Get Matched With Environmental Science Programs
Renewable energy production and energy efficiency are part of an overall push to change the world's energy markets. Many people, laymen and scientists, believe that our current reliance on non-renewable energy is creating a climate crisis caused by emissions from petroleum-based fuels. Further, our use of those polluting energy sources is not as efficient as it could be, which only exacerbates the problem. Thus, if we can increase our efficiency while also moving toward renewable energy, we can hopefully reduce the harm already done to the environment.
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Steps to Take to Achieve This Career
Renewable energy production and energy efficiency are booming fields these days. Everywhere you look, alternative renewable energy are producing more and more clean energy. Texas, for instance, is generating a sizeable proportion of its electricity from solar and wind energy farms, and California is filling up with solar panels. If you’re in the car market, you will surely see dramatically better efficiency numbers as automakers are responding to growing demand for efficient transportation.
Thus, if you are excited both by the environmental and commercial aspects of sustainability, you will want to launch a career in renewable energy production or maximizing energy efficiency. Your passion and excitement are essentially the first steps towards this career goal. From there, you will likely need to earn a bachelor’s degree and possibly even a master’s degree. However, there are also loads of technician jobs available if you have a two-year associate degree, or even a one-year certificate.
Step 1: Find Your Passion
Step 2: Associate Degree
Step 3: Bachelor's Degree
Step 4: Master's Degree
Step 1: Find Your Passion
While it may be exciting to pursue a career that promises large paychecks and long-term, stable growth, it's important that you pursue that career for the right reasons. That is, you'll want to believe in what you're doing. In the case of renewable energy production and efficiency, you might be excited by the technical challenges involved. After all, there are still many discoveries and breakthroughs we need before renewable energy is able to sustain the power grid 100%. For instance, solar technology is fantastic but photovoltaic cells can still be more efficient and more sustainable to produce, not to mention their ineffectiveness when the grid goes down because they cannot link directly into consumers homes. Battery technology also needs to advance quite a bit so that we can charge our electric vehicles in minutes rather than hours and they can maintain that charge in harsh conditions.
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Then there's the bigger-picture mission involved in these career types. That is, the idea that the technologies you'll work with may very well bring human society into a new era free of many pollutants and the problems that come with them.
Step 2: Earn an Associate Degree
An associate degree could easily be the foundation of a long and fruitful career in renewable energy and efficiency. Your associate degree can prepare you to become a technician and install all sorts of energy-smart technologies. In fact, some of the fastest growing careers in the US are in this sector.
You might consider an associate degree in something like electrical engineering that will give you the technical background to install solar arrays, for instance. You may also prepare to install and service wind turbines. You could even work on incinerators that burn trash and convert that heat into electricity.
During your two years in school you might want to take a few courses in management or accounting. With that foundation you could move up into management and supervise teams of technicians. Naturally, you could also return to school to complete a four-year degree in electrical engineering or whatever you choose.
Step 3: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor’s degree is probably the best route to take into this field. It's not a cheap choice, but a four-year degree can help you land the very best entry-level position. If you decided to major in chemical engineering, for instance, you might be able to work in a lab that creates a super-efficient biofuel. You might even discover a way to convert plastic waste into fuel or otherwise break it down so that it doesn't pollute the environment.
Other majors, such as mechanical engineering, can launch similar careers. You could focus your work on creating more efficient machines or work toward creating hybrid automobiles that are not only more powerful but also more efficient and affordable. Along similar lines, you could seek out new battery technologies that will help the automotive sector divorce itself from petroleum.
Step 4: Earn a Master's Degree
If you are driven towards a career in a more science-oriented field, you should consider going directly from your bachelor’s degree into a graduate program. For instance, if you wish to be a chemical engineer, you need to focus on your time in the laboratory. The same goes for other engineering fields.
However, if you start as a technician and wish to move up into management, you could focus your graduate work on an MBA. You might even consider some sort of dual MBA program.
