Plant operator

A hydroelectric plant technician could...

Perform tunnel inspections to make sure nothing is stopping water flow. looking down into the Intake tunnel for hydroelectric dam Conduct routine inspections and maintenance on the generators. Plant worker checking machine
Open and close water gates as directed to alter the amount of energy produced. water gate open, aerial view Use computers to monitor and report the amount of energy produced by each turbine. Technician monitoring on computer
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Did you know that about 700,000 gallons of water flow over the famous Niagara Falls every second? Moving water is a great source of renewable energy, and two hydroelectric power plants built upstream from the Canadian side of the falls and one hydroelectric power plant built upstream from the U.S. side of the falls efficiently exploit the energy from all that water. Such hydroelectric plants use turbines, rotors, generators, and other complicated equipment to supply us with electricity for our homes and businesses 24 hours every day. Hydroelectric plant technicians monitor and control the activities associated with hydroelectric generation. They operate, maintain, and troubleshoot all plant equipment to ensure that the hydroelectric plant runs at peak performance.
Key Requirements Excellent mechanical and electrical skills, detail-oriented work habits, good observational abilities, solid hand-eye coordination, zest for problem-solving, good written and verbal skills
Minimum Degree High school diploma or equivalent
Subjects to Study in High School Physics, algebra, geometry, pre-calculus; if available, computer science, applied technology
Median Salary
Hydroelectric Plant Technician
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Decline Rapidly (less than -10%)

This edition of Career Currents contains a lot of information about hydroelectricity including an interview with Dwayne Alley, a hydroelectric power plant superintendent who started his career with a background in machine shop and welding.

Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Hydroelectric plant technicians generally need a combination of education, on-the-job training, and experience. Candidates with strong computer and technical skills are generally preferred.

Education and Training

The minimum degree required is an associate's degree in engineering technology. Although it may be possible to qualify for certain hydroelectric plant technician jobs without formal training, most employers prefer to hire someone with a two-year associate degree or other post-secondary training in engineering technology. Workers with less formal engineering technology training need more time to learn skills while on the job. Prospective hydroelectric plant technicians should take as many high school science and math courses as possible to prepare for programs in engineering technology after high school.

Watch this video to understand the role of a hydroelectric plant operator and mechanic.

Nature of the Work

Hydroelectric power is important to many nations. This source provides about 96% of renewable energy in the United States and 10% of the nation's total electricity generating capacity. Hydroelectric plant technicians play an important role in producing and providing uninterrupted energy to the public. Hydroelectric plant technicians install, inspect, test, adjust, repair, and maintain a variety of equipment in power stations, including relay switches, motors, starters, electric governor controllers, and pressure switches. They operate, control, and monitor the hydroelectric generating units and auxiliary equipment.

As in any production plant, large pieces of equipment can malfunction. Hydroelectric plant technicians test, troubleshoot, diagnose, and repair malfunctions or failure of electrical or mechanical operational equipment using precision instruments in order to minimize downtime. They work with system-dispatch supervisors to make sure that the production and delivery of power is as smooth as possible. Technicians are responsible for scheduling and performing regular preventive maintenance on equipment. Because the job requires deep knowledge of electrical equipment, they must track electrical drawings, equipment files, sketches, reports, logs and records, and changes or alterations made to electrical systems.

Work Environment

Hydroelectric plant technicians maintain a standard 40-hour workweek but in either 8- or 12-hour shifts. However, they are on call and must be able to respond to emergency situations, so their actual time worked can be greater than 40 hours a week.

During the course of the workday, hydroelectric plant technicians are exposed to electrical energy, noise, dust, grease, smoke, gases, vibrations, and fumes. They must be comfortable working in confined spaces and around heavy equipment. Technicians must follow all safety procedures and use available safety equipment to ensure the well-being of all employees. Hydroelectric plant technicians can expect to stand for prolonged periods of time, lift moderate to heavy loads, bend, stoop, kneel, and climb stairs or ladders. Because the work can be demanding, hydroelectric plant technicians must maintain their physical condition.

