Similarly, anyone entering the field with a background in rock climbing has a distinct advantage as well. Indeed, some rock climbers have already successfully parleyed their skills into a career as a specialized type of windtech. Besides the gearbox and generator within the nacelle, the blades of a wind turbine need to be repaired from time to time as well, and these can only be reached by highly -trained specialists with advanced rope-rigging and climbing skills. All of which is to say that climbing and knowledge of safety protocols are also uniquely important parts of a windtech’s education.
Windtech training programs typically last about two years, while a wind turbine technician apprenticeship (on or offshore) can take up to three more years to complete, depending on the apprenticeship. When mapping out your educational and career trajectory, it’s important to do your research and figure out what configuration of technical schooling and on-the-job training is right for you. To get started, check out this map from the Department of Energy, which shows the locations of all the wind turbine technician schools and training programs in the US.
A wind turbine technician career path can be very customizable to the person, too, depending on your interests and priorities. For example, a person starting out as a wind turbine technician may just as naturally find themselves pursing the path of a project manager or that of an energy engineer.
Is the Wind Energy Trend Real, and What Does It Mean for Workers?
The winds are changing. Even oil titan Exxon Mobil is beginning to signal that the age of fossil fuels is coming to a close. Still, in a world that runs mostly on coal, oil, and natural gas, it can be difficult to envision a future without them. Is the shift to renewable energy just so much hot air, or is there truly good reason to believe that wind and solar are on the rise?
This question has taken on new resonance recently as wind turbines have fallen prey to a mass misinformation campaign in the aftermath of the energy price gouging crisis in Texas this past winter. In spite of this, wind energy does indeed remain one of the most viable and swiftly growing sources of power—a fact that a growing number of young American workers are catching on to.
A major selling point of wind energy is that it’s a cheap and inexhaustible source of power. In 2015, the US Department of Energy released a study showing that by 2030, wind energy will likely generate up to 20 percent of the entire nation’s electricity, and as much as 35 percent by 2050. Federal policy has been slow to keep pace with these projections in recent years, but the Biden administration has made clear that it intends to use wind and solar power to make the US carbon neutral by 2050.
Some states are ahead of the curve. In 2019, wind power became Iowa’s number one source of energy, with turbines generating more than 40 percent of the state’s electricity. Indeed, Iowa’s main utility provider has set its sights on transitioning the Hawkeye state to 100 percent renewable energy in the coming years.
Wind turbines aren’t perfect, but another major part of their appeal is environmental in nature. In 2019, the use of wind power in the US avoided an estimated 189 million metric tons of CO2 that would have been emitted had that electricity been generated by coal or natural gas. The shift to wind and solar isn’t just a climatological consideration, however. It’s also an economic one.
As pressure mounts to cut carbon emissions, global investment in renewable energy broke records last year, exceeding $501 billion. Meanwhile, some projections show that the already staggering financial cost of inaction on climate change could soon exceed $5 trillion per year. Setting those financial figures aside, there are still plenty of sound economic and practical reasons why a “just transition” to wind and solar power is essential for American workers.
A recent geographical analysis shows that many of the regions in the US with the greatest potential to become centers of renewable energy generation are the same areas that have historically been the most dependent on the fossil fuel economy. In its analysis, the Brookings Institution recommends that the government provide these communities with targeted funding and initiatives to retrain oil and natural gas workers as—you guessed it: wind turbine technicians, solar photovoltaic installers, and other professions in the burgeoning renewable energy sector.
Where Will the Wind Take Us?
Plenty of challenges lie ahead for wind energy. For now, jobs in the fossil fuel industry are still more profitable in comparison and even in progressive states like California, leaders have yet to take meaningful action toward achieving their ambitious goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Big picture: Entire market structures, outdated regulatory systems, and the physical grid itself will need to be rapidly overhauled to let the wind and sunshine in.
Bottom line: Is a wind turbine technician a good career? Absolutely! Wind turbine technician remains the fastest growing career in the US. There are currently more than 100,000 American wind energy workers and the Department of Energy estimates at least 600,000 more positions will become available between now and 2050. So, if you’re a worker looking for an exciting career with plenty of job opportunities in a rapidly expanding field that’s good for the environment, you should give some serious thought to sailing into the wind.