Geothermal technicians monitor and control operating activities at geothermal power generation facilities to produce electricity.
Geothermal energy is the heat from the Earth which means it’s clean and sustainable. Geothermal energy sources range from the shallow ground to hot water and hot rock found a few miles beneath the Earth’s surface, and down even deeper to the extremely high temperatures of molten rock called magma. Geothermal energy sources are used mainly to generate electricity at geothermal power plants, and power geothermal heat pumps to heat and cool buildings. Geothermal power plants use steam produced from reservoirs of hot water found a couple of miles or more below the Earth’s surface. The steam rotates a turbine that activates a generator, which produces electricity.
The shallow ground, the upper 10 feet of the Earth, maintains a nearly constant temperature between 50° and 60°F (10°-16°C). This ground temperature is warmer than the air above it in the winter and cooler than the air in the summer. Geothermal heat pumps take advantage of this resource to heat and cool buildings. Geothermal technicians perform technical activities at power plants or individual installations necessary for the generation of power from geothermal energy sources. Those with geothermal technician jobs also install, test, and maintain residential and commercial geothermal heat pumps.
Geothermal technicians who work at geothermal power plants primary job functionality is to monitor and adjust operations of geothermal power plant equipment or systems. They identify and correct malfunctions of geothermal plant equipment, electrical systems, instrumentation, or controls. They also adjust power production systems to meet load and distribution demands. On a daily basis, those with geothermal technician jobs collect and record data associated with operating geothermal power plants or well fields. They prepare and maintain logs, reports, or other documentation of work performed.
As part of their duties, geothermal technicians install and maintain geothermal plant electrical protection equipment. They maintain electrical switchgear, process controls, transmitters, gauges, and control equipment in accordance with geothermal plant procedures. They also maintain, calibrate, or repair geothermal plants instrumentation, control, and electronic devices. Geothermal technicians determine whether emergency or auxiliary systems that will be needed to keep properties heated or cooled in extreme weather conditions. They also test water sources for factors such as flow volume and contaminant presence.
For geothermal technicians who install, test, and maintain residential and commercial geothermal heat pumps, their primary job functionality is to install and maintain geothermal system instrumentation or controls. They install, maintain, or repair ground or water source-coupled heat pumps to heat and cool residential or commercial building air or water. Before the installation, they calculate heat loss and heat gain factors for residential properties to determine heating and cooling required by installed geothermal systems. They determine the type of geothermal loop system most suitable to a specific property and its heating and cooling needs. Geothermal technicians then design and lay out geothermal heat systems according to property characteristics, heating and cooling requirements, piping and equipment requirements, applicable regulations, or other factors. They also identify equipment options, such as compressors, and make appropriate selections.
During the installation of geothermal heat pumps, geothermal technicians need to be able to operate equipment such as excavators, backhoes, rock hammers, trench compactors, pavement saws, grout mixers or pumps, geothermal loop reels, and coil tubing units (CTU). They perform weld piping, such as high density polyethylene (HDPE) piping, using techniques such as butt, socket, side-wall, and electro-fusion welding. They dig trenches for system piping to appropriate depths and lay piping in trenches. They also backfill piping trenches to protect pipes from damage. Geothermal technicians perform pre- and post-installation pressure, flow, and related tests of vertical and horizontal geothermal loop piping. They integrate hot water heater systems with geothermal heat exchange systems. Geothermal technicians prepare newly installed geothermal heat systems for operation by flushing, purging, or other actions. They also apply coatings or operate systems to mitigate corrosion of geothermal plant equipment or structures.
Geothermal technicians work both at geothermal power plants and on job site for specific residential or commercial geothermal heat pump installations. When on job sites, they may experience hot, cold, and unfavorable environmental conditions. They are required to use proper safety equipment and protocols. Most geothermal technicians work a standard 40-hour week, but can expect occasional evening, weekend, and holiday. Geothermal technicians may also need to travel extensively to job sites based on demands.
To obtain a green job as a geothermal technician, it is usually requires a high school diploma. To work in this field it helps to have previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience. Employees in these jobs are required anywhere from a few months to one year of working with experienced employees. A recognized apprenticeship program may be associated with these jobs. Some colleges provide an associate degree program that prepares you to enter the field of geothermal heating and cooling and teaches a variety of drilling techniques to use the heat of the earth to heat and cool buildings. Certification by the North American Energy Reliability Corporation (NERC) is necessary for positions that could affect the power grid. Organizations such as the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) and International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) provide professional development and networking opportunities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates a bright outlook for geothermal technicians and expects employment of this field to grow between 10 to 19 percent from 2010 until 2020; about the average for all green jobs. Demand for geothermal technicians is expected to go up with an average annual increase of 5.11%. The BLS projected 43,200 Geothermal Technicians job openings between 2010 and 2020, and noted 144,000 jobs are currently filled. Titles include Maintenance Technician, Control Room Operator (CRO), Control Operator, Instrumentation, Control, and Electrical Technician (I C & E Technician), Mechanical Technician, Operations Technician, Operator Technician, Instrument and Controls Technician (I & C Technician); Instrumentation and Electrical Technician (I & E Technician), Maintenance Mechanic. The BLS further reports that the median annual wage for salaried geothermal technicians was $36,620 in 2012 with median hourly wage of $17.60. Across the US job market, the lowest 10% of Geothermal technicians earned about $20,000 a year, and the top 10% earned about $60,000 a year. Geothermal technicians can receive the best compensation in Alaska, where they earn compensation, on average, of about $61,550.