind technology educational programs include subjects such as aerodynamic theory, technical math, design principles, environmental concerns, instrumentation, control systems, electronics, and hydraulics. Every student learns job safety procedures as well. The time to complete varies by student and school, with some programs taking as little as nine months.

An example of a two-year associate’s degree program is the energy systems technology program at Walla Walla Community College in Walla, Walla, Washington. Students in this program complete a one-year electrical core course sequence and then have the opportunity to specialize in up to five concentration areas: mechanical electrical technology, industrial mechanics, precision agriculture, and renewable energy. Students must earn a letter grade of “C” or higher in their courses to maintain good academic standing in this program.

Students can also obtain professional certificates in wind technology within a few months or one academic year. Although these programs typically offer less instruction and hands-on experience compared to two-year degree programs, they are an ideal option for those who want to explore the career field without committing to a two-year program.

Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas offers two professionals certificate programs: a wind technical certificate (37 hours) and a wind certificate of completion (12 hours)—both of which can be completed online. This program features weekend intensive courses every eight weeks to give students hands-on training with real wind technology. The certificate curriculum includes courses in energy efficiency and small wind turbines and requires a for-credit internship to successfully complete the program.

Another learning option is vendor-sponsored training in installing, maintaining, and repairing proprietary wind technology equipment. Completion time can range from a one-day to several months.

An example of a vendor-sponsored program is the wind turbine technology course offered by DVNGL. This three-day course is designed for a broad range of professionals of any discipline entering the industry and seeking specific skills in wind turbine technology such as project managers, developers, civil and structural designers, and turbine designers and investors. The training takes place in Bristol, United Kingdom, and the early registration fee is €1,550.

Step 3: Acquire an advanced degree or certification (optional, several months to several years).

Wind turbine technicians need a variety of skills to progress beyond entry-level jobs. Students who obtain advanced degrees in subjects such as engineering, design, renewable energy and sustainability, and wind farm development will find their skills in demand. Technicians can also obtain certifications of additional training and abilities through industry associations. The Global Wind Organisation (GWO) certifies training providers. Following is a list of GWO-certified programs:

  • ENSA North America, Inc. (ENSA) is certified by the GWO to provide working-at-height training. Based out of Mukwonago, Wisconsin, students learn about fall risks and prevention, how to use rescue equipment, personal protective equipment, and fall rescue equipment. Graduates receive safe access and rescue certification. The medic first aid and trauma-at-height certifications teach students how to assess emergency situations and take appropriate actions. Since a wind turbine nacelle is a small space filled with equipment, students who are confined space entry and rescue certified are capable of handling emergencies in the nacelle.
  • High Plains Technology Center is located in Woodward, Oklahoma, in the middle of America’s wind corridor. The first and only GWO-certified provider in Oklahoma, this program features a complete range of height safety and access and rescue training for wind technology technicians and other related occupations in utilities, construction, manufacturing, and emergency services. The Wind Tech I Training program is designed for new hires and teaches modules focused on wind energy safety, AC/DC electricity, mechanical drive systems, hydraulics/pneumatics, and more. This course is Pell Grant-eligible for qualified applicants and is offered twice each year to classes of 12 students.
  • HYTORC is a global vendor of industrial bolting systems with corporate headquarters in Mahwah, New Jersey. They offer courses in safe bolting practices and principles. They teach students how to use tools and safe procedures for connecting components under high pressure in extreme conditions, including when hazardous materials are present. Their courses are approved by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has its headquarter office in Quincy, Massachusetts and offers a two-day classroom training course in electrical safety in the workplace (NFPA 70E). Students learn safe work practices to avoid electrical injuries such as shock, arc flash or blast, and electrocution. Coursework includes training for working with electrical distribution systems and (de-)energizing power circuits. Students receive a certificate of educational achievement at completion.
  • The OSHA 10-Hour Construction Training Program is designed to teach entry-level construction workers how to recognize and prevent safety hazards at a construction site. This online course is divided into eight modules and teaches students to recognize hazardous materials or situations and how to communicate the information to others. They also learn safety procedures when working on or around cranes, rigging, scaffolds, and ladders. Additional lessons teach how to use personal protective equipment, how to protect oneself from falling, and extrication procedures in the event technicians are “struck by” or “caught in between.” Technicians also learn how to safely use hand and power tools. Their knowledge is tested throughout the program, and they must pass a final exam with 70 percent accuracy. Students are given six months to complete the course from the time they begin. Graduates receive a certificate of completion and a DOL wallet card.
  • The American Red Cross provides the mandatory first aid and CPR certifications. Training is offered throughout the United States and both courses are OSHA compliant. Students may earn continuing education credits (CEUs) in preparedness and health and safety services courses and seek specializations in wilderness and remote first aid.

Step 4: Obtain licensing (timeline varies).

Certifications and licenses are not the same. Employers require all windtechs to have a valid driver’s license as job sites are often in remote areas. A self-employed technician is considered a contractor. Most states and municipalities require contractors to be licensed. Wind turbine technicians may be employed by public utilities and other power-generating companies who obtain all licenses and permits. Otherwise, all windtechs are advised to reach out to their local government offices to ensure they have all necessary credentialing prior to beginning work.

How Much Do Wind Turbine Technicians Make?