No matter how you approach your graduate program, it's important to know that your choice in graduate school will put a very specific focus on your resume. Thus, when you apply to graduate school, it's vital that your motivation be deeper than the pursuit of a larger paycheck. If you are still passionate about renewable energy and implementing better technologies for a stronger future, then the best degree programs will reveal themselves.
What Does a Renewable Energy Production or Energy Efficiency Worker Do?
This field offers a wide range of employment options. For instance, you might decide to go into a research position. As a researcher, you will likely spend a lot of time in a laboratory studying your specific subject. Alternately, you could opt for more of a hands-on position as a technician or installer. Those energy jobs will have you spend most of your time outside working with your hands.
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If you are a research scientist you may need to perform a number of tests each day, or otherwise make headway on your research projects. Technicians will need to meet reasonable goals for installing or repairing equipment. Technicians will also need to test their work to ensure that everything is operating according to specifications.
Both technicians and engineers might spend a good deal of time working with designs. A technician might evaluate a client's needs for a solar installation and spend time designing the optimal set of panels. An engineer might spend a great deal of time designing a new motor, or scrutinizing old designs in search of a new, more efficient approach. At the end of the day, all workers in this sector will have their work evaluated in terms of its overall ability to offset or improve older technologies. Your goal every day will be to improve how we power the fundamental devices of our lives.
Skills to Acquire
To thrive in this field, your skill-sets will need to align with your specific focus. That is, a chemical engineer working on new bio-fuels will need a different set of skills from a solar panel installer. However, both will generally need to have a keen eye for detail, analytical abilities including higher mathematics, and the ability to communicate clearly and efficiently.
Since this field is still developing, you will be well-served by a curious and creative mind. If you have new, cutting-edge ideas for solving some question of energy efficiency, you may be able to implement that idea for your team. Consider, too, that creativity is a skill that you can develop. The more practiced you are at developing new ideas, the easier they will come to you.
Communication will serve you well in nearly every profession. Even laboratory scientists need to present their findings in writing and with the aid of visuals. No matter what specific path you choose, you will need to communicate with coworkers. This can sometimes be a matter of safety if you are installing solar panels on a fifth story rooftop. Thus, the better you are at communicating yourself verbally and in writing the farther you can go.
You can enter the general field of renewable energy from many angles, but most involve a traditional degree path. You don't have to follow that path. On the contrary, you can prove marketability in a wide range of non-traditional ways. For instance, you can start working on solar or wind installations without a degree of any sort. Every crew needs laborers and you may find a position working as an apprentice. If you study the technologies at home using the internet or library books you can soon advance your skills and knowledge to match someone with a degree.
Given that there is much yet to be discovered in the field of alternative fuels and energy technologies, if you have a ground-breaking idea you may be able to develop that in your free time. If you are able to develop a worthy prototype, you might be able to start your own firm or sell your idea to a larger group. However, once you have developed a working model, you should consult with a patent attorney to protect your ideas. A little bit of business savvy will serve you well in the long-run. After all, the man who developed lithium-ion batteries was only paid a few hundred thousand dollars for his hard work and ingenuity.
Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
Renewable energy and efficiency professionals work in many different settings. Some work for the government and seek to find the most efficient way to cut energy costs. There are also government energy energy jobs working to create new renewable energy. The Department of Energy operates a number of facilities where scientists develop, test, and refine the fuels we'll all use someday. You could also work in an analyst position. There, you could assess sites to determine their best approach toward implementing renewable energy or discovering ways to make them more efficient in the near-term. For instance, you could propose that a certain building install a rooftop garden and solar panels. You could also analyze how the building uses energy and propose ways to upgrade the existing structure to maximize its energy use.
Still others work for installation or technician firms that take contracts from homeowners or commercial concerns that need to improve their energy profiles. In one of these positions, you'll spend a good deal of time outside working with your hands to install solar panels, wind turbines, or other technologies that help the client achieve their goals.
Potential Career Paths
If renewable energy and sustainability is a passion for you, there are many different fields that you can pursue. Some are highly technical and scientific, but others are more hands-on and in the realm of skilled trades. You can also work improving our energy usage from a desk in an office.
