Are you up to it? What’s it like to work on a wind turbine?

The first working offshore wind farm in the U.S. has been producing electricity for more than a year, with its five 6-megawatt turbines spinning three miles off of Rhode Island’s Block Island, the first “toes in the water,” so to speak, eliminating the islanders’ reliance on diesel energy, and sending the surplus into the New England grid.

The future of offshore wind off the East Coast and in the Northeast particularly, where several states are setting the pace for the rest of the country, draws closer each day to the installation of utility scale offshore wind farms, with hundreds of turbines, gigawatts of energy, and thousands of jobs.

Figure 1: Installation of the last blade on the five turbines of the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Deepwater Wind.

For a look at what a utility scale facility might look like, it’s handy to turn to YouTube, where offshore wind developers, manufacturers, vendors, and others have documented utility scale offshore wind in the establish European industry beginning at the end of the last century.

The massive pieces assembled to complete a turbine can weigh hundreds of tons, and their arrays will occupy hundreds of acres. The work of installing and operating a wind farm is a big job, with tasks both familiar and exotic.

To get a look into a utility size offshore wind farm, I’ve scouted out a couple dozen YouTube videos showing a number of the activities associated with them. I’ll start with those that deal with the work performed by the folks who work on offshore wind farms.

Take a look at an 8-minute video published in 2016 by Samuel Hawkins depicting a wind farm worker’s helicopter transfers to and from a turbine on his last day of work on the U.K.’s Westermost Rough wind farm off the eastern coast of Great Britain. It documents an OSW technician’s last day offshore, and shows some helicopter hops from turbine to turbine, the embark/disembark process, and a great perspective of the transfer process.

A video from the Betendiek wind farm, a German North Sea project about 25 miles west of the Denmark German border, offers a look at the Operations & Maintenance workers, pilots, and emergency responders going through some offshore training. They perform drills for medical evacuations, hard helicopter landings, and helicopter fires (without real fire or other emergencies, so fear not for the workers). The video was produced by Deutche Windtechnik, which operates the farm, in 2016.

Another video from the Westermost rough farm demonstrates the deceptively mundane act of transferring workers to and from their duty stations. It’s a task that takes place over and over, all day, every day. For the people who work these O&M jobs for offshore wind farms, wherever they may be, the process becomes routine. For the uninitiated, being delivered to and retrieved from the massive wind turbines looks more like an extreme adventure vacation. Some of the training and experience the OSW workers undergo is seen in this video from 2015, also by Samuel Hawkins.

Speaking of extreme, this Weather Channel video documents the mind-boggling work of an onshore turbine technician whose path into the field began while mountain climbing with her father as a child.  In the 2017 video, she is seen dangling from the hub of a turbine in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in order to repair the tip of a blade that had been struck by lightning. She looks very comfortable, despite operating power tools while hanging from a rope tied to the hub.

A 2015 video published by Lars Bulow shows a crew transfer by boat rather than helicopter. It’s not a fancy video, and it’s less than 5 minutes long, but it offers another look into this exotic, growing field of offshore wind power.

Finally, a 6-minute video from Broadcast Media Services in 2014 fills in the gaps of what goes on between the crew transfers. “The best part of the job?” the subject asks: Being on top of the turbine. “On a clear day, you can see 40 miles.” The worst part? “When you have to use the toilet you have to climb all the way back down to the boat.”

These several videos show some of the routines, requirements, and extremes experienced by those who work on the turbines in this blossoming industry. Are you up to it?

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