Green Jobs in Wind Energy - dummies

By Carol L. McClelland

Chances are, as you research job opportunity in the green economy, you’ve read about wind energy. Wind is inexhaustible, affordable, and is fairly predictable in certain regions of the world; and it’s been harnessed for centuries. In other words, it has huge potential as an environmentally sustainable resource — and as a job resource for an eco-conscious career transition.

As the sun heats different parts of the earth at different rates, hot air rises and cooler air is drawn in to replace the warmer rising air. The result is wind — which can be converted into electricity. The most common modern turbines have a propeller design and can be up to 300 feet tall with turbine blades that are 65 to 130 feet long. The amount of energy collected from wind depends on the size of the wind turbine and the speed of the wind moving the rotor. As the wind moves the turbine blades, they turn a gearbox and electrical generator to produce electricity.

Where wind energy stands today

Although the economic crisis of 2008–2009 slowed the growth of the wind industry, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included a number of financial incentives for future wind power installations. Experts predict that wind power installations will exceed 2008 growth within a few years.

As of April 2009, the United States became the world leader in wind with 28.6 GW of installed capacity. These installed wind farms were projected to generate over 60 billion kWh of electricity in 2009, which would power over 5.5 million homes. Industry experts forecast that wind power is capable of providing 20 percent of the energy of the United States by 2030.

Europe and China are the other wind powers. In 2008, China’s wind power capacity doubled for the fourth year in a row. Chinese manufacturing production is expanding as well.

Future trends in wind energy

Wind turbines are immense machines full of finely machined parts. The industry depends on the availability of several key ingredients: steel, large-scale manufacturing equipment, heavy-duty transportation, and experienced workers. In addition, the success of the wind industry, and many other renewable energy sources, depends on the creation of a new electric grid that provides for the transmission of electricity from renewable sources in all parts of the country.

Small-scale wind power systems are those that generate up to 100 kW of electricity. Residential units are also gaining popularity and produce up to 1 kW. With a federal-level investment tax credit of 30 percent of installed costs available through December 2016, consumers are expected to purchase more small wind turbines for their homes, businesses, and farms. Community wind farms are likely to gain appeal.

The next frontier for wind may be offshore. One glance at the wind resource map that includes coastal wind resources demonstrates why. Although the costs of offshore wind are higher upfront, windier conditions at sea produce more energy than on land. Offshore wind farms are also likely to be near urban centers. Generating wind where it is used reduces the cost of transmission. Although not feasible yet, it may be possible to set up floating wind farms in the future.

Sample job functions in wind energy

Here are some jobs you could seek out, if you’re interested in working in wind energy:

  • Mechanical, electrical, and aeronautical engineers with advanced degrees, and experienced technicians work together to conduct research and development to improve wind turbines and their capacity.

  • Meteorologists help engineers identify the best sites for wind farms.

  • Project development managers, transmission design engineers, and utility wind-program managers work on turning a potential wind site into a fully functional wind farm. In addition to technical knowledge, the people in these roles must be able to work diplomatically with the local utility, elected officials in the region, and community members.

  • Manufacturing plants with skilled machinists and welders create the components of the wind turbine.

  • Construction managers and workers build and install the wind turbines.

  • Large-load transportation specialists transport extremely large turbine blades to the wind farm site.

  • Mechanical and electrical technicians, called windsmiths or wind technicians, keep the wind turbines working effectively.

  • Wind turbine sales managers and specialists sell the wind turbines.