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A hydroelectric plant technician is a professional who performs many tasks related to water power generation and distribution. The technicians are often responsible for identifying and fixing problems in their area of the plant, as well as communicating with their superiors and subordinates regarding the issues.
Some hydroelectric plant technicians are responsible for developing or contributing to the company's safety regulations; they may also screen the technicians under them to ensure that they are implementing those regulations. Hydroelectric plant technicians may even be asked to run safety drills and evaluate those drills at other, similar power plants. A hydroelectric plant technician works with huge, powerful and potentially dangerous machinery; he or she must commit to following established safety guidelines to avoid serious injury or death.
Hydroelectric plant technicians must usually juggle a long list of important duties. They monitor the plant's performance, make minor repairs, and redistribute the work load of the plant's various generators so as to achieve maximum energy generation without damaging any part of it.
A hydroelectric plant technician must also often install expensive equipment, inspect it and replace, or repair it if necessary. Safety is a major issue at a hydroelectric plant, so technicians must know the approved safety procedures and stringently abide by those rules. Those with managerial or supervisory authority must also verify that everyone working under them is compliant with the posted best practices.
As their title implies, hydroelectric plant technicians work at government-run hydroelectric power plants, which generate electricity by using water to crank generator turbines. Technicians will usually be working in high-noise environments that may contribute to substantial hearing loss if the proper protective gear is not worn.
Hydroelectric plant technicians frequently work in areas with significant air pollution (indoors and out); many wear a closed respirator system that's very close to the sophisticated rebreathing apparatus used by cave divers. Failure to wear this protective equipment may result in respiratory damage, pain and lost productivity. Techs must also wear safety glasses or goggles whenever they're around machines with exposed moving parts, even if the machines are turned off and unplugged. Comfortable, padded shoes will help keep the knees and back comfortable during long periods of standing; clothes should cover the arms and legs, but fit snugly to reduce the risk of getting caught in a machine.
A hydroelectric plant technician may spend the bulk of his or her time indoors, inspecting various machines and documenting production as it occurs. In many cases, however, technicians are also expected to go outside and physically inspect the water intake mechanisms. Sometimes this can be accomplished from the shoreline, but many techs have to don a wetsuit and run an underwater inspection. This yields more accurate data, but is extremely dangerous because the water intake pumps are prodigiously strong and capable of sucking a human in along with water. Any employee who goes near these pumps must be constantly vigilant.
Because power and electricity are so important to the infrastructure of most modern countries, a hydroelectric plant technician may often have to work over forty hours per week. Many are also put "on call" on a rotating basis; if serious problems arise in the middle of the night, they must be immediately addressed to avoid more expensive damage to the system and prevent power outages.
An increasingly popular related trend is the "support phone": a cellular phone passed among technicians according to a monthly or weekly cycle. If a problem develops, plant staff will call the support phone to notify the on-call technician; he or she may be able to talk the caller through a fix or shortcut around the problem, but in many cases must drive to the plant - even in the middle of the night - to make those adjustments personally. The support phone may also be used on weekends, particularly in smaller plants who use a smaller, "skeleton" crew on Saturdays and Sundays.
A hydroelectric plant technician must have completed high school or passed the general equivalency (GED) exam. Prior experience working with industrial machines and technology is also useful. Applicants to technical positions should have an associate's or bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, physics, computer science, information technology or a similar field; training as an electrician is helpful for any open positions requiring interaction with live electronics.
Hydroelectric plant technicians rely heavily on electronic equipment; applicants to these positions should be familiar with computers and, if possible, with the specific software programs the plant uses. Training new hires to use the computer equipment is a lengthy, tedious and expensive proposition; companies are often motivated to hire employees who already have some level of familiarity in that area.
A hydroelectric plant technician uses technology to communicate and learn. Records, checklists and databases can be accessed via laptop or smartphone; however, it's important to understand that water and electronics don't mix, so it may be sometimes necessary to write important notes and measurements by longhand and type them up later, far away from the water.