A record number of Americans – more than 114,000 – now work in the wind industry. These individuals have helped bring power to roughly 30 million homes in the U.S.
Having grown 8 percent in 2018, wind energy jobs are providing secure, well-paying careers that workers and their families can rely on. Based on market projections, these opportunities will only increase in the coming years.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics identified “wind turbine service technicians” as the second-fastest growing job in America, that’s not the only gig in wind energy. From turbine manufacturing to wind farm development, from energy analysis to maintenance, there’s a multitude of jobs in this growing sector.
Below are four categories of wind energy jobs, and examples of exciting careers in each field.
1. Wind Energy Research Jobs
Research is an integral part of the wind industry. Individuals are needed to apply their technical experience to this renewable sector. Research jobs may involve running studies and experiments, conducting energy modeling, and projecting the value of different wind farm scenarios by estimating the costs of transportation, capital, and O&M.
Of particular importance is turbine research, where professionals develop ways to improve aerodynamics. It’s crucial to understand the behavior of wind, such as its inflow and turbulence. A firm grasp of these factors enables researches to develop ways to improve dynamics and design. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is working on different areas of turbine research. For example, one three-year study is investigating 3D printing of blade molds, which hope to save time and money during the blade development process.
A related area – forecasting – uses weather models to predict wind speeds and different elevations. These researchers assess old data and predict how wind will behave at certain times, days and months of the year.
As wind energy becomes more common, forecasting that is integrated into energy management systems is also becoming more crucial. For example, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are developing a new integrated, transformative approach to mitigate the impact of wind ramping (variations in wind power output). Their goal is to reduce wind integration costs by making wind power dispatchable.
Utility Integration Researchers
Utility grid integration involves how the wind energy generated will be integrated into a utility’s grid system. Researchers working on new models and techniques can help grid operators manage variable-output technologies with ease and efficiency.
2. Wind Manufacturing Jobs
Today, the average utility-scale wind turbine contains about 8,000 parts. As the size and complexity of these turbines grow, the demand for wind manufacturers is increasing. More than 500 wind-related U.S. factories are cranking out turbines and tower components – many more are on the horizon.
Turbine Production Workers
To ensure reliability, wind turbine blades must be built to the highest quality standards. They need to maintain their strength and aerodynamic makeup to withstand continuous operations over 20, even 30 years. These blades are often 250 feet in length and require qualified, meticulous workers to ensure safe and effective construction.
Plant operations technicians, composite blade technicians, manufacturing operators and production workers are just a few essential positions in turbine manufacturing.
The average wind turbine tower is nearly 260 feet, about as tall as the Statue of Liberty. Today’s newest towers are being constructed even taller to harness wind blowing at higher elevations. A solid, steady tower is crucial for the longevity of a wind turbine.
Workers are needed to build all the components of a wind energy tower. This includes generators, gearboxes, breaks and drivetrains – the tower-top component that convert the force of wind-driven rotor blades into electricity. All of these components are contained in a cover housing called the nacelle.
Welders, production supervisors, assemblers, materials handlers, inspectors and painters are all examples of job opportunities in tower and components production.
Infrastructure and Logistics Professionals
Infrastructure and logistics limitations are among the biggest hindrances to widespread wind power. For example, the height of highway underpasses tends to restrict turbine tower cargo from making its way to remote areas. It’s not easy to haul turbine blades either; many truck fleets aren’t properly designed to carry such massive cargo.
As far as these job opportunities, professionals in wind manufacturing must develop innovative ways to transport turbine and tower components to help reduce the cost of wind power. This includes research and development to limit the height and size of towers while maintaining the same efficiency levels. In order to move components like nacelles by project deadlines, heavy-haul truck operators and specialty fleet are essential.
But trucks can’t do it all – especially considering the surges in demand. Experts predict out-of-gauge rail will become common. Other important jobs involve conducting route surveys, and obtaining permission from municipalities across America to move hundreds – eventually thousands – of heavy loads through small towns.
3. Wind Farm Development Jobs
More than 56,600 wind farms are currently online in the U.S., representing a combined capacity of over 97,200 megawatts (MW). Wind power in America has more than tripled over the past decade, illustrating a growing need for jobs that involve every aspect of wind farm development.
Building a wind farm takes a great deal of geographic information to plan and execute a successful project. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialists use computer mapping software to collect valuable information on the build site. They provide the development team with details about:
- Parcel boundaries
- Transmission lines
- Land Cover
- Environmentally sensitive areas
- Micrositing (ideal wind farm layout)
The maps a GIS specialist produces are used in every part of the planning process, from the energy analysis through construction.
Real Estate Managers
Oftentimes, wind farms are built on land parcels in which the wind rights are leased from the land or property owner. When this happens, a long-term contract must be drawn that covers a range of aspects, like turbine placement, access roads, the location of transmission systems, compensation and point of electricity collection. Real estate managers who are skilled in renewable energy development help organize and communicate these essential elements of a wind farm.
A vital role, the project developer oversees a number of aspects, from land acquisition and engineering to permitting and securing contracts. These individuals are responsible for negotiating with prospective investors and power purchasers as well.
Electrical engineers are the key component of any wind farm, as every project needs an outlet for the clean energy produced. These professionals identify transmission constraints and figure out how much it will cost to overcome these barriers. Electrical engineers help determine the ideal turbine layout and number of turbines. They also help design the collection system that ties the turbines together, as well as the transmission lines and substation that bring the power to residents and businesses.
4. Analysis and Data Collection Jobs
Data is everything, and wind energy data is no different. In an emerging industry, data collection and analysis helps legitimize the efficacy and value of wind farms from coast to coast.
Meteorological Tower Service Providers
Meteorological towers, built by detail-oriented individuals, contain anemometers, data loggers and other instruments to collect wind data. These tools are placed at different points on a 200-foot tower – not a task for the faint-of-heart.
After the tower is constructed, tower technicians are needed to maintain the instruments to ensure accurate data. They work under extreme, even dangerous conditions. But these individuals aren’t just daredevil types; they have backgrounds in engineering and are technically savvy.
Wind Energy Analysts
The raw data collected at meteorological towers must then be evaluated. Wind energy analysts do just this. With the help of software, they extrapolate specific information from a data set and assess the wind resources of a given site. They calculate energy output, check to see if performance is on track, and brainstorm ways to improve efficiency while decreasing operating costs.
A wind energy analyst is also utilized prior to wind farm development. These professionals can evaluate whether an area has sufficient wind loads, and determine what layout makes the most sense based on environmental data.
Financial analysts are also critical positions that help determine the feasibility of a wind farm. These professionals create a detailed Pro-forma model using inputs such as:
- Capital costs
- O&M costs
- Wind source potential
- Land lease costs
- Estimated power prices
This model helps developers and potential investors decide if a wind farm is worth creating and investing in. Accurate financials are essential for developer credibility. With hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake if a project is aborted midway through, financial analysts have a heavy weight on their shoulders. They must be trustworthy, scrupulous and ethical team members.
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