“The view from the top is incredible,” says Tim Schmolowski, who is responsible for maintaining and mending wind turbines at heights of between 40 and 60 meters. “Especially on a cold, sunny winter’s day, when everything looks so clear.”
In 2015, the trained mechanic saw a job advertised by a wind turbine maintenance company in Erkelenz near the German city of Cologne. “I thought it sounded good and would probably be a job with a future, so I applied.”
Schmolowski was hired. He was not afraid of heights but had to complete a two-week training course on safeguard techniques before he could go on his first mission. “You must focus on what you are doing.”
German Wind Technologies, the company he works for, employs more than 2,000 people. There are more than 1.3million people working in the wind sector worldwide, with an increasing number of specialists. Most positions (600,000) in the industry are related to wind park planning, followed by turbine construction (444,000) and maintenance and operation (around 220,000).
Tim Schmolowski is among the maintenance workers whose task is to repair older turbines, and he still has to climb up a ladder within the 60-meter-high towers. By contrast, most newer models have elevators that rise to heights of more than 100 meters. But that’s just one technological advance.
“In older turbines, there are a lot of mechanical components, while the newer ones have more electronics,” Schmolowski says, adding that he knew nothing about electrical engineering when he began. He has learned a lot in the past six years.
Service technicians always work in pairs, usually with a more experienced colleague training a newbie. Priority goes to faulty turbines, then come planned maintenance visits and the exchange of older parts almost like dealing with a car, Schmolowski says.
Remote maintenance across continents
Schmolowski and his colleagues are alerted to faulty turbines via a remote control room located in a small village called Ostenfeld on the border with Denmark, more than 400 kilometers north of Erkelenz. From there, several employees observe more than 6,000 wind turbines around the clock, both on land and offshore across Europe, as well as in the US and Taiwan.
Nearly all large wind turbines are connected to these control rooms via a modem or fiber optic cable. They are maintained either by turbine producers, large electricity suppliers, or wind power firms. When a fault occurs, an alarm shows up on a monitor in the control room.
“It details what kind of error has occurred in which wind park and on which wind turbine,” says Andr Klatt, team leader of the control room in Ostenfelder. “That’s how we know what kind of fault it is; we can sign in and intervene from here.”
He manages to solve 80% of defects by himself within just two hours by remotely rebooting the turbines so they can start producing electricity again. If that doesn’t work, service technicians like Schmolowski are sent to the affected turbine to solve the problem in person.
More than 6,000 wind-turbines around the globe can be controlled remotely from a central office located in northern Germany. Andr Klatt (front left) and his colleagues are able to resolve most operational problems with just a mouse click
Wind sector workers desperately needed
Like many companies in the wind sector, German Wind Technologies has grown rapidly in the past years and the company is looking for more than 200 new employees in Germany and abroad.
CEO Matthias Brandt recruits applicants with experience of wind technology, but also mechanics and electricians and even newcomers who have previously worked in places like auto repair shops.
Brandt said that young people should all join the Wind Sector, and added that the prospects are excellent. It’s amazing technology and it’s very interesting. You have a bit of an adventure in the field and even more of an adventure when you have to go to offshore plants.”
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).The majority of wind sector employees work in Asia, in particular in China (550,000) as well as India (40,000). In Europe, there are roughly 340,000 people employed in the industry, most of them in Germany, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands.
In North and South America, the number of wind jobs is also increasing, with some 120,000 jobs now registered in the US, 40,000 in Brazil and 20,000 in Mexico. In Africa, wind energy isn’t viable everywhere, but there too the industry employs some 40,000 people.
As wind power expands, there will be more jobs across the entire sector in the coming years. Wind turbines with a power output of 743 GW worldwide were installed in 2020. It could reach 8,000 GW by 2050.
According to a, this would translate into 6.5 million jobs. Around 2 million would be required for maintenance and repairs. Study by the LUT University in Finland.
“Now we desperately need specialists in the entire sector,” says Herman Albers, president of the German Wind Energy Association.
“Learning something new”
Schmolowski is happy about the growing number of new colleagues.
“The market is growing, the company is growing and we are always looking for new people,” he says.
His advice for anyone interested in the sector is to get online. “Look online to see what type of wind companies are available, where they are located, and whether or not they are also working internationally. If there are no job openings, you can send an unsolicited request or call.
Schmolowski states that it’s important to be self-motivated. “You need to be excited about your job and eager to learn something new.”