Power Generation Engineer

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Power Generation Engineer


Traditionally, power generation consisted of building fires in order to cook, heat and provide light. In modern times, power is generated from a number of technological and fuel-powered sources such as nuclear power, solar power, wind power, natural gas and hydroelectric power. These are just a few areas where a power generation engineer might choose to work. Power generation engineers design power system facilities and equipment and coordinate construction, operation, and maintenance of electric power generating, receiving, and distribution stations, transmission lines, and distribution systems and equipment. Their main goal is to provide different forms of power such as electricity, heat and refrigeration to our high-powered world.

Power generation engineers perform a number of design and research roles. They are responsible for the safe and effective operation and maintenance of industrial equipment such as boilers, turbines, generators, diesels, pumps, condensers, compressors, pressure vessels and related controls. In larger industrial or building complexes, they may be responsible for heating, air-conditioning, ventilation, refrigeration, fire systems and building control systems. All of these powering machines must come from a generating source and it is the engineer's job to design, improve and filter that source into a building or structure.

Some power generation engineers focus more on research and conduct studies on the environmental and ecological effects of these energy sources. Since many of these power sources, including oil and gas burning and even nuclear power have distinct harmful effects or risk the possibility of a harmful environmental effects, engineers must create new alternatives to these polluting agents. Accordingly, some power generation engineers may act as inspectors or monitors of power plants in order to ensure they are running in accordance with safety, environment and health standards. Therefore, they must be up to date on new developments in government legislation and changing environmental laws in the power generating field.

Most power generation engineers work in teams with scientists and technicians in order to pool their knowledge and skills on a project. They also meet with professionals from other industries such as government officials, manufacturers and lawyers and make sure that design plans will withstand a number of conditional variables. They create engineering plans on computers, which test and predict possible errors and problems with a mechanism or at a plant and in this, they generate workable solutions. Although most work takes place on the computer, many power generation engineers travel to factories or plants to see their work in progress.

Power generation engineers use traditional and high-tech tools, such as computer-aided design (CAD) to solve problems and meet challenges such as machine malfunction and breakdown and providing power from a plant. They research and evaluate each project to find the most cost-effective solutions to problems while still maintaining recognized standards.
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  Interests and Skills  
Power generation engineers should have a natural affinity for generating mechanics, mathematics and electronics. Since imprecise calculations could cause major disasters and expensive mistakes, they must be 100 percent accurate in their calculations. Their jobs are extremely technical therefore they should be organized and methodical in their working habits. They must be good problem solvers and be able to come up with innovative and creative solutions to potential problems and design work.

They must also have strong communication skills. Power generation engineers constantly deal with people from both sides of the professional spectrum therefore they must be able to communicate ideas and give orders in a clear, concise fashion.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Research, design and develop machinery and systems for power generation plants and related facilities
  • Prepare material, cost and timing estimates, reports and design specifications for machinery and systems
  • Prepare plans and drawings of machines, machine parts or structures
  • Study the energy, environmental and safety aspects of the planned and existing work
  • Supervise and inspect the installation, modification and commissioning of mechanical systems at sites or in industrial facilities
  • Ensure that safety codes and other applicable regulations are followed
  • Investigate and troubleshoot mechanical failures or unexpected and potentially dangerous maintenance problems
  • Supervise technicians, technologists and other engineers
  • Work closely with scientists, contractors and technicians and pool ideas together, gaining new knowledge and skills
  • Most power generation engineers spend the majority of their working hours in offices (in front of a computer), research laboratories, industrial power plants or educational institutions. Some however, travel to plants, test laboratories or installation sites to supervise technicians and inspect the facility. Power generation engineers who specialize in design and construction may work outdoors from mobile offices on the work site. The average workweek is normal, however longer hours may be required when deadlines are coming due or if an emergency strikes.
  • Engineers who work in nuclear plants, for example, with reactor fuels and radioisotopic materials must take special precautions. They are required to wear thermoluminescent dosimeters, film badges, or other devices used for recording cumulative radiation exposure time and, in some areas, must wear protective clothing and face wear. Electronic warning systems and alarms are used in work areas to warn of any possible hazards. Power generation engineers working in coal-powered plants may be exposed to loud noise, fly ash, dust and dirty conditions. Nevertheless, some people enjoy going on site and getting their hands dirty.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Power generation engineers work in both the public and private sectors. They can often be found in power generating plants, petrochemical plants, pulp and paper mills, plastic plants, distilleries, food production plants, refineries, hospitals, hotels, schools and other institutions. They may also be employed by the government.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Power generation engineers can advance to supervisory and senior management positions within their companies. Some may decide to open up their own consulting businesses or engineering companies. Many engineering experts say that power generation engineers could work as salespeople in power organizations since they already have strong technical backgrounds. There are many environmental issues that will keep power generation engineers on their toes, to ensure that their products and plants are not harming the environment and sticking to government standards.

Those with master's and PhDs in mechanical engineering can always teach at the university or college level and share their experience and knowledge with students.

  Educational Paths  
While still in high school, if this is the career path you are interested in taking, make sure you take courses in mathematics and physics. Most university programs will require these subject areas as prerequisites.

Power generation engineers require a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or in a related power generation engineering field. Then, they must also become registered as a professional engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some engineers also get master's degrees in their specific area to further their chances and choices of employment.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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