Certificate and associate's degree programs train students to monitor, repair and adjust the machines and systems that generate electrical power. Offering general education courses along with core subjects, an associate's degree program could help students build more advanced abilities. Applicants to both program need a high school diploma or GED and basic computer skills. Students of certificate-level programs in this discipline may be able to study online but might also need to reside in the same state as the schools they attend
Certificate in Power Plant Operation
Certificate programs prepare power plant operation students to test for employment and licensure in the specialty. Some programs also prepare for testing administered by electrical institutes recognized in the industry. Two examples include the Maintenance Selection System (MASS) and Plant Operator Selection (POSS) tests that are scored and available in a national database for prospective employers. The curriculum may also emphasize the type of power used primarily in the state, such as diesel power operations. The length of the program varies; coursework may include a number of classes or one comprehensive course.
The classes in these programs encompass all operations of power plant machinery. Some topics include:
- Power plant safety
- Engine cooling systems
- Diesel fuel systems and engines
- Electrical circuitry
- Tools in power plant operations
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Associate's Degree in Power Plant Operation
This power plant technology degree program teaches advanced skills in the installation, operations and maintenance of equipment and includes general education courses. Some programs are accelerated and take only one year to complete; however, most include two years of coursework. Computer skills, science, math, energy resources and electrical classes are emphasized. An Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) is typically awarded upon completion.
The general education class requirements typically include humanities, science, math, English and social science subjects. Some of the classes in power plant operations include:
- Alternating Current (AC) and Direct Current (DC) electronics
- Plant equipment, motors and controls
- Electrical power generation
- Thermodynamics in power plants
- Energy industry efficiency
Entry-level positions are available in power plant operations for certificate program graduates. Some examples are:
- Power plant maintenance worker
- Diesel power plant operator
- Power plant production worker
- Electrical maintenance power plant operator
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Power plant operators, excluding nuclear power reactor operators, earned a median annual salary of $71,940 in May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also stated that workers with strong mechanical and technical aptitude should experience better job and advancement opportunities in the field (www.bls.gov). Power plant operation jobs were predicted to decrease 6% from 2014 to 2024, in part because some traditional operator job duties have been automated in recent years.
Continuing Education Information
For power plant operators desiring to work in nuclear power, a bachelor's degree program in engineering or physical science may help in career advancement, and licensure is required. To become licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), individuals must pass an exam and have three years of power plant experience.
Licensure for power plant operators not working with nuclear power varies by state and job requirements. Certification is required for those working in positions that may influence the power grid. These positions include control center operators for power transmission or generation plants. The North American Energy Reliability Corporation (NERC) offers four types of certification, depending on the individual's training and job title. They are:
- Balancing and interchange operator
- Reliability operator
- Transmission operator
- Balancing, interchange and transmission operator
These certifications are obtained by passing an examination on the appropriate topic, based on the candidate's job description. This certification is valid for three years and can be renewed by completing between 140-200 continuing education activities, depending on the certification held.
In order to learn to operate the equipment in an electrical power plant, students can pursue a certificate or an A.A.S. in the field.