Hydroelectric Plant Technicians


Exploring this Job

Find useful information about hydropower on the National Hydropower Association’s Web site, https://www.hydro.org, which features an overview of hydropower technologies, statistical data, upcoming hydropower industry events, a job board, and much more. Other good sources of information about hydropower and other renewable energy sources include the Water Power Technologies Office, https://www.energy.gov/eere/water/hydropower-basics, and the U.S Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained. You can also learn about hydropower basics by visiting this Web site: https://www.eia.gov/kids/energy-sources/hydropower. Another great way to explore a career in hydropower is by talking to hydroelectric plant workers. Ask your school's career services office for help with setting up an information interview and be sure to create a list of questions to prepare for your talk.

The Job

Hydropower produces electricity by using the energy of flowing water, which may be retained in a dam or reservoir. The water is released through a turbine that spins generators, and that spinning produces electricity. Dams are not always needed, as river water can be diverted through canals or pipes to spin turbines.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, studies are underway for using wave energy to generate electricity through onshore or offshore systems. Wave-based generation is best harnessed in only certain parts of the world, such as the northeastern and northwestern coasts of the United States. Other sources for hydroelectricity include tidal energy, which can only be harnessed if there is a 16-foot difference between high and low tides. Only 40 places on Earth have this, including sites in the Pacific Northwest and Atlantic Northeast.  Hydroelectricity can also be generated from ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), which converts oceans' heat energy into electricity. Conditions are best for this in tropical coastal areas. OTEC has been around for more than 80 years but is not yet cost competitive with traditional power technologies.

Hydroelectric plant technicians operate and maintain equipment used in hydroelectric power generation plants. They start equipment, adjust controls and switches, and identify and address equipment malfunctions. The job requires strong electrical and mechanical knowledge and skills. They monitor and operate hydropower turbines, pumps, valves, gates, fans, electric control boards, and battery banks. They follow hydropower plant specifications and instructions for implementing the hydroelectric loads and switching orders.

Technicians regularly inspect and perform maintenance on hydroelectric equipment. They establish schedules for equipment inspections and maintenance. They test equipment and systems to ensure they are operating correctly and according to standards and regulations. Technicians review operations reports, equipment materials, and other factors to detect and assess problems. They may work on relay switches, motors, starters, electric governor controllers, and pressure switches. They install and calibrate hydroelectric motors, engines, switchboards, and other parts. Technicians take readings on such things as water levels, temperatures, and flow rates. They record data and maintain work logs, reports, and other records.