What is Wind Energy?
Before exploring possible employment opportunities, we will provide a brief description of wind power. As the name indicates, it is energy derived from wind or airflow, which becomes transformed into electricity. An enormous wind turbine functions the same as a pinwheel—the latter used for decoration or a toy for children. The wheels spin by blowing on them or by catching a breeze. Similarly, a wind turbine spins using air movement or kinetic energy to generate kilowatts to megawatts of electric power.
Typically, the blades or propeller-looking part sits atop a tubular steel tower. The support structure is usually 80 meters or 262 feet tall. Fortunately, the equipment only requires a breeze of six to nine miles per hour to produce enough energy to spin the blades. The turbine contains a gearbox that connects to a generator, which converts the wind energy to electricity. The current then travels to a transformer, where the voltage levels can be adjusted per the electricity demands.
Wind energy attests to being the fastest-growing energy sector in the world because of its inherent advantages. It is cost-effective, clean (zero CO2 emissions), creates jobs, boosts the U.S. economy, and sustainable. In 2013, wind energy avoided the emission of over 250,000 metric tons of air pollutants, which include sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter. Texas is the most significant contributor to pollution reduction. The Lone Star State can generate 28,843MW of power to over six million homes. An M.W. or megawatt is equal to one million watts!
Iowa is a distant second with a capacity of 10,190MW; however, it has the highest percentage of power from wind at thirty-seven. Third and fourth place goes to Oklahoma and California with 8,172 and 5,973MW, respectively. The sunshine state leads the country in solar energy. Data from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) – updated January 2020.
The wind energy industry offers jobs in different areas or phases. There are positions in research and development, also known as project development, manufacturing of the equipment, and operations and maintenance of the wind turbines.
Project development includes research into weather reports to ensure that the site has frequent and adequate average wind velocity. In addition to the review of historical meteorological data, the engineers and developers look into land availability, geological conditions, environmental concerns, state and federal regulations, and community relations. Soil composition is a crucial factor, as the ground must support a weight above 1000 tons. Ecological issues might address bird and bat habitats in the region. Contracts for purchase or lease of private property could be part of the research duties.
Upon completion of the research, development, and design, the wind turbines enter into the manufacturing phase. The global leader in the wind power industry is Siemens, which has installed and serviced more than 29,000 turbines in over 90 countries. The company’s renewable energy division is Siemens Gamesa, which has its corporate headquarters in Spain.
Another major player is Vestas USA, which has over 24,000MW under service and installation. The company, whose headquarters is in Portland, Oregon, is number one in the United States. It manufactures towers, blades, and nacelles (housing for generating components) at three locations in Colorado. The Pueblo and Brighton plants are 750,000 square feet each. Its website lists job openings in service, heavy equipment operators, and sales.
A more extensive listing of employment opportunities is available at websites like Indeed and SimplyHired. The latter purports to have 1,814 postings for wind energy jobs. Some of the titles include consultant, licensed electrician, planner, technical field adviser, site manager, maintenance technician, analyst, federal affairs director, and many more. The employment site Indeed, as of April 2020, attests to have 2,984 postings for the wind energy industry. Again, there is diversity in the types of jobs, as they range from skilled labor to legal analyst. As expected, the educational requirements vary according to the responsibilities of the position.
The diversity of jobs results in a host of eligible degrees to meet their respective qualifications. The legal analyst, for example, prefers applicants to have an associate or Bachelor’s degree in legal studies or business administration. An offshore wind analyst position requires an undergraduate degree in a STEM field. A job for an Operations Manager states that applicants need a degree in electrical engineering.
In the engineering field, there are jobs for graduates in aerospace, civil, environmental, materials, industrial, mechanical, and health and safety. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) does not report on salaries specific to the wind energy sector. However, the BLS states that employment for engineers in this sector is comparable to other industries that hire the same engineering specialties. At the top for the median income are aerospace engineers at $115,220 with a Bachelor’s degree.
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