- Solar Installer:
You'll spend a lot of time on rooftops affixing solar panels so that they serve the client for years to come. You'll need to understand how to connect electrical devices in serial as well as assess the optimal number and position of the panels.
- Electrical Engineer:
You could work on installing and maintaining incinerators that incinerate garbage and turn that energy into fuel. Others might work on micro-grids or devise ways to maximize renewable on a client's property.
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- Wind-Farm Developer:
Wind farms are creating more and more of the nation's energy. You can help landowners determine how to produce electricity on their land. You might also develop wind-farms in the ocean or on large freshwater lakes.
- Wind Turbine Installation:
With so many moving parts, you'll need a great deal of training and expertise to install turbines. Once the job is done, you will probably need to help maintain those huge windmills. You'll need to be unafraid of heights and have a background in electrical work, mechanics, or construction.
- Chemical Engineer:
For the purposes of renewable energy, a chemical engineer might strive to discover the next best bio-fuels or other products that increase efficiency. You might also discover new ways to create familiar fuels. You could also discover some ultra-sustainable and super-strong polymer that will reduce the weight of a car and increase its efficiency.
- Mechanical Engineer:
You can help design the machines that make the best use of energy. You might also create a new solar and wind energy turbine technology that is not only silent but is highly efficient. Still other mechanical engineers maintain and refine existing machines.
- Civil Engineer:
As a civil engineer, you can help design structures that make the best use of energy possible. For instance, you might build a bridge that integrates solar panels to feed the grid with clean energy. You could also design a stadium that is as energy efficient as a new home.
Overall, the outlook for renewable energy and efficiency is rosy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth across the breadth of the green jobs sector. Everyone from wind turbine technicians to environmental engineers is slated to see increased salaries and job opportunities through 2026.
There may be fluctuations in certain sectors at the moment, but it's assumed that eventually growth will continue. That is, the demand for solar and wind installations can fluctuate depending on the current political climate. When governments offer tax incentives for solar installation or other green initiatives, demand grows. If politicians are swayed to rescind those incentives, demand may fall. However, over time we will need to rely on those technologies and politicians will likely adapt.
The current push towards sustainability is also creating new energy jobs. Corporations are creating positions for Chief Sustainability Officers, wind energy engineers are a new breed of professional, and energy auditors are needed to assess energy use from the individual homeowner to entire cities. This push toward sustainability will increase over time as more and more people realize how climate change was created by non-sustainable practices. To create a better future for their children, industry and government leaders will push for new solutions to energy questions and thus there will be a need for skilled professionals to implement those changes.
Advancing From Here
The Green Energy sector is only growing from here on out. Our society has a great demand for green energy solutions, and much of our existing infrastructure could use retrofitting to accommodate the needs of a greener future. Buildings may need more efficient window treatments, solar panels, and perhaps rooftop gardens. Each of these things will need maintenance over time, and eventual replacement.
This is to say that green jobs are here to stay. If you enter this field, you will surely find ample opportunities to grow and advance for the duration of your career. You can amplify your growth with advanced degrees or certificates, but if you work hard you should find yourself advancing with no problem.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are some renewable energy sources?
Some renewable energy sources include:
- Hydropower from flowing water
- Geothermal energy from heat inside the earth
- Wind energy
- Solar energy from the sun
- Biomass from plants
What is geothermal energy?
Geothermal energy is heat that comes from rocks and fluids in the sub-surface of the earth's crust. To create geothermal energy, mile deep wells are dug into underground reservoirs that access steam and hot water. This dives turbines that are connected to the electricity generators creating geothermal energy.
Where can you work with a degree in renewable energy?
Most people in this industry work for a renewable energy sector or for renewable energy companies. Renewable energy workers can also work for private companies, schools, hospitals, and many other places.
How much can you make working in renewable energy?
Renewable energy engineers make around $75,000 per year.
What skills should someone working in renewable energy have?
People working in renewable energy need to have strong communication and a desire to learn. They need to have to have interest in green energy and a natural aptitude to changing environmental systems.
Green Career Paths