Careers in Renewable Energy: Job Opportunities, Fields of Study, and Top Universities
Renewable energy field has great potential for jobs of the future. Besides, renewable energy is also critical for the safety of our planet. The existence of Cyborgs, Time Machine and Extinction of Humans by Machines are debatable. But, Climate Change is Real. So, we do need personnel with the expertise in energy and climate change. So, what exactly is renewable energy? Why is renewable energy a good field to get into? Types of job opportunities and scopes of data science and big data analytics in renewable energy vertical. How to have a career in the renewable energy sector? This post will answer all those queries.
Careers in Renewable Energy – Best Careers to Counter the Climate Change
When it comes to the hottest and most buzzing careers in the 21st century, the majority of people think of hardcore technical domains such as data science, machine learning & artificial intelligence. Few people might also come up with biotechnology (or biosciences). But, quite often people forget about one of the dark horses – the Renewable Energy sector. Even Bill Gates lobbied for the Energy sector as one of the top three career choices for making an impactful career (other two were Artificial Intelligence and Biosciences).
Energy plays a key role in the economy and environment. According to the experts including Bill Gates, there is a huge and growing demand for energy that’s “reliable, cheap, and clean.” Renewable energy is clean, affordable, and reliable, and has got the potential to counter poverty and climate change. The energy industry is considered as highly capital intensive along with the huge impact on employment. More importantly, hundred years from now, there might not be any fossil fuels left. Hence, the renewable energy field promises a lot in terms of sustainability and jobs prospects. The energy sector provides excellent career opportunities for smart and innovative minds. The field does not only present scientific and technological opportunities but also in the field of design, creativity, commercialization and business development.
Renewable Energy vs Non-Renewable Energy (Fossil Fuels)
Traditionally, we have mostly depended on the fossil fuels for our energy needs, from home heating and electricity to fuel for our automobiles and mass transportation.
Now, the primary problem is that fossil fuels are non-renewable, and will get depleted at a certain point in time. Secondly, the use of fossil fuels presents several environmental, social and health hazards. There are two main methods for removing fossil fuels from the ground: mining and drilling. Both processes carry serious health and environmental impacts. The chemicals (that get released while extracting fossil fuels) could cause cancer and/or severely damage neurological, cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems. Read more about Fossil Fuels and their hidden costs.
The extraction process also releases potent greenhouse gases including methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. Methane is the most significant and the most harmful one. It is a very potent greenhouse gas that causes tremendous global warming; 34 times more effective at trapping heat over a 100-year timescale and 86 times more effective over a 20-year timescale. Fossil fuels also lead to other environmental hazards like acid rain, air pollution, and land & water pollution.
Apart from the extraction process, the transporting process can generate its own pollution, and increase the potential for catastrophic accidents. For instance, natural gas is highly flammable. Natural gas is transported over long distances by transmission pipelines, while distribution pipelines deliver gas locally to homes and businesses. Hence, the transportation and distribution process to homes and businesses carries great risks. Between 2008 and 2015, there were 5, 065 significant safety incidents related to natural gas pipeline transmission and distribution, leading to 108 fatalities and 531 injuries.
Of the many environmental and public health risks associated with fossil fuels, the most serious one is the global warming case, which is quite irreversible in nature. Combustion of the fossil fuels led to the rise in the average temperature of Earth by 1 degree Fahrenheit (1°F) in the 20th century.
Now you might be thinking of nuclear energy as a renewable source of energy. But, nuclear energy could be extremely dangerous (in fact, catastrophic or even apocalyptic) due to the unleashing the power of the atom.
Renewable energy, also termed as alternative energy, simply means the energy that is produced from sources other than the primary energy supply, the fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil). They are clean and sustainable. Use of renewable energy helps to reduce the carbon footprint (level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere). Hence, it is beneficial for the global climate and helps the society to deal with issues like global warming. Uses of renewable energy also help to reduce our dependency on gas and oil reserves, which are getting more and more expensive.
The renewable energy (or Non-fossil fuel energy) generation technologies, such as wind, solar, and geothermal, contributed less than 1% of the total energy-related global warming emissions. Besides, they do not present any potential environmental, social or health hazards. At present, the global spending on fossil fuels is around USD $500 billion per year and almost $6 trillion per year on dirty energy infrastructure (International Energy Agency). So, there is a serious need for cost-cutting on energy, in fact, clean energy.
Job Prospects in the Renewable Energy Sector
According to the latest report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the number of people employed in the renewable energy sector across the globe could rise to 24 million by 2030. According to forecasts, the global investment will reach USD $1.3 trillion per year in 2030. The report also stated that the renewables will add about $19 trillion to the global economy, and will create about 6 million jobs by 2050. According to World Economic Forum, the Advanced Energy vertical is a $1.4 trillion global industry, almost twice the size of the global airline industry, and nearly equal to worldwide apparel revenue.
The majority of the renewable energy jobs are available in China, India, Japan, Brazil, the U.S., and Germany. In fact, 62% of all renewable energy jobs are based in Asia, as installation and manufacturing continue to shift to the region. Among the clean energy sectors, solar photovoltaic (PV) was the largest employer in 2016, employing 3.1 million people – a 12% increase compared to 2015. Liquid biofuels (1.7 million jobs), solid biomass (0.7 million) and biogas (0.3 million) were also major employers, as reported by IRENA.
In the USA, solar and wind jobs are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the economy (Business Insider). In fact, solar and wind jobs have grown at rates of about 20% annually in recent years. According to the report, published by the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps program, the industry now has at least 4 million jobs, up from 3.4 million in 2011. Although the US President is lobbying for fossil fuel energy in order to create more local jobs, the importance of renewable energy is indispensable. In fact, the Trump Administration Seeks to Avoid Withdrawal From Paris Climate Accord.
