Sustainable Work – Green Jobs in the Hydroelectric Industry

When you think of hydroelectricity, do you envision an old hydro turbine? Hydroelectricity today is still based on the same principles, but with much more efficient modern technology. There are lots of green jobs in the sector if you’re interested in getting into renewable energy.

One of the major environmental benefits of hydroelectricity is that it does not contribute to climate change (at least during operation). However, not all hydroelectric systems are sustainably designed. Mega hydroelectric dams like the Hoover Dam and China’s Three Gorges Dam, for example, are well known for the environmental degradation they caused, and other dams are blamed for declining fish populations, destruction of wildlife habitat, and other environmental problems. Not all hydroelectric power damages the environment, however. Micro hydro and pica hydro for residential applications are both sustainable options for hydroelectricity development, as are some medium-sized, well-planned commercial projects. If you’re looking for a green job, there are many to be had in this renewable energy field.

Current Developments in the Hydroelectric Energy Industry

Via Flickr: SciDev.Net

Within the hydroelectric field, the greatest growth for green jobs will likely be seen as a result of maintenance and retrofit projects for current hydroelectric systems. There are over 2,400 dams in the US today, many of which have not undergone a significant upgrade in decades. New technologies can reduce the environmental impacts of many of these existing dams without removing them entirely.

To give you an idea of how readily used hydro is in the US, here are US Energy Efficiency Administration’s figures on the states with the most hydro capacity (2008 figures in thousand kilowatt hours):

  • Washington – 73,932,815
  • Oregon -32,717,791
  • New York – 28,317,958
  • California – 27,707,085
  • Alabama – 11,753,493
  • Idaho – 9,506,510
  • Tennessee – 9,482,290
  • Montana – 9,141,899
  • Arizona – 6,348,463
  • North Carolina – 4,921,505
  • Maine – 4,588,721
  • South Dakota – 4,319,205
  • Arkansas – 4,195,168
  • Oklahoma – 3,762,026
  • Kentucky – 3,353,205
  • Georgia – 3,055,512
  • Pennsylvania – 2,820,836
  • Nevada – 2,446,365
  • South Carolina – 2,102,247
  • Colorado – 2,058,215
  • Maryland – 1,948,148
  • Missouri – 1,914,728
  • Vermont – 1,663,593
  • Wisconsin – 1,605,407

There are many other states with lots of hydroelectricity systems.

The Types of Green Jobs Available in the Hydroelectric Energy Industry

Like many other related fields in renewable energy, getting a hydro plant designed, installed, and maintained requires many, many individuals with a wide range of skill sets and knowledge. Here is a sampling of some of the jobs available in the hydroelectric field:

  • Biologist: Before a hydroelectric system can be installed, biologists need to plan and conduct evaluations to ensure the proper management of local ecosystems. You’ll need a degree in biology or marine biology for this green job.
  • Hydroelectric component machinist: In this green job, you’ll fabricate precision plastic and metal parts for hydroelectric power generation using machine tools. You’ll need an apprenticeship in metalworking, drafting, math, or computer sciences.
  • Hydroelectric construction: Using metalwork knowledge, you’ll perform all operations necessary to make, install, and repair a generator. You’ll need an apprenticeship or trade school training in mechanical drawing, metalwork, welding, and so on.
  • Hydroelectric efficiency operator: Ensuring the hydroelectric plant is operating at peak performance will be your job, maintaining and monitoring equipment.
  • Hydroelectric electrical engineer: Using a degree in electrical engineering, you’ll design all electrical components of a hydroelectric system, including drawings, specifications, and supporting calculations.
  • Hydroelectric operations maintenance: This green job consists of doing a wide variety of maintenance tasks related to a hydro system and requires on the job training.
  • Hydroelectric plant installation technician: With some trade school in plumbing, pipefitting, or hydrology, welding, pipefitting, machining, or rigging you can work on mechanical installation and maintenance for a hydroelectric installation.
  • Hydroelectric plant mechanical engineer: You’ll use your bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering to design, develop, and test all mechanical aspects of a hydro system.
  • Hydroelectric structural engineer: You’ll use a degree in civil or structural engineering to design an entire hydroelectrical plant from start to finish. Usually requires 10 years of experience.
  • Hydrogeologist or hydrologist: Working with other scientists, you’ll do field-work doing groundwater monitoring and water level measurements, as well as taking water quality samples. You’ll need a degree in geology, hydrology, earth sciences, or a related field.

Main Image Via Flickr: gavindjharper

This post was written by:

Maryruth Belsey Priebe

Maryruth has been seeking the keys to environmental justice - both at home and at work - for over a decade. Growing up adjacent to wild spaces, Maryruth developed a healthy respect (and whimsical appreciation) for things non-human, but her practical mind constantly draws her down to earth to ponder tangible solutions to complex eco-problems.

With interests that range from green living to green business, sustainable building designs to organic gardening practices, ecosystem restoration to environmental health, Maryruth has been exploring and writing about earth-matters for most of her life. Of special interest is the subject of ecopsychology and the role the natural world plays in the long-term health and well-being of humanity. You can learn more about Maryruth's work at

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