Wind Energy Blog No. 3: A Wind Energy Degree Program

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Wind Energy Blog No. 3: A Wind Energy Degree ProgramThe wind industry continues to develop, and the need for educated and experienced workers grows. We decided to take a closer look at one college that has developed a program to meet this need. In 2003, Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa, became the first wind energy degree program in the state.

Through a series of grants and partnerships, Iowa Lakes has been able to develop their program and grow from the first class of 15 to today’s enrollment of almost 200.

“We have grown from one lecture room and one lab to four lecture rooms and six labs,” says Dan Lutat, the Wind Energy and Turbine Technology program director.

Lutat largely attributes the program’s success to the individuals that make up the faculty.

“We are fortunate to have a team of instructors that are here because they want to be, and because they want to have a positive impact on something that’s good for America,” Lutat says.

Iowa Lakes offers two degree options. The first option, a one-year program, requires three semesters and offers a Diploma in Wind Energy. The second option, the two-year program, requires five semesters of work, and the students receive an Associate in Applied Science degree. While attending the program, students receive training in wind turbine operation and maintenance jobs.

The type of turbines the program focuses on are industrial turbines, typically 1.5 MW and higher. Knowing that not all of their students will work at a wind farm, Iowa Lakes teaches a variety of other related skills such as construction, siting wind farms, controls and data automation. Some of Iowa Lakes’ students move on into engineering fields with an emphasis in wind.

“The skills we teach transcend the size and design of the turbines, preparing students with a solid core of basic skills to enter the wind industry with,” Lutat says.

Firsthand experience is often the best way to learn a concept. For this reason, Iowa Lakes has one fully functional wind turbine and a nacelle on a short tower. The working turbine is a Vestas 1.65 MW turbine that students use for climbing experience. The nacelle is a prototype Vestas V-90 and is used for training and labs. Iowa Lakes will soon acquire a Gamesa G-87 nacelle which will also be installed on a short tower.

Most students are getting jobs right out of the program, according to Lutat.

“The job market is optimistic for wind energy technicians, and those students that assertively apply themselves will find a place in a growing industry,” Lutat says. 

With six years of growth and no signs of slowing down, the future for Iowa Lakes Community College and its Wind Energy and Turbine Technology program looks promising.

“As we evolve our training methods, new tracks to our wind energy program are likely to emerge, providing a comprehensive learning pathway for wind industry workers,” Lutat says.

Photo by Fotolia/sculpies