Wind energy engineers are key careers in wind turbine development to harness power from the wind.
Wind energy engineer jobs involve the design and development of wind turbines. In addition, they also work in testing, production, and maintenance of those turbines.The wind energy industry has experienced rapid growth in the past decade. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), in 2000, installed wind energy capacity in the United States was under 3,000 megawatts. It is now over 35,000 megawatts, enough electricity to power approximately 9.7 million homes. As wind energy continues to grow in popularity, the development of American wind farms is expected to increase.
The process of getting energy from the wind into the home or business is complex. A modern wind turbine consists of an estimated 8,000 parts and can be up to 300 feet high. Turbines must be designed, built, transported, and set up before they can start producing energy. Wind turbines consist of three major components—the blades, tower, and nacelle—each of which has to be designed and produced separately. Modern turbine blades are made of fiberglass and, in onshore models, are frequently more than 100 feet long. Towers are made up of several steel segments placed atop one another. The brain of the wind turbine is the nacelle, a rectangular box resting atop the tower and containing the turbine’s gears, generator, and other mechanical components. The nacelle also contains many highly sophisticated electronic components that allow the turbine to monitor changes in wind speed and direction. These components can direct the wind turbine to turn on and off or change direction automatically in order to safely and efficiently harness power from the wind.
Wind energy engineers main focus is to create or maintain wind farm layouts, schematics, or other visual documentation for wind farms. These green job holders develop specifications for wind technology components, such as gearboxes, blades, generators, frequency converters, and pad transformers. They also create models to optimize the layout of wind farm access roads, crane pads, crane paths, collection systems, substations, switchyards, or transmission lines.
Wind energy engineers use computers extensively to produce and analyze designs, generate specifications for parts, monitor product quality, and simulate and test how a turbine or component operates. They also develop active control algorithms, electronics, software, electromechanical, or electrohydraulic systems for wind turbines. Wind energy engineers also investigate experimental wind turbines or wind turbine technologies for properties such as aerodynamics, production, noise, and load.
Wind energy engineers also recommend process or infrastructure changes to improve wind turbine performance, reduce operational costs, or comply with regulations. They provide engineering technical support to designers of prototype wind turbines. They involve in the testing of wind turbine components, using mechanical or electronic testing equipment. Wind energy engineers also test wind turbine equipment to determine effects of stress or fatigue. They often supervise the work activities of wind farm consultants or subcontractors.
Wind energy engineers work with specialized tools and software systems including: computer-aided design (CAD), map creation, analytical, scientific and object oriented development software. Other tools used include anemometers, barometers, radar based surveillance systems, weather stations, and wind surface observing apparatuses.
Wind energy engineers work in offices, laboratories, and industrial plants. Some may spend time at working wind farms and those under development. Many are expected to travel frequently to oversee manufacturing processes or turbine installation, and travel abroad is often required since many of the largest turbine manufacturers are based overseas. The nature of engineers’ work depends largely on their specialties. When on job sites, wind energy engineers will often need to climb to heights greater than 100 feet and may experience both hot and cold environments. To ensure the safety, wind energy engineers are required to use safety equipment. Most wind energy engineers work a standard 40-hour week, but can expect occasional evening, weekend, and holiday work.
Obtaining a green career as a wind energy engineer requires at minimum a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field. The majority of wind energy engineers have a degree in one of the following areas: aeronautical, civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering as well as aerodynamics, atmospheric science, computer science, mathematics, or physics. Some wind energy engineers can substitute for required experience by obtaining a master or doctoral degree.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates a bright outlook for wind energy engineers and expects employment of this field to grow about 9 percent from 2010 until 2020; slower than the average for all green jobs. The BLS projected 44,800 wind energy engineer job openings between 2010 and 2020, and noted 157,000 jobs are currently filled. Titles included Project Designer, Transmission and Distribution Engineering, Project Engineer, Senior Engineer/Practice Leader-Land Development and Engineering, Senior Project Engineer, Senior Wind Energy Consultant, Turbine Measurements Engineer, Utility Engineer, Wind Farm Siting and Development Consultant, Wind Science and Planning, and Wind Turbine Design Engineer. The BLS further reports that the median annual wage for salaried Wind energy engineers was $ 92,030 in 2012 with median hourly wage of $ 44.24.