On the Job

  • Identify and address malfunctions of hydroelectric plant operational equipment, such as generators, transformers, and turbines.
  • Monitor hydroelectric power plant equipment operation and performance, adjusting to performance specifications as necessary.
  • Start, adjust, and stop generating units, operating valves, gates, or auxiliary equipment in hydroelectric power generating plants.
  • Inform dispatchers or supervisors of the status of hydroelectric operating equipment.
  • Implement load and switching orders in hydroelectric plants in accordance with specifications or instructions.
  • Inspect water-powered electric generators and auxiliary equipment in hydroelectric plants to verify proper operation and to determine maintenance or repair needs.
  • Install and calibrate electrical and mechanical equipment, such as motors, engines, switchboards, relays, switch gears, meters, pumps, hydraulics, and flood channels.
  • Maintain logs, reports, work requests, and other records of work performed in hydroelectric plants.
  • Maintain or repair hydroelectric plant electrical, mechanical, and electronic equipment, such as motors, transformers, voltage regulators, generators, relays, battery systems, air compressors, sump pumps, gates, and valves.
  • Operate high voltage switches and related devices in hydropower stations.
  • Operate hydroelectric plant equipment, such as turbines, pumps, valves, gates, fans, electric control boards, and battery banks.
  • Take readings and record data such as water levels, temperatures, and flow rates.
  • Test and repair or replace electrical equipment, such as circuit breakers, station batteries, cable trays, conduits, and control devices.
  • Change oil, hydraulic fluid, or other lubricants to maintain condition of hydroelectric plant equipment.
  • Connect metal parts or components in hydroelectric plants by welding, soldering, riveting, tapping, bolting, bonding, or screwing.
  • Cut, bend, or shape metal for applications in hydroelectric plants, using equipment such as hydraulic benders and pipe threaders.
  • Erect scaffolds, platforms, or hoisting frames to access hydroelectric plant machinery or infrastructure for repair or replacement.
  • Lift and move loads, using cranes, hoists, and rigging, to install or repair hydroelectric system equipment or infrastructure.
  • Perform preventive or corrective containment and cleanup measures in hydroelectric plants to prevent environmental contamination.
  • Perform tunnel or field inspections of hydroelectric plant facilities or resources.
  • Splice and terminate cables or electrical wiring in hydroelectric plants.

Companies That Hire Hydroelectric Plant Technicians

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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Earth is an amazing planet. It has everything that we need: food, shelter, and water. Sure, we need water to drink, but have you thought about using water to create energy? Moving water has a lot of energy and all we need to do is to harness it. Moving water made the Grand Canyon. That took a lot of energy! In this science fair project, you will demonstrate the power of water by converting the kinetic energy in moving water to mechanical energy, which will lift a small weight. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
It's hard to believe that the same water that you use every day to quench your thirst, cook with, bathe in, swim in, and wash your clothes and dishes, is capable of another trick—it can make electricity! Electricity can be generated through the flow or through the fall of water. A big, fast-flowing river, for instance, contains a lot of moving energy that provides enough pressure to turn the blades of a turbine and run an electric generator. This same pressure can also be created though… Read more
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There is a lot of energy that can be harvested from moving water. Energy can be extracted from water rushing over a waterfall and from the regular patterns of the ocean's tides. The energy that propels waves forward in the oceans can also be extracted and used. But can wave energy power plants be built anywhere there is water? In this energy science fair project, you will use ocean buoy data and mathematics to determine which locations along the coasts of the United States can sustain a wave… Read more
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Renewable energy is the energy that is extracted from natural sources, such the Sun (solar), earth (geothermal), wind, and water (hydropower). These sources are renewable because they can be replenished by the same natural sources within a short period of time. Hydropower energy is extracted from moving water, like ocean wave energy and tidal energy. In this energy science fair project, you will make a model of a tidal barrage (also known as a dam) and investigate how emptying the tidal barrage… Read more

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