Power plant operator jobs include a variety of options. In general, power plant operators control, operate, maintain and repair machines that generate electricity. They are responsible for making sure that people have enough electricity or gas in their homes and businesses. Power plant operator jobs can include a variety of titles, such as operations and maintenance gas turbine technicians, boiler operators, unit operators, operations and maintenance technicians and plant control operators.
In plants with automatic controls, power plant operators generally work from a central location and might be called control or control center operators. For plants without centralized control systems, switchboard operators operate the controls. An auxiliary equipment operator can work throughout the power plant.
In addition to traditional power plants, the increased emphasis on alternative energy has created different types of power plant operator jobs. For example, with the increase in wind power production, many power plant operators are turbine operators. Hydroelectric station operators are another type of power plant operator jobs. These are considered "green" jobs because the type of electricity produced does not pollute the environment.
Another of the power plant operator jobs is that of a nuclear power reactor operator. This is the same as a power plant operator, except that he or she works at a nuclear power plant. The nature of the job typically requires that reactor operators pass an exam from a nuclear energy regulatory agency. A nuclear power reactor operator also typically must have at least previous power plant experience, including some experience at a nuclear plant.
Specific duties for power plant operator jobs include controlling and maintaining boilers and turbines, distributing power among generators, regulating output from several generators at once, monitoring instruments, communicating with dispatchers, starting and stopping generators when necessary, inspecting the plant and keeping records. Power plant operators might be required to work overnight shifts. In nuclear power plants, it is especially important that there is a senior reactor operator on duty at all times.
Requirements to become a power plant operator usually include a combination of on-the-job training, education and experience. Licensing requirements vary from one jurisdiction to another, depending on the nature of work and the type of power being used. It is usually easier to advance in this career within companies, and companies generally promote internally. This is because the control systems and safety systems can vary significantly between companies.