STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: PS3.B, PS3.D

CCSS: ELA: Speaking and Listening: 4.

TEKS: Science: 3.6A, 4.6A, 5.6A, 6.7A; ELA: 3.6E, 4.6E, 5.6E, 6.5E

Turbine Technician

How longtime climber Jessica Kilroy keeps wind turbines spinning

SEQUOIA HAUGHEY 

Jessica Kilroy uses climbing gear to descend after repairing a wind turbine’s blade. Safety equipment, including a helmet, safety goggles, and knee pads, protect Kilroy on the job. 

 As you read, think about the skills Jessica Kilroy needs to do her job.

At 107 meters (350 feet) above the ground, everything is quiet except the rush of the wind. Jessica Kilroy spends so much time at this height that her face is often red from windburn. She has been going outdoor rock climbing since she was 4. But today, Kilroy isn’t scaling a cliff. She’s at the top of a wind turbine! Wind turbines harness energy from the wind and convert it into electricity. As the wind turns the blades, a rotor spins a shaft inside the turbine. A generator converts this motion into electricity (see How Wind Farms Work).

Wind power is a type of renewable energy. That means it will never be used up. Most countries produce electricity by burning fossil fuels, such
as coal, oil, or natural gas. These fuels come from the ground and will eventually run out. Wind turbines also don’t produce air pollution, while burning fossil fuels does.

If a turbine’s blades get damaged, they can’t catch the wind as well. When this happens, it’s Kilroy’s job to fix them. As a rope access technician, she uses rock-climbing gear to get to the blades. Then she uses construction tools to repair the damage. Kilroy recently spoke to SuperScience about her work. 

Jessica Kilroy is 107 meters (350 feet) above the ground. Everything is quiet except the rush of the wind. Kilroy spends a lot of time at this height. Her face is often red from windburn. She has been going outdoor rock climbing since she was 4. But Kilroy isn’t scaling a cliff today. She’s at the top of a wind turbine!

Wind turbines harness energy from the wind. They use it to make electricity. The wind turns the blades. A rotor spins a shaft inside the turbine. A machine called a generator turns this motion into electricity (see How Wind Farms Work). 

Wind power is a type of renewable energy. That means it will never be used up. Most countries make electricity by burning fossil fuels. These include coal, oil, or natural gas. The fuels come from the ground. They will someday run out. Wind turbines don’t make air pollution. But burning fossil fuels does.

A turbine’s blades can get damaged. Then they can’t catch the wind well. It’s Kilroy’s job to fix them when this happens. She’s a rope access technician. She uses rock-climbing gear to get to the blades. Then she uses tools to repair them. Kilroy recently spoke to SuperScience about her work.

What led you to your career?

My father is a rock climber, and my mom loves the outdoors, so I grew up going climbing a lot. I’m very comfortable up high. Another rock climber told me about this job—and that it requires people who can stay calm while working at high elevations. I’ve been doing it for nine years. 

My father is a rock climber. And my mom loves the outdoors. So I grew up going climbing a lot. I’m very comfortable up high. Another rock climber told me about this job. It required a person who can stay calm while working high up. I’ve been doing it for nine years. 

How do the wind turbines that you repair get damaged?

Often the damage is caused by lightning strikes. The electrical current from the strike flows through the blade and creates a dark scorch mark as it exits. This can change the shape of the blade. Dust and rain can also wear away the edge of the blade that cuts through the air.

Often the damage is caused by lightning strikes. The electrical current from the strike flows through the blade. It creates a dark burn mark as it exits. This can change the shape of the blade. Dust and rain can also cause damage. They wear away the blade’s edge that cuts through the air.

How do you make your way up to the broken turbine blade?

Before I climb up the turbine, technicians off-site use computers to shut down the turbine to keep the blades from moving. Then I climb a ladder inside the tower.

At the top, I enter a little room that houses the turbine’s moving parts, called the nacelle (nuh-SEL). It’s cramped inside, so I feel like I’m in a submarine! I use a brake and special metal cylinders to make sure the blades stay still while I work.

I tie my ropes and exit the nacelle. I have a partner on the ground who guides me as I descend the blade. 

First, technicians off-site use computers to shut down the turbine. That keeps the blades from moving. Then I climb a ladder inside the tower. 

I enter a little room at the top. It’s called the nacelle (nuh-SEL). It holds the turbine’s moving parts. It’s cramped inside. So I feel like I’m in a submarine! I use a brake and special metal cylinders to make sure the blades stay still while I work. 

I tie my ropes and exit the nacelle. I have a partner on the ground to guide me as I climb out onto the blade. 

How do you repair a broken blade?

I use power tools like sanders and grinders to remove the damaged materials in the blade. Blades are made of a material called fiberglass. I replace the bad fiberglass with new material. I fill cracks and holes with sticky substances that harden to make the blade smooth and aerodynamic again.

It’s the same way you would repair a boat or surfboard. In fact, when I first trained, we practiced repairs on surfboards made of fiberglass!

I use power tools like sanders and grinders. They remove the broken parts of the blade. Blades are made of a material called fiberglass. I replace the damaged parts with new material. I fill cracks and holes with sticky substances that harden to make the blade smooth. Then it’s aerodynamic again.

It’s the same way you would fix a boat or surfboard. In fact, we practiced repairs on surfboards made of fiberglass when I first trained.

How do you move around on the blade?

My rope attaches to a device on my body harness called a rig. It uses friction, or rubbing force, to help me move down to the blade. I climb up the blade on a little ladder attached to my ropes. If I need something, like a tool or my lunch, we use a pulley system to move a bucket up and down! 

My rope attaches to a device on my body harness. It’s called a rig. It uses friction, a rubbing force, to help me move down to the blade. I climb up the blade on a little ladder attached to my ropes. We use a pulley system if I need something. It moves a bucket up and down. That allows me to get a tool—or my lunch!

What do you like most about your job? 

I like that I can see the best view around no matter where I am. I also like the feeling I get at the end of the day. The blade is flexible, so it rocks with the wind. It feels like I’ve been surfing or on a boat all day. It makes me remember summer days in my childhood when I’d swim until dark and be happy and exhausted on the way home.

I like that I can see the best view around no matter where I am. I also like the feeling I get at the end of the day. The blade is flexible, so it rocks with the wind. It feels like I’ve been surfing or on a boat all day. It makes me remember summer days in my childhood. I’d swim until dark and be happy and exhausted on the way home.

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