As renewable energy (RE) technologies grow more popular and less costly, fossil fuels will become a relic of the past. Global renewable energy employment reached 8.1 million, a 5% increase, in 2015, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates. This growth was spurred by decreased oil and gas jobs and declining renewable energy technology costs. Solar energy careers recently surpassed oil and gas drilling jobs. American solar jobs grew 12 times faster than overall job creation, the International Renewable Energy Agency found in a report last year. What’s Renewable Energy? Renewable energy comes from natural sources like wind and the sun that can be quickly replenished. While fossil fuel sources are finite, renewables will never run out. Renewables include:
- Wind: Farms of 100-foot tall wind turbines are connected to power grids and used to supply electricity to customers.
- Solar: Sunlight is captured and converted into electricity to power, light, and heat buildings. Solar photovoltaic (PV) is the largest renewable energy employer worldwide, particularly in the U.S. and Japan.
- Biomass: Plants are used to generate fuel, electricity, and chemicals. Liquid transportation biofuels are either ethanol (produced from starches like corn) or biodiesel (derived from plant oils, such as soybean oil).
- Hydropower: Flowing water is harnessed to produce electricity. It is widely used in the U.S., accounting for 74% of Washington State’s electricity.
- Geothermal: Power plants transform underground heat into clean energy. The power generated by geothermal power plants does not vary.
Why a Renewable Energy Career? Traditional energy sources are unsustainable, expensive, and harmful to the environment and workers. The clean energy industry is growing rapidly, generating hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Renewable energy is the future. It’s smart to transition or break into this booming sector now. As jobs in old energy sources disappear, renewable energy is a great option for new and displaced workers. Many of the skills, experience, and education of traditional construction and general industry professions are transferrable to the renewable energy sector. In-Demand Renewable Energy Careers What type of renewable energy careers are in high demand? Take a look: Job title: Wind Energy Professional About 85,000 people in the U.S. are employed in the wind industry, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Wind power careers fall into three phases: manufacturing, project development, and operation and maintenance, although some wind professionals work in two or all phases. Job duties: Acquire land, finance and develop projects, or plan, manage, and maintain wind turbines and farms. Job titles may include electrical engineer, engineering technician, assembler, asset manager, crane operator, and wind turbine service technician. Salary: Engineers: $50,000 - $90,000. General manufacturer: $30,00 - $80,000; Developers: $65,000 - $74,000; Construction laborer: $30,000 - $50,000 Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree in engineering, business, or management depending on the position. On-the-job training and apprenticeships for general manufacturing and construction laborers. For many positions, people with experience in other industries are hired and trained in wind-specific technology. Job title: Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturer or Installer This career is projected to grow 24% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations, due to continued expansion of solar panel installations. Job duties: Assemble and install solar panel systems. Related job titles include semiconductor processors, welders, glaziers, and machine operators. Salary: Solar Photovoltaic Installer starting salary: $30,000 - $40,000; Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturer: $30,000 - $47,000 Education requirements: On-the-job training, apprenticeship, and/or training at a technical school or community college. Job title: Energy Engineer Electrical engineers, electronics engineers, and electrical and electronics engineering technicians are needed in smart grid work, focusing on power generation and supply. Job duties: Design renewable energy systems, wind turbines, dams, and solar cells; implement new technology. Engineers develop economical solutions to technical problems and produce designs for new products. Salary: $50,000 – $100,000 Education requirements: Bachelors’ degree and advanced degrees in engineering and licensure or certification. Job title: Biofuel Farmer Ethanol production supported 401,600 jobs in 2011 according to the Renewable Fuels Association. Corn ethanol is a mainstream fuel supply. Job duties: Farmers grow corn, coconut, soybean, and sugar cane for use as fuel. Sometimes called growers, these farmers manage crop production establishments and decide where and when to plant crops. Salary: $52,000 Education requirements: High school diploma or equivalent, degree from an agricultural college, and/or apprenticeship. Job title: Geothermal Energy Professional Hundreds of geothermal projects have been developed in recent years. One plant employs between 697 and 862 workers. Geothermal jobs are usually located in the Western U.S. where there is already geothermal development. Job duties: Development, construction, drilling, and maintenance. Related job titles include plant operator, geologist, hydrologist, engineer, driller operator, and construction laborer. Salary: Construction: $40,000 - $60,000; Plant operator: $66,000; Engineer: $80,000 Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree in engineering, science or management, depending on the position. On-the-job training and apprenticeships for plant operators and construction laborers. As you can see, there are a variety of careers in this booming field. And the great part is that your skills, experience, and education from other industries can be applicable to some of the careers above. Joining the renewable energy industry is exciting and lucrative, and you also play an important role in creating a cleaner, safer future. Sources: https://www.bls.gov/green/wind_energy/ https://www.bls.gov/green/biofuels/biofuels.htm https://www.bls.gov/green/solar_power/ https://www.bls.gov/green/geothermal_energy/geothermal_energy.htm https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2013/fall/art03.pdf https://money.howstuffworks.com/5-renewable-energy-careers.htm https://www.se4all.org/sites/default/files/IRENA_RE_Jobs_Annual_Review_2016.pdf https://www.nrel.gov/workingwithus/learning.html