Hydropower Offers Unlimited Potential for Energy, Jobs
Water is continuously moving around our earth in different forms. It evaporates from the ocean, forms into clouds, falls as rain, collects in rivers and runs back to the ocean. This movement offers countless opportunities to harness the kinetic energy and turn it into electricity. But in order for this to happen, the water must move with enough speed, at enough volume to spin the turbine that rotates a generator to create electricity. Oftentimes impoundments or dams are needed to collect and drop the moving water. Generally speaking, one gallon of water per second falling 100 feet can generate 1 kW of electricity.
Best Places for Hydropower
The United States currently has the world’s second-largest installed hydropower capacity with about 103 GW of capacity that includes pump and storage facilities. Today, the U.S. hydropower fleet contains nearly 2,200 active power plants. Forty-eight states now have hydropower facilities, and 10 of these states have generated more than 10% of their total electricity from hydropower.
Because hydroelectricity depends on rivers and streams for energy generation, the potential varies across the nation. The Pacific Northwest, for example, generates more than two-thirds of its electricity from hydroelectric dams. In fact, the Grand Coulee dam on Washington’s Columbia River is one of the largest in the world, with a capacity that exceeds 6,750 MW.
Job Outlook in the Hydropower Industry
In the U.S., the hydropower industry currently employs about 300,000 workers, ranging from project development and manufacturing to operations and facilities maintenance.
With effective policies in place, the industry can successfully expand this workforce across America. A decade ago, Navigant Consulting completed a study, which found that by 2025, the U.S. could add 60,000 MW of hydro capacity and create as many as 1.4 million jobs with the help of policies like a widespread Renewable Energy Standard (RES). As technologies develop, including wave and tidal in-stream energy conversion, the potential increases even further. For example, the technical capacity from wave power alone is about 90 GW.
Although the U.S. isn’t on track to reach this magnitude of hydroelectricity, knowing that this is possible can help us strive for greater capacity in the coming decade.
Types of Careers in Hydroelectricity
Below are a few examples of career opportunities in the evolving hydropower industry.
Hydroelectric engineers are responsible for developing and maintaining the mechanical technology at hydro facilities and overseeing performance. These professionals often create budgets and manage the project schedule, while developing technical procedures for procurements, manufacturing and installation of equipment. These engineers regularly inspect hydropower sites and supervise projects to ensure safety and efficiency. Hydroelectric engineers often support quality assurance teams in the creation of inspection and test plans and the resolution of any quality issues.
Hydroelectric Operations and Maintenance Manager
These individuals are responsible for overseeing the operations of hydroelectric plants, and controlling the assets for assigned projects. Hydroelectric O&M managers must develop and maintain relationships with stakeholders, regulatory agencies, and customers. It is their job to ensure all safety practices and policies are implemented and the operation of all hydro assets fall within regulatory guidelines. These professionals are often tasked with identifying methods to increase project efficiency and implement capital improvement projects to increase project profitability. They also manage the coordination and execution to correct any outages to ensure minimum downtime and cost control.
Hydroelectric Plant Technician
Hydroelectric plant technicians are responsible for operating the plant equipment including the turbines, pumps, valves, gates, electric control board and battery banks. They must ensure that all components are working appropriately and that the equipment is properly maintained. If any parts are running improperly, it is this professional’s duty to identify the issue and determine the best course of action regarding repairs. Sometimes a hydroelectric plant technician is responsible for the amount of power that’s distributed through various power grids. If this is the case, these individuals must ensure the appropriate controls are in place to start and stop energy production – or control the volume of energy generation.
A hydroelectric mechanic is responsible for the safe installation, maintenance and repair of different hydroelectric machinery. They perform a variety of journeyman-level mechanical maintenance and corrective repair on heavy rotating machinery. Hydro mechanics may disassemble and reassemble hydro turbines, utilize crane operators to move and transport heavy machinery and conduct capital improvements projects of generators and associated machinery. Working with supervisors and the operations team, these professionals often inspect work and ensure product specifications and quality standards are met.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in hydropower, start by creating your free candidate profile on Clean Energy Jobs List today – it takes only seconds!