Although the renewable energy industry is dealing with policy uncertainty under the current presidential administration, wind, solar and other renewable power have advantages that will propel it forward. Among these advantages are declining wind and solar prices; unsubsidized demand in many segments; an expanding array of technology advances; the trend toward greater de-carbonization of the economy; and new and growing demand.
Corporations have been rapidly expanding renewable energy, and the trend is spreading from large to small and mid-sized companies. Many cities are also going green. By late 2017, 170 mayors across the United States had pledged their support for a community-wide transition to 100 % renewable energy in their cities and towns.
And while there is some concern that solar tariffs announced recently could harm that sector, others feel that companies will domesticate manufacturing operations to avoid the tariffs, adding further stimulus to the industry and creating more jobs.
The Environmental Defense Fund recently released a report that shows wind and solar energy jobs outnumber coal and gas jobs in 30 states. The number of people employed in the renewable energy sector across the globe could rise to 24 million by 2030, according to the latest report from the International Renewable Energy Agency.
A single renewable energy project requires the contribution of people from a variety of backgrounds and skillsets, from ecologists, planners and project managers to engineers, communications professionals and business developers, creating a wide range of career pathways .
Demand for talent in the renewable industry across the engineering disciplines is incredibly strong. The standard engineering tracks of mechanical and electrical engineering always lead the pace because of the breadth of their usage across the energy sector.
Many colleges are now offering specialized engineering tracks specifically focused on an energy technology. Energy engineers are an example. Engineering programs at some top universities offer this specialization and they are courted into well-paying roles by energy service companies and HVAC-solutions companies. These companies use an energy engineers’ specialized background for energy auditing, and for their engagement with design engineering to develop more energy efficient products for commercial and residential use.
Other roles for engineers that have seen an increase in demand include:
- Sub-station engineering
- Chemical engineering (especially in bio-energy space)
- Materials engineering (nanotechnology focused or metals focused seem most in-demand)
- Test engineering (especially with battery/fuel cell experience)
- Product engineering (especially for the development of new renewable energy products or refinement of existing products)
