Careers in Wind Energy The Buzz


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 foreseeable future.

"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 work force.

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.

Links

American Wind Energy Association
Voice for the wind energy industry

Renewable Energy Systems Americas
Finding cleaner sources of energy

KidWind Project
Learn more about wind energy