Geothermal energy comes from steam or hot water trapped in the ground that is used in a variety of ways to drive turbines and create electricity. Learning to operate a geothermal power plant is generally completed on the job through specialized training and work experience. In addition to operating the plant, you'll monitor equipment to make sure it's working correctly and may also handle cleaning and maintenance.
Geothermal power plant operators work in facilities to control and operate steam-driven turbines, which generate electric power. Recent funding provided to the U.S. Department of Energy's Geothermal Technologies Program may lead to more plants and more hiring in the future. This occupation requires a high school diploma or the equivalent and hands-on training. Geothermal power plant operators may also need professional certification, attained through the North American Energy Reliability Corporation.
|Required Education||High school diploma or the equivalent|
|Other Requirements||On-the-job training; professional certification may be required|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||-6% for power plant operators|
|Median Annual Salary (2015)*||$71,940 for power plant operators|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Geothermal Power Plant Operator Salary
Specific salary statistics for geothermal power plant operators are not available because there are few of these plants in the United States. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) indicated that power plant operators in general earned a median annual salary of $71,940 per year as of May 2015.
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Geothermal Power Plant Operator Outlook
The BLS reported that the employment of power plant operators in general was expected to decline by 6% from 2014-2024. However, opportunities may be better for qualified applicants due to recent legislation that encourages building new plants. The Union of Concerned Scientists reported that the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009 provided $400 million to fund the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Program, which may provide additional jobs (www.ucsusa.org).
Geothermal Power Plants and Projects
The Geothermal Energy Association indicated that as of April 2011, U.S. states with completed geothermal plants include: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming (www.geo-energy.org). Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have projects under development. Geothermal power plant operator jobs may be found in these states.
Geothermal Power Plant Operator Duties
According to the BLS, power plant operators monitor and control the equipment that produces electric power. They also regulate the generators to control the flow of electricity from the generators to the power lines. Dispatchers communicate energy demand fluctuations to power plant operators, who then adjust power generation to meet the demand.
Power plant operators also go through the plant and check to make sure that the equipment is operating properly. They may also perform maintenance on power plant equipment and clean it if necessary.
Geothermal Power Plants
There are three ways to use geothermal energy to drive a turbine and generate electricity. The simplest method extracts steam from underground sources to activate the turbine. The second type extracts very hot water, depressurizes it to 'flash' it into steam and uses this to drive the turbine. The third, a binary system, converts a second liquid to steam by passing hot water through a heat exchanger. Power plant operators for each of these different types of plants may have to learn specific skills to operate them properly.
Finding a job as a geothermal plant operator will require you to relocate to one of the few states that possesses this type of plant. However, a number of new plants are in the early stages of development and could come online soon, providing more job opportunities. Hands-on training is the norm in this specialized field.