The program, which is offered as part of a diploma or associate's degree, allows aspiring wind technicians to study the technical aspects of wind energy online. Students learn about basic applied wind energy physics, wind turbine operations and maintenance, electricity and electronics, hydraulics and pneumatics, programmable logic controllers, basic mechanics, and industrial safety, according to Nigel Longworth, Herzing's online president.
The curriculum culminates in a two-week "boot camp" at Suzlon's Elgin, Ill.-based 12,000 square-foot facility where students receive hands-on training that includes practice climbing, nacelle maintenance, electrical and rescue safety, including life-like rescue drills with participation from real first responders, according to Charles Clayton, Suzlon's training manager.
While there are many programs offering technician training, this one enables hands-on experience. Suzlon says that its training center features a fully operational 2.1 MW wind turbine nacelle – North America's only fully operational wind turbine dedicated to training. The nacelle is mounted on an eight-foot tower supported by down-tower control and power panels.
In additional, there is a pitch control subsystem lab that contains a fully functional hub and pitch system on the ground with all the turbine operating functions enabled. The hub subsystem allows for complete training of pitch and blade positioning principles.
The "working at height" training area utilizes two 34-foot tower ladders complete with climb assist and cable and rail fall arrest systems.
Additionally, the program emphasizes electrical safety – a key concern for the wind industry in general. In fact, three days are set aside to ensure that all the elements of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E Standard For Electrical Safety in the Workplace are covered.
According to the NFPA, the standard includes guidance for making hazard identification and risk assessments, selecting appropriate personal protective equipment and establishing electrically safe work conditions.
"Our training concept starts with hazard observation risk evaluation and the application of mitigating actions," Clayton explains. "The wind tech of tomorrow needs strong electrical comprehension combined with fluid theory, programmable logic controller application and mechanical knowledge. These theories then have to be combined in a systems concept with hands-on application."
Thus far, the yearlong partnership has yielded dividends for all parties concerned.
For Herzing's Longworth, combining the traditional learning with the online method "enhances critical thinking and verbal and written communication skills, providing a well-rounded wind energy technology graduate."
And for Suzlon, the program has become a built-in incubator, of sorts, according to Clayton, who says Suzlon has hired an average of eight technicians per month.
When asked how Suzlon would evaluate the program's success, Clayton notes, "The final answer to that is simple – would we be willing to hire these people ourselves?"