Wind energy inspires present
and future generations
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Wind industry inspires present and future generations
American author and critic, William Deresiewicz, once said, “The true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.” For those interested in a sector such as, say, wind power (where the U.S. installed more electric generating capacity than any other technology last year), education may provide both — a sharp mind and successful career.
If you attended AWEA’s WINDPOWER 2016 in New Orleans this past May, the largest wind-related conference and exhibition in North America, you may have noted
a few things. Yes, the United States is the number one country in generating wind energy and delivering it to customers. With plans to add 8 GW a year to the grid over the next decade or so means American wind power is also on track to meet and exceed its vision of 10% by 2020.
Impressive. But all of that hard work doesn’t just happen. What’s perhaps more remarkable is what the wind industry’s offering this generation and the next in terms of employment. As AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan explained during his opening speech at WINDPOWER: “In 2015, the Department of Labor did a survey about what the fastest growing profession is in this country. They looked at healthcare and software developers, but no. The fastest growing profession is wind-turbine technician.”
“That’s why the theme for this year’s WINDPOWER 2016 is Generation Wind,” he added. “This is our time.” Seems it is also the time to inspire a future generation. If you noticed anything different at this year’s event, it may have been the number of students on the show floor.
I noticed some climbing ENSA’s training tower.
ENSA, an exhibitor at the show, provides work-at-height safety training and rigging services — a must for any wind technician in the field. I saw others experiencing ACCIONA Energía’s virtual reality program that lets users make a maintenance “visit” to a wind farm from home. Others were checking out GE’s Digital Wind Farm, which uses virtual modeling to help boost turbine performance.
GE Renewable Energy gets extra credit for inspiring younger minds as well. With AWEA as host, GE sponsored the KidWind Challenge, a program that lets students explore the power of wind by building and testing their own turbines. Teams that excel and make the national competition are then ranked based on how many units of energy their turbines produce when placed in a wind tunnel. This year, 400 middle and high-school teams competed at the national challenge in New Orleans.
For St Louis, Missouri, team leader and volunteer, Lynn Shellenberger, KidWind is a chance to give kids something she never got in school. This year two of her teams made it to the nationals, and most of them were girls. “I graduated high school with a 7th-grade reading level and discovered I had a learning disability. I did not do well in science or math or believe I could,” she shared. “But this program engages kids through hands-on experiences. It inspires them to learn through research and demonstration. Plus, it is an equity program that does not discriminate based on gender, race, or income.”
Although her teams didn’t place this year, Shellenberger said what counts is that her students learn about the future career opportunities available to them. “If you live in a city, chances are you’ve never seen a wind turbine or know much about one.” She said in the past her teams visited a turbine out in LeRoy, Minnesota where some of the college-aged kids in the area struggled to find work. Now some are training as wind technicians. “These are good-paying job that are a real possibibility for any of these students. But it starts with equity and engagement,” she said. In my opinion, it also starts with an industry that’s dedicated to growth and education.
“We’ve built an American success story that creates jobs, cuts carbon pollution and costs for consumers,” said Kiernan. For that the wind industry should be proud.