Clean energy is the production of electricity, heating, cooling or fuels from renewable sources including wind, biomass, geothermal energy, solar energy and hydropower, as well as landfill gas and municipal solid waste. Its purpose is to provide energy to homes and communities in ways that minimize harm to the environment and society. The overall trend is a move away from limited supplies of fossil fuels, which contribute to air pollution and climate change, and a shift to sources that can sustain themselves long term.
Jobs in clean energy include positions in efficiency and conservation (helping people, communities and employers use less energy), a well as those that focus on the creation of new green energy production technologies that meet energy needs with more sustainable sources. A May 2014 search for clean energy jobs on Indeed.com found over 35,000 job listings in the U.S; over 4,000 jobs were found for “renewable energy. Job titles in these categories included solar energy asset manager, energy efficiency policy and analysis consultant and energy program manager.
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Energy Directors and Managers
According to a May 2014 search on Glassdoor.com, the highest-paying clean energy positions include president and chief executive officer (with a salary starting at $450,000), general counsel (with a salary of approximately $240,000), director of solar innovation (with a salary of approximately $160,000), corporate controller (with a salary of approximately $150,000) and manager (with a salary of approximately $130,000). Directors and managers who can think strategically when it comes to clean energy, including managing teams and finances, appear to be in demand.
At a minimum, most employers looking for an energy manager or director are seeking someone with a bachelor’s degree and practical experience (technical or business) in clean energy. Some prefer or even require master’s degree or doctorate in a technical field.
Energy engineering is a broad category: professionals in this field typically design new renewable energy systems or components, from solar panels to wind turbines to landfill gas pipelines and systems. And, as development of clean energy continues to increase, the demand for energy engineers increases as well. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy is hopeful that the demand for combined heat and power mechanics will grow by one million jobs by 2030.
A degree in chemical, mechanical, electrical, civil, industrial or energy engineering (an emerging offering at some schools) is usually required, as is professional certification and/or licensure, such as a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) certificate. Salaries start in the $50,000 range (higher with a graduate degree) and sometimes reach $100,000 at management levels.
Wind Energy Professionals
Wind power is a growing segment of the renewable energy sector, with job opportunities ranging from land acquisition for wind turbines to turbine technology, financing and management. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), an estimated 85,000 Americans are currently employed in the wind power industry and related fields. Many of them work on wind farms, often located in the Midwest, Southwest and Northeast United States. Texas, Iowa and California lead the way in generating wind power, but many other states, including Illinois, Indiana, Oregon and Washington, are substantially increasing their wind power-generating capacity.
Working in wind power usually requires a degree in engineering (a graduate degree is often preferred, as is licensure and ongoing professional development), management, law or a related field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, salary ranges vary according to the level of technical expertise and management responsibility of the position. Average salaries include:
- Aerospace engineer: $94,780
- Industrial production manager: $87,120
- Commercial real estate and property management: $74,010
- Technician $50,130
- Team assembler: $29,320
Geothermal Energy Professionals
Geothermal energy — tapping into the Earth’s natural underground heat sources to turn them into power — is growing in popularity, especially in the western U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “if the geothermal industry continues to grow, opportunities should arise for workers in a wide variety of occupations with different education and training requirements, from doctoral scientists to roustabouts [a type of drill operators]. As the demand for clean energy grows, jobs in geothermal energy will be a small but growing potential source of new employment opportunities.”
Different types of workers are needed for each phase of a geothermal plant’s development, from drilling to construction to maintenance. Average salaries include:
- Construction manager: $95,630
- Electronics engineer: $90,790
- Hydrologist: $75,680
- Drill operators: $32,980 – $51,310
As with other clean energy jobs, a bachelor’s degree (and, often, a graduate degree), licensure and continuing education are required for engineering, law and management jobs in geothermal energy, while construction and other laborer jobs typically require an apprenticeship and on-the-job learning.
Solar Energy Professionals
Although solar power still accounts for a small portion of the electricity generated in the United States, the solar energy industry has been growing rapidly, employing workers in science, engineering, manufacturing, construction and installation. Research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2009 alone, “the residential market doubled in size and three new concentrating solar power (CSP) plants opened in the United States, increasing the solar electric market by 37 percent.”
A quick search of solar power-related jobs on Indeed.com found that companies were hiring auditors, electricians, consultants, installers and more from Rhode Island to California. Salaries and requirements for jobs in solar energy vary widely depending on the type of position.
One solar energy position, a solar-powered photovoltaic installer, pays an average of $37,900 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This position often requires a high school diploma or equivalent and moderate-term on-the-job training. The number of photovoltaic installer positions in the United States is expected to grow at a rate of 24 percent between 2012 and 2022, much faster than average.