Wind is no longer just for kites and sailboats. Wind can also be a
source of energy. As our concerns about other sources of energy (like fossil
fuels) grow, the wind energy industry is taking off. That means that many
people are looking to the fast-growing wind energy sector to find work all
over North America.
To learn more about using the wind to create energy, we must first understand
where wind comes from.
The sun heats the earth. This heat warms the surrounding air. Once it becomes
a certain temperature, the air rises quickly. This causes a low pressure area
closer to the ground and a higher pressure over the land. Air moves from high
pressure areas to lower pressure areas, and this movement creates wind.
Humans have discovered a way to use that wind to help create power. Wind
turbines harness the power of the wind.
Wind turbines look like very tall poles with a fan at the top. They capture
the energy in wind and change it into electricity. A wind farm is a group
of wind turbines that are used for power.
Wind energy is renewable energy. Renewable energy is created and constantly
reproduced naturally. Other sources of renewable energy include solar (from
the sun), water and geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is harnessed from
heat inside the earth, atmosphere or oceans.
Scientists are looking at ways to use more sources of renewable energy.
Wind provides a good example of the advantages of this type of energy. The
most obvious advantage is that wind is free! It also doesn't contribute to
global warming. It doesn't produce greenhouse gases or other harmful substances.
And as you might guess, wind will never run out.
But does it work? In Denmark, 20 percent of the country's electricity is
generated through wind farms. And researchers are developing ways to improve
how we work with wind energy. As interest in these forms of renewable energy
grows, the future for the wind energy sector looks bright. Companies like
General Electric are choosing to set up wind farms to create power.
David Huggill is a policy manager for a wind energy organization. According
to Huggill, the industry shows signs of continued and strong growth in the
"The financial component of our industry has probably never been stronger
and there is an active and competitive marketplace for our commodity," he
says. "There is every reason to believe that the continued growth in the wind
industry will continue for at least 10 years as increased penetration of wind
advances throughout North America."
Meredith Ingram is responsible for public relations and communication with
Renewable Energy Systems (RES) Americas in Austin, Texas. She's seen a lot
of growth in the industry, including in her own organization.
"In the last three years, RES has gone from a 15 to 20 person operation
to having approximately 200 full- and part-time employees across the country,"
she said. "It seems like many other renewable energy companies are facing
a similar rate of growth."
RES plans and builds large-scale wind farms. They take care of land leases
and other land and construction issues, and they work with communities to
make sure they understand how wind farms work. The company has offices in
Texas, Oregon, Minnesota and Montreal and offers many different jobs.
Jobs in wind energy can be short-term positions, doing the tasks involved
in building and developing a wind farm. Or they can be long term, maintaining
and managing the farm.
Possible careers include administrators, engineers, construction workers,
electricians, concrete workers, foundation technicians and crane operators.
All these people are required to start a wind farm and keep it running.
But there are many other jobs in the wind energy sector. Manufacturers
build hardware for turbines. Project developers are in charge of the creation
of wind farms. Technicians repair and maintain turbines. Facility managers
run the whole operation, from making a budget to providing customer service.
"Each wind farm will employ a different number of people, depending on
the size of the project, but according to the American Wind Energy Associations
estimations, there are 76 jobs (construction and maintenance) for every 100
MWs (megawatts of energy)," says Ingram. The largest wind farm in the U.S.
is Florida Power & Light's Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center. It has a capacity
of 735 megawatts.
In Sweetwater, Texas, Doug King is teaching students how to work with wind
turbines. He is the program chair for the wind energy technical program at
Texas State Tech College. He has previously worked with wind energy.
"We probably have over 2,000 large-scale wind turbines put in the area,"
he says. He adds some of the larger companies that manufacture them include
General Electric, Siemens and Mitsubishi.
The wind energy program at Texas State Tech College gives students an associate's
degree and has been popular. Students are interested in the industry because
they gain a variety of skills and will be qualified to work on multiple types
of wind turbines.
"It's one piece of equipment that offers mechanical, electrical, electronic,
computer and communications," he says.
The program starts with an introductory class that teaches students common
turbine terms. Then they job shadow wind technicians for three days. After
that, they take computer applications and networking, circuitry and a variety
of other courses that teach them to maintain the turbines.
Within 20 months (with no summer vacation), students can be ready for the
King says the Department of Energy would like to see 20 percent of U.S.
energy needs met by wind power by 2030. Currently only one or two percent
of our energy needs are being filled by wind energy.
King predicts the wind energy sector will grow quickly in the next 10 years.
For those taking training under King, the going rate in Sweetwater is up
to $20 an hour, plus all the overtime workers want.
"You're going to make between $45,000 and $60,000," he says. "There's
a pretty good increase in a short time."
So if you're hoping to work in a new and fast-growing industry, the answer
might be blowing in the wind.
American Wind Energy Association
Voice for the wind energy industry
Renewable Energy Systems Americas
Finding cleaner sources of energy
Learn more about wind energy