Salaries are dependent on factors such as experience, education, and skills. According to PayScale (2020), the average annual salary for a wind turbine technician is $50,532. PayScale lists four levels of experienced wind turbine technicians and their correlated hourly wages:

  • Entry-level (less than one year): $19.67
  • Early-career (1-4 years): $21.37
  • Mid-career (5-9 years): $25.54
  • Experienced (10-19 years): $29.69

The BLS (May 2018) reported that 5,580 wind turbine service technicians were employed nationwide. They earned an average of $58,000 annually and the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $37,780
  • 25th percentile: $44,430
  • 50th percentile: $54,370 (median)
  • 75th percentile: $69,550
  • 90th percentile: $83,560

The salaries can vary according to the industry in which the technician is employed. The BLS reported the median salaries by the wind technology industry as follows:

  • Professional, scientific, and technical services: $65,650
  • Electric power generation: $61,920
  • Repair and maintenance: $48,900
  • Utility system construction: $48,200

Median salaries are the wages at which half the wind techs earned more than that amount and the other half earned less.

Cities That Have the Highest Pay

The BLS (May 2018) reported the following cities as having the highest average annual pay for wind turbine service technicians:

  • Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO: $77,200
  • Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI: $66,340
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA: $58,260
  • Bakersfield, CA: $57,520
  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX: $57,280

When considering where to look for wind technology technician jobs, it is essential to do research to learn about established areas with wind technology and regional demands for wind energy, as well as population and occupational data for a particular area.

Here are three examples of metropolitan areas with established or emerging wind energy industries:

Bakersfield, California: Located in the San Joaquin Valley in Kern County, California, the Alta Wind Energy Center is the largest wind power site in the United States. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Alta Wind Energy Center has 586 wind turbines, a number which is 1,072 percent more than most wind farms which typically have an average of 50 wind turbines. It can be assumed that areas such as Bakersfield have a demand for wind turbine installers and service personnel and possibly offering competitive wages in order to attract qualified windtechs.

Houston, Texas: With more than 30 wind-related companies in Houston, Texas has the highest number of installed and under-construction wind capacity facilities which have created more than 24,000 jobs according to the Greater Houston Partnership. With a combined 13,361 wind turbines, the Houston metropolitan area employs 766 workers in their seven utility-scale wind energy generation establishments. The EPA listed Houston as the number one municipal purchaser of renewable energy in January 2018 and green power accounts for 89 percent of the total electricity use in the city.

Duluth, Minnesota: The state of Minnesota gets half of its power from renewable energy sources. In fact, in 2018 the Star Tribune reported that renewable sources of energy are the second biggest sources of power in the state of Minnesota and that the cost of wind energy, even without tax subsidies, is lower than electricity from natural gas and coal. What’s more is the population of Duluth, Minnesota has declined at a rate of 11 percent at a time when the number of employees in the areas has grown by 62 percent according to data from Data USA. This regional data compared with state-wind demand for wind energy could result in higher-than-average salaries in certain areas with similar population and occupational profiles.

States That Have the Highest Pay

The BLS (May 2018) reported the following states as having the highest average annual pay for wind turbine service technicians:

  • West Virginia: $78,010
  • Colorado: $69,070
  • North Dakota: $67,520
  • Washington: $65,270
  • Illinois: $64,180

West Virginia has been hard-hit by the decline in coal mining, but fortunately, miners have skill sets that transfer well to working on wind turbine installations according to the New York Times. Because so many individuals left the state when their coal mining jobs disappeared, those who remained are in demand to be hired into green energy jobs as windtechs.

In 2017, Iowa was getting more than 36 percent of its energy from the wind according to the Des Moines Register. The state ranked third in the U.S. for capacity, number of wind turbines, and power produced. Although local schools offer wind turbine technology training, not enough students enroll. The shortage of trained technicians has led to higher wages for the available workers. The job situation is similar in Colorado and the Dakotas.

For varying reasons, trained windtechs are in short supply. As more wind farms are built or scheduled for construction to meet growing green energy demands, the need for technicians remains greater than the supply.

What Is the Career Outlook and Progression for a Wind Turbine Technician?

It is clear that wind turbine technicians are needed nationwide for current projects, and more will be needed in the future for new installations.

As noted earlier, the predicted growth in job openings for windtechs is increasing at a much faster rate than other occupations nationwide. As soon as training is completed and job experience obtained, wind turbine technicians are not expected to have difficulty in finding steady employment. Some reports indicate that students are being hired before they complete their education due to the urgent need for more technicians, receiving extensive on-the-job training through this unique career pathway.

The next big employer for trained windtechs is predicted to be at offshore wind farms sites. The number of offshore wind farms is expected to increase dramatically in the future, and technicians who have experience with installations on land will be in high demand for the more lucrative offshore positions.

In addition to the skills needed to install, maintain, and repair wind turbines, workers are needed for the technical and logistical aspects of developing new wind farms. Experienced technicians can expect to advance to positions such as project managers, researchers, and environmental directors. Potential future career paths include:

  • Wind turbine inspector
  • Renewable energy experts
  • Electrical energy generation specialists
  • Manufacturing

Technicians may also decide to transfer their expertise to other renewable energy fields such as hydropower.

Rachel Drummond

Rachel is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).