For further reading:
Today’s Energy Jobs Are in Solar, Not Coal (The New York Times)
In the UK, wind and marine energy currently support around 30, 000 direct and indirect jobs and there is the potential to generate a further 70, 000 over the next decade. As per Sophie Bennett, policy manager for employment, skills, and training at RenewableUK, the trade association for wind and marine energy, the renewable energy sector is likely to see huge growth in the coming years as international bodies are trying to tackle climate change and CO2 emissions desperately. According to David Hunt (managing partner at specialist recruitment firm Hyperion Executive Search), the career opportunities for students and graduates are excellent in the clean energy and renewables industry, and the trend will continue for a long time. As of now, the global industry needs £200billion of investment to renew generating capacity from a range of sources including wind, solar, biomass, gas and nuclear. Additionally, storing that energy is also a critical job.
The career prospects are very bright in for India too. India has been facing rising fuel prices, energy insecurity, and other environmental & climate-related problems. The renewable energy offers a critical solution to India’s burgeoning energy demand challenges. Moreover, renewable energy technologies are more labour-intensive than more mechanized fossil fuel technologies, as demonstrated in more mature markets, and can provide a tremendous opportunity to create local jobs. In 2015, more than 8.1 million people got employed in renewable energy worldwide. As per Business Standard, India ranks 5th in the world for job creation in the field of renewable energy in 2016. India’s clean energy goals have the potential to create 300, 000 new jobs by 2020.
Career Paths in the Renewable Energy Sector
Renewable energy projects require a workforce with diverse background and skillset. There are job opportunities for ecologists, biologists, physicists, geologists, architectural and structural engineers, planners and project managers to computer science or electrical engineers, communications professionals, business developers and even helicopter pilots. Initially, the energy companies were overwhelmingly full of engineers and scientists. But over the last decade, the balance has become tilted towards graduates with commercial skills as well.
For example, for a wind energy project, apart from wind energy professionals (and those from the core renewable energy science and engineering), you need meteorologists in order to find good, windy locations. The team also needs to have biologists and ecologists for considering the effects of the wind farm on birds and other animals in the environment. Sometimes, you might also need an archaeologist. Then there will be architects to design buildings that can generate their own wind power.
Role of Data Science & Big Data Analytics in the Renewable Energy Sector
As with many industries, data science, machine learning and big data analytics are also transforming the energy sector by providing insights to reduce costs and allowing oil producers to adjust to market demands in boom times. The solar industry is rapidly embracing ways to analyze and crunch data in order to lower the cost of solar energy and to open up new markets for their technology. In the coming days, Big Data & Analytics will be very crucial for the renewable energy market. Finally, there are matters of cost and the policies and opinions of the people who live in or govern the area.
Infographic Source: IBM
Students from the Earth Sciences background and related fields like Oil & Petroleum Engineering, Mining, Geology, and Geo-informatics are also in good demand because of the same reasons. In fact, the US is currently trying to spend more on fossil fuels (as per the Trump policies) In the US, the job growth for Petroleum Engineers, Mining and Geological Engineers has been 30% and 12% respectively between 2010 and 2014 (Forbes). Owing to the demand for energy sources, graduates in Oil, Gas & Petroleum Engineering are also in huge demand; and definitely one of the hottest career paths. It is also possible to switch to the renewable energy field from Earth Sciences field.
As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities for everyone in the renewable energy sector. It’s very exciting, with lots of variety and room for new ideas and innovation. You could be working outdoors on land or at sea, in an office or in a laboratory. There are opportunities to travel and work in unusual places. Working in the renewable (green) energy sector offers the chance to be part of an exciting, diverse, growing industry as well as playing a role in the fight against the climate change and protect our planet earth.
Education and Higher Studies in Renewable Energy
What can you study for Bachelors and/or Masters for a Career in Renewable Energy?
- Earth Sciences
- Renewable Energy
- Sustainable Energy & Green Technologies
- Carbon Accounting
- Renewable Energy & Carbon Management
- Carbon and Energy Management
- Renewable Energy & Clean Technology
- Environmental Engineering
- Oil & Gas Technology
- Petroleum Engineering
- Engineering Geology
- Energy Geoscience
- Petroleum Geology
- Environmental Geology
- Atmospheric Physics
- IT, Electrical, Electronics or Computer Science Engineering
Best Undergraduate Programs in Core (Technical) Renewable Energy Science & Engineering
TERI University (India)
Stanford University (US)
University of Oxford (UK)
Oregon Tech (US)
UT Austin (US)
University of New South Wales (Australia)
University of Exeter (UK)
KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden)
Aalborg University (Denmark)
University of Newcastle (Australia)
Carleton University (Canada)
University of Alberta (Canada)
Best Business & Management Programs in the Field of Renewable Energy
Top Universities for Graduate Programs and Research
- ETH Zurich
- Harvard University
- University of Oxford
- UC Berkeley
- University of Cambridge
- Stanford University
- Columbia University
- University of Washington
- UC San Diego
- Australian National University
- University of Tokyo
- University of Toronto
- Princeton University
- Utrecht University
- University of British Columbia
- University of Edinburgh
- UT Austin
- Yale University
- University of Leeds
- Durham University
- Imperial College London
- University of Colorado Boulder
If you have got any queries about careers, jobs or studies in renewable energy, earth sciences or related fields, or any feedback for this blog post, please share your comment in the section below. Thank you.
Author: Tanmoy Ray
I am a Career Adviser & MS Admission Consultant. Additionally, I also manage online marketing at Stoodnt. I did my Masters from the UK (Aston University) and have worked at the University of Oxford (UK), Utrecht University (Netherlands), University of New South Wales (Australia) and MeetUniversity (India).
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