Wind techs diagnose and fix any problem that could require the wind turbine to be shut down.
Wind turbines are extremely complex machines, made up of many different components. If any part fails, the wind turbine has to be shut down until repairs can be performed, and this lost operating time costs the owner money. To prevent these stoppages, those with wind turbine service technician jobs, also known as wind techs, are employed to inspect turbines and provide regular maintenance. They are capable of diagnosing and fixing any problem that could require the turbine to be shut down.
Because of the complexity and expense of the wind turbine equipment, operation and maintenance services are critical to keeping the turbine functioning properly. Safety also is a primary concern as the large size and speed of turbine blades can present hazards to nearby turbines or people who are in the area. Operating a turbine requires someone to schedule site personnel, observe turbine operation, and deal with equipment failure. Maintaining it requires periodic equipment inspections, sensor calibration, cleaning, and unscheduled repairs of malfunctioning components. These tasks are performed by wind turbine service technicians to ensure that the wind turbines continue to operate reliably.
Wind turbine service technicians are responsible for both regular maintenance and performing complicated repairs of wind turbines. They diagnose problems involving wind turbine generators or control systems. They also start or restart wind turbine generator systems to ensure proper operations. Those with wind turbine technician jobs also troubleshoot or repair mechanical, hydraulic, or electrical malfunctions related to variable pitch systems, variable speed control systems, converter systems, or related components. They perform routine maintenance on wind turbine equipment, underground transmission systems, wind fields substations, or fiber optic sensing and control systems. They also inspect or repair fiberglass turbine blades. The average workday is spent climbing and inspecting multiple turbines. They work a schedule that rotates which turbines need to be inspected or maintained. Any problems they notice during the examination are reported and scheduled for repair.
Wind turbine service technicians do much of their daily maintenance work in the nacelle, where the gears and sensitive electronics are housed. Nacelles are built very compactly, and wind techs must be able to work with little operating room. Inside the nacelle, wind turbine technicians regularly clean and lubricate shafts, bearings, gears, and other machinery. They test electrical components of wind systems with devices such as voltage testers, multimeters, oscilloscopes, infrared testers, or fiber optic equipment. They use handheld power tools and electrical measuring instruments to troubleshoot any faults in the generator. They also test structures, controls, or mechanical, hydraulic, or electrical systems, according to test plans or in coordination with engineers.
Sometimes wind turbine service technicians have to work outside, on the top of the nacelle. They might, for example, have to replace the instruments that measure wind speed and direction. When outside, wind turbine technicians can be hundreds of feet in the air and need to be extremely safety conscious. They wear harnesses that are attached to rings on the nacelle and move cautiously while working.
Wind turbine service technicians are also responsible for administration of the site. These technicians may be responsible for anywhere from one turbine to hundreds of turbines on a large farm. They are responsible for ordering spare parts, and ensuring there is a proper inventory of parts available for needed repairs. When performing repairs, wind techs might need a new component to replace the broken one. If so, they must drive to the wind farm’s parts storage facility and pick up a new component or have another worker deliver it to the turbine site. The turbine technician sometimes has to carry the new piece while climbing up to where it is installed. In addition, they also collect turbine data for testing or research and analysis.
Most wind farms are located away from populated areas, so technicians must be prepared to travel frequently or to live in remote locations for extended periods. Wind turbine service technicians may work at several different sites and travel among the sites to perform maintenance as needed. Most Wind turbine service technicians work a standard 40-hour week, but can expect occasional evening, weekend, and holiday work.
The wind energy industry in the United States is relatively young, so there is not a specific way to be trained as a wind turbine service technicians. Wind techs need to have mechanical skills and the ability to understand how a turbine functions, so some wind techs come from technician jobs in other industries. Experience or training as an electrician also is beneficial.
As formal training programs are developed, employers are placing more emphasis on wind-specific education. Educational institutions—specifically, community colleges and technical schools—are beginning to offer 1-year certificate and 2-year degree programs in wind turbine maintenance. In certificate programs, students take classes in basic turbine design, diagnostics, control and monitoring systems, and basic turbine repair. For a 2-year associate degree, students complete the aforementioned types of classes in addition to general-education courses. Some programs also give students hands-on training and practice on school-owned turbines and machinery. Although there is no standard certification or course of study, organizations such as AWEA are developing guidelines on the core curriculum and skill sets necessary to work as a wind turbine service technician. AWEA plans to create a list of accredited programs that adhere to a specified curriculum and adhere to certain standards.
In addition to having technical knowledge, wind techs must be physically fit. Climbing up and down the ladders inside turbine towers, even with load-bearing harnesses, can be extremely strenuous. Wind turbine service technicians will often climb several towers during the course of a typical workday, and their bodies, especially their shoulders, must able to withstand this strain.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates a bright outlook for wind turbine service technicians and expects employment of this field to grow from 10 to 19 percent from 2010 until 2020; about the average for all green jobs. The BLS projected 43,200 wind turbine service technicians job openings between 2010 and 2020, and noted 144,000 jobs are currently filled. Titles included Field Service Technician, Lead Technician, Maintenance Technician, Operations, Maintenance and Service Wind Turbine Technician (OMS Wind Turbine Technician), Senior Wind Turbine Technician, Technician, Wind Farm Support Specialist, Wind Technician, Wind Turbine Service Technician, Wind Turbine Technician. The BLS further reports that the median annual wage for salaried Wind turbine service technicians was $45,970 in 2012 with median hourly wage of $22.10. Wages and benefits vary by employer and geographic location.
Many different companies employ wind turbine service technicians. The manufacturers that design and manufacture the turbines offer warranties on their turbines usually lasting anywhere from 2 to 5 years. They employ wind techs to perform maintenance and address problems during the warranty period. There are also many companies that specialize in performing turbine maintenance and employ wind techs to provide this service to wind farm owners. Industry sources report that there is currently a shortage of trained wind techs. Because many different companies are competing to hire these workers, the most experienced wind techs can command relatively high salaries.