Wind turbine service technicians, also known as windtechs, install, maintain, and repair wind turbines.

Duties

Wind turbine service technicians typically do the following:

  • Inspect the exterior and physical integrity of towers
  • Climb towers to inspect or repair turbine equipment
  • Collect turbine data for testing or research and analysis
  • Perform routine maintenance on wind turbines
  • Test electrical components and systems, as well as mechanical and hydraulic systems
  • Troubleshoot mechanical, hydraulic, or electrical malfunctions
  • Service underground transmission systems, wind field substations, or fiber optic sensing and control systems
  • Replace worn or malfunctioning components

Wind turbines are large mechanical devices that convert wind energy into electricity. They are located in areas where there is a lot of wind. The structure is made up of three major components: a tower, three blades, and a nacelle, which is composed of an outer case, brakes, generator, and gearbox. Wind turbine service technicians install and repair the various components of these structures.

Although some windtechs are involved in building new wind turbines, most of their work is maintaining them, particularly the nacelles, which contain the equipment that generates electricity.

Maintenance schedules are largely determined by hours of operation, but can also vary by manufacturer. Most manufacturers now recommend annual maintenance, which involves visual inspections of components and lubricating parts. For turbines that operate year round, typical maintenance may occur one to three times a year. Still, turbines are monitored electronically 24 hours a day from a central office. If a problem is detected, windtechs must travel to the worksite and perform as-needed service.

Windtechs use safety harnesses and a variety of hand and power tools to do their work. They also use computers to diagnose electrical malfunctions. Wind turbines integrate most monitoring equipment into the nacelle, which can be viewed on site.

Work Environment: 

Wind turbine service technicians (windtechs) held about 3,200 jobs in 2012.

The industries that employed the most wind turbine service technicians in 2012 were as follows:

Commercial and industrial machinery and equipment
(except automotive and electronic) repair and maintenance
29%
Electric power generation, transmission and distribution 29
Utility system construction 13

Windtechs generally work outdoors, often at great heights. When performing maintenance, working in confined spaces is common. In addition, workers must climb ladders—sometimes over 260 feet tall—in order to reach the equipment they are servicing, which is often located in confined areas. For example, when repairing blades, windtechs rappel—or descend by sliding down a rope—from the nacelle to the section of the blade that needs servicing.

For major service or repairs, additional windtechs and other specialists may be needed to complete the job.

Work Schedules

Windtechs generally work full time during regular business hours. However, they may be on call to handle emergencies during evenings and weekends.

When a wind turbine is not functioning, technicians must make the necessary repairs as quickly as possible. For those operating the turbine, lost power generation becomes lost revenue.

Windtechs often must travel to rural areas, where many wind farms are located.

Education and Training: 

Most wind turbine service technicians (windtechs) learn their trade by attending a technical school. After completing a 2-year technical program, employers usually provide on-the-job training, typically lasting over 12 months. 

Education

Most windtechs learn their trade by attending technical schools. Associate’s degree programs for wind turbine service technicians usually take 2 years and are offered at vocational–technical schools and community colleges.

Many technical schools have onsite wind turbines that students can work on as part of their studies. In addition to practical coursework, other areas of focus that reflect the various skill sets needed to do the job include the following:

  • Safety/first aid/CPR training
  • Electrical maintenance
  • Hydraulic maintenance
  • Braking systems
  • Mechanical systems, including blade inspection and maintenance
  • Computers and programmable logic control systems
  • Physical fitness

Training

In addition to an associate’s degree, windtechs typically receive over 12 months of on-the-job training related to the specific wind turbines they will maintain and service. Part of this training is manufacturer training. Other training may include an internship with a wind turbine servicing contractor.

Some windtechs are former electricians. Regardless of experience, all candidates must complete wind turbine training in addition to any other construction training they may already have. For example, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers offers intensive courses that provide wind turbine-related training specifically for journey electricians. 

Other windtechs learn their trade through a windtech apprenticeship. For each year of the program, apprentices must have at least 144 hours of related technical instruction and 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training. With prior experience or training, the time may be shortened to 1 year. Apprentice training focuses on safety, first aid, and CPR training; electrical, hydraulic, and mechanical systems maintenance; braking systems; and computers and programmable logic control systems.  

Unions and individual contractors offer apprenticeship programs. The basic qualifications for workers to enter an apprenticeship program are the following:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Physically and mentally able to do the job
  • One year of high school or equivalent algebra with a grade of at least a “C”

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although not mandatory, certification can demonstrate a base level of knowledge and professionalism. The Electronics Technicians Association International (ETAI) offers certification for small wind tower installation. The ETAI will soon have certification for those interested in large commercial wind tower installation.

Important Qualities

Mechanical skills. Windtechs must understand and be able to maintain and repair all mechanical, hydraulic, braking, and electrical systems of a turbine.

Physical stamina. Service technicians must be able to climb high, often with tools and equipment, to reach the turbines. Some tower ladders may be 260 feet high or taller.

Physical strength. Windtechs must lift and climb with heavy equipment and parts and tools. Some weigh in excess of 45 pounds.

Troubleshooting skills. Windtechs must diagnose and repair problems. When a turbine stops generating electricity, technicians must determine the cause and then make the necessary repairs.

Unafraid of heights and confined spaces. Service technicians often must repair turbines that are at least 260 feet high. In addition, technicians must work in confined spaces in order to access mechanical components of the turbine.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for wind turbine service technicians (windtechs) was $45,970 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,170, and the top 10 percent earned more than $66,960.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for wind turbine service technicians in the top three industries employing these technicians were as follows:

Electric power generation, transmission and distribution $48,720
Commercial and industrial machinery and equipment
(except automotive and electronic) repair and maintenance
45,870
Utility system construction 44,130

The starting pay for apprentices is 60 percent of what fully trained windtechs earn. They receive pay increases as they learn to do more.

Windtechs generally work full time during regular business hours. However, they may be on call to handle emergencies during evenings and weekends.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of wind turbine service technicians (windtechs) is projected to grow 24 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 800 new jobs over the 10-year period.

As wind electricity generation continues to grow, more windtechs will be needed to install and maintain new turbines.

Furthermore, development of taller towers with larger blades reduces the cost of wind power generation, making it more competitive with coal, natural gas, and other forms of power generation.

In addition, the Renewable Electricity Standard calls for 25 percent of U.S. electric power generation to come from renewable sources by 2025, which should further drive employment growth.

The most consistent winds are found offshore, and several offshore wind projects are currently being explored. If approved and developed, many more technicians will be needed. However, the high cost of building wind towers in the ocean may inhibit new offshore projects from being approved.

Job Prospects

Job prospects for qualified windtechs are expected to be excellent. The number of wind turbines being installed is increasing, which should result in consistent and growing demand for windtechs.

In fact, some areas have reported a shortage of qualified workers. Because many people prefer not to work in confined spaces or at great heights, competition for jobs is often light.

Job opportunities will vary by individual state’s incentive programs and the prospects for consistent wind. For instance, coastal and Midwest states, where wind is generally more prevalent, are more likely to have wind farms and thus more job opportunities.

For More Information: 

For details about apprenticeships or other work opportunities in this trade, contact the offices of the state employment service, the state apprenticeship agency, local electrical contractors or firms that employ windtechs, or local union-management apprenticeship committees. Apprenticeship information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor's toll-free help line, 1 (877) 872-5627, and Employment and Training Administration.

For more information about union apprenticeship and training programs for electricians, visit

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

For more information about other educational opportunities, visit

American Wind Energy Association

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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