Opportunities for women in wind power on the rise

As wind power ramps up, installing more new electricity generating capacity than other energy source last year, so are new opportunities for jobs and leadership positions for women in the U.S. wind energy industry.

These changes will be reflected at this year’s WINDPOWER 2016 in New Orleans from May 23 to May 26, as women increasingly fill high-tech wind jobs, take part of the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) exclusive Emerging Leaders Program or are selected for the Women of Wind Energy (WoWE) and the Wind Energy Foundation’s (WEF) “Wind at our Back” scholarship.

“Women are helping to write the next chapter of American wind power,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA. “As wind energy scales up to supply 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030, a strong, diverse industry is needed to help us get there. These programs and scholarship opportunities are going to help make sure that happens.”

AWEA’s Emerging Leaders Program was unveiled during last year’s WINDPOWER and will expand this year. The program is designed to recognize rising talent, provide opportunities for mentoring, and enhance knowledge sharing and skill development. Only 15 emerging leaders were selected last year, with more than a third of those being women.

“This year’s WINDPOWER is different than any other one we’ve ever had before,” said Jana Adams, Senior Vice President for Member Value and Experience. “We’re excited to welcome this year’s participants of AWEA’s Emerging Leaders Program, the ultimate winners of the Women of Wind Energy’s scholarships and all our attendees looking to do business this May in New Orleans.”

AWEA’s annual WINDPOWER Exhibition & Conference, is the Western Hemisphere’s largest wind power trade show. AWEA educational events, including WINDPOWER, are attended by a very experienced group of wind professionals and executives with two-thirds of the WINDPOWER registrants having worked in wind at least five years with a significant portion for more than a decade.

WoWE, a nonprofit group promoting the advancement of women in the wind industry with 35 chapters across the country, provides opportunities for women through its Rudd Mayer scholarship program. Complementing this, WEF recently announced a new scholarship “Wind at our Backs: Furthering the education of women in wind energy,” designed to help further diversify the wind energy workforce.

“Women have been historically underrepresented across the U.S. energy landscape,” said John Kostyack, Executive Director of WEF. “This scholarship helps women seeking careers in wind energy to network with potential future employers and enables recipients to complete the coursework and certifications necessary to advance.”

The new scholarship program, originally conceived by NextEra Energy, is sponsored by Blattner Energy, GE Renewable Energy, the NextEra Energy Foundation, and Suzlon, targets women working towards degrees or certifications in wind energy and will offer $2,500 for up to 15 applicants over the next three years. Scholarship recipients will receive complimentary registration to WINDPOWER 2016 and will obtain up to $1,000 for related travel, meals, and lodging as part of their attendance at this year’s conference. The scholarship deadline is Tuesday, March 8.

“Women of Wind Energy was founded in 2005 to ensure that women can play a full, productive role in the development of wind power,” said Kristen Graf, Executive Director of Women of Wind Energy. “There are so many opportunities in the wind industry for innovation and for tackling things in new ways and with the growing number of wind technicians, it’s important to encourage and empower women to pursue opportunities in this field. We are excited to meet the women already charting a path toward these careers and bring them to WINDPOWER.”

The new scholarship offered by WoWE, with the support of WEF, AWEA, and leading wind energy companies, is open to women currently enrolled in technical programs, training students so that they can become wind turbine technicians. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the wind turbine technician is America’s fastest growing profession. Growth in the field is expected to increase by 108 percent over the next ten years.

“I learn something new every day,” said Amber Whitlock, wind turbine technician for UpWind Solutions. “The highlights of my job have included: replacing a high speed bearing, components of the pitch system in the turbine hub, and multiple IGBTs in the converter system. Working with my team, we’ve even replaced a hundred-foot blade. I enjoy stepping up to challenges presented to me and accomplishing them is the reward.”

American wind power supports 73,000 jobs today. According to the U.S. Department of Energy by supplying 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030, wind power could support 380,000 jobs.

Wind power was the top source of new electric generating capacity in 2015, installing 8.6 gigawatts of new capacity. With over 50,000 turbines operating in total, wind now produces enough electricity to power 19 million average homes.