Renewable Energy Jobs

Power plant operators control the systems and equipment that generate electric power.

Power Plant Operator Jobs and Salary Profile

Every time you turn on the light, plug in your computer or use anything that requires electricity, you’re connecting to a large network of power lines, generating equipment, and the people who support them. Power plants operators control the systems and machinery that generates the electricity you use. They control instruments to maintain voltage and electricity flows from the plant to meet consumer fluctuated demand for electricity throughout the day.

Understanding Power Plant Operator Jobs

Understanding Power Plant Operators JobsPower plant operators’ main responsibility is to control power generating equipment in power-generating plants, including boilers, turbines, generators, or reactors, using control boards or semi-automatic equipment. They adjust controls to generate specified electrical power voltage or to regulate the flow of power between generating stations and substations in order to distribute power demands among generators. When the power demands change, power plant operators start or stop generators, auxiliary pumping equipment, turbines, or other power plant equipment as needed. Power plant operators also maintain, clean and lubricate equipment, such as generators, turbines, pumps, or compressors, to prevent failure or deterioration.

Those with power plant operator jobss are responsible for monitor power plant equipment and indicators to detect evidence of operating problems. They regulate equipment operations and conditions, such as water levels, based on instrument data or from computers. They keep records of switching operations and loads on generators, lines, and transformers using computers. Power plant operators also use computers to prepare reports of incidents, malfunctioning equipment, or maintenance performed during their shift. They take regulatory action, based on readings from charts, meters and gauges, at established intervals.

On a daily basis, power plant operators inspect records or log book entries or communicate with plant personnel to assess equipment on operating status. They communicate with systems operators to regulate and coordinate line voltages and transmission loads and frequencies. They record and compile operational data by completing and maintaining forms, logs, or reports. Power plant operators control generator output to match the phase, frequency, or voltage of electricity supplied to panels. In emergencies, they place standby emergency electrical generators on line and monitor the temperature, output, and lubrication of the system. They also receive outage calls and request necessary personnel during power outages or emergencies.

Power plant operators also control or maintain auxiliary equipment, such as pumps, fans, compressors, condensers, feed water heaters, filters, or chlorinators, to supply water, fuel, lubricants, air, or auxiliary power. They open and close valves and switches in sequence to start or shut down auxiliary units. They make adjustments or minor repairs, such as tightening leaking gland and pipe joints. Power plant operators collect oil, water, or electrolyte samples for laboratory analysis. They examine and test electrical power distribution machinery and equipment, using testing devices. They also replenish electrolytes in batteries and oil in voltage transformers, and reset tripped electric relays.

With the increased need for energy efficiency and lower emissions of sulfur dioxide, particulates, an mercury from coal power plants, as part of their green job functionality, those with power plant operator jobs operate, control, and monitor integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) or related equipment, such as air separation units, to generate electricity from coal. They inspect thermal barrier coatings on IGCC equipment for sintering, phase destabilization, or temperature variances to ensure compliance with standards and insulation efficiency. They operate or maintain distributed power generation equipment, including fuel cells or microturbines, to produce energy on-site for manufacturing or other commercial purposes. Power plant operators operate, control, or monitor equipment, such as acid or gas carbon dioxide removal units, carbon dioxide compressors, and pipelines, to capture, store, or transport carbon dioxide exhaust. They also operate, control, or monitor gasifiers or related equipment, such as coolers, water quenches, water gas shifts reactors, or sulfur recovery units, to produce syngas or electricity from coal.

To perform their job, power plant operators use a variety of tools and technologies. They work with electrical control panels for generators such as control boards, panel boards and transformer controls. They use computerized maintenance management system CMMS software to keep records. They use industrial control software such as Distributed control systems DCS software, General Electric Mark VI Distributed Control System DCS, Teknik Segala OSI Plant Information PI System and Yokogawa FAST/TOOLS.

Power plant operators Green Job Summary

  • Power plant operators control, operate, or maintain machinery and equipment, including auxiliary equipment to generate electric power.
  • Power plant operators’ job outlook is projected to be with little or no change due to advances in technology that automate parts of their work, and government rules and regulations that reduce coal polluting power plants.
  • Power plant operators’ jobs are expected to have 12,900 new jobs filled by 2022.

Work Environment for Power Plant Operator Jobs

Operators in plants with automated control systems work mainly in a central control room and usually are called control room operators. In older plants, the controls for the equipment are not centralized. In these plants, switchboard operators control the flow of electricity from a central point, while auxiliary equipment operators work throughout the plant, operating and monitoring valves, switches, and gauges. Power plant operators who work in control rooms generally sit or stand at a control station. The work requires constant attention although not physically strenuous. Because electricity is provided around the clock, power plant operators usually work 8-hour shifts or 12-hour shifts on a rotating basis. Shift assignments may change periodically, so that all operators share less desirable shifts.

Power Plant Operators Education, Training and Licensing

To enter a green job as a power plant operator, one usually needs a combination of education, experience, and extensive on-the-job training. Power plant operators need at least a high school diploma. However, employers may prefer workers with college or vocational school degrees. Candidates with strong computer and technical skills are generally preferred. Employers also prefer people with strong math and science backgrounds for these highly technical jobs. There are 3 recognized apprenticeable specialties associated with this green job, which are Hydroelectric-Station Operator, Power-Plant Operator, and Turbine Operator.

To advance in their career, power plant operators undergo rigorous, long-term on-the-job training and technical instruction. Several years of onsite training and experience are necessary to become fully qualified. Even fully qualified power plant operators must take regular training courses to keep their skills up to date. With sufficient training and experience, power plant operators can become shift supervisors, trainers, or consultants.

Power Plant Operator Salary, Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates a bright outlook for power plant operators and expects little or no change in employment of this field. The BLS projected 12,900 power plant operators between 2012 and 2022, and noted 42,000 jobs are currently filled. Titles include Auxiliary Operator, Control Operator, Operations and Maintenance Technician (O & M Technician), Unit Operator, Power Plant Operator, Boiler Operator, Control Center Operator, Control Room Operator, Operations and Maintenance Gas Turbine Technician, and Plant Control Operator. The BLS further reports that the median annual wage for salaried power plant operators was $66,130 in 2012 with median hourly wage of $31.79. Across the US job market, he lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,500, and the top 10 percent earned more than $88,770. Power plant operators can receive the best compensation in Washington, where they earn compensation, on average, of about $80,870. People in this job function are compensated at the highest average salary in Utilities, where they get average pay levels of $66,760.

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