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US wind sector faces shortfall in qualified technicians working on turbines: report

Highlights

BLS puts number of wind technicians at 7,000

Contractors under 'contradictory pressures'

  • Author
  • Jeffrey Ryser
  • Editor
  • Shashwat Pradhan
  • Commodity
  • Electric Power

Houston — The US wind sector is now supporting 120,000 jobs, but there is a shortfall in the number of qualified technicians able to install and maintain turbines, according to a report released by Harvest Energy Services on Oct. 13 titled "Wind's Talent Crunch."

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The report stated that there were 7,000 wind turbine technicians employed in the US in 2019 whose job was to service, install, maintain and repair wind turbines. The number is attributed to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which also said the "main method of training" for these technicians was "long-term on-the-job training."

The report's authors said, "We cannot assume that those 7,000 all have long-term experience. Even if they did, there's a huge amount of work for them to carry out."

Every turbine needs a preventative maintenance check-up two or three times a year, which means 120,000-180,000 such check-ups across the whole fleet in a year. "That's before they even start repairing the turbines that fail or experience other problems."

The report added that 9.1 GW of wind farms were commissioned in the US in 2019, the third highest year on record, while 4.4 GW have been installed in the first half of 2020. There are approximately 60,000 turbines totaling 109.9 GW in capacity located in 41 states, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The production tax credit, or PTC, has incentivized developers and manufacturers to make long-term investment decisions that have helped reduce the cost of wind turbines.

"This has been important to show wind can compete on cost with other sources of electricity, including fossil fuels. It is also forcing companies through the value chain to keep driving down their costs," according to the report.

Contractors are being hit by "two contradictory pressures," the report said. One is to install new turbines, the other is to maintain the existing fleet.

For contractors who face a shortage of properly trained technicians, "they should be able to raise prices accordingly."

However, the report said that contractors were "under pressure from operators to cut their costs to help the US wind industry to achieve low levelized costs of energy."

The report added some contractors have been "looking to squeeze labor costs to reduce overall the LCOE," with the result being that some contractors end up "putting low-level technicians into the field."

"This means operators are at risk of lower safety standards and higher financial risks," according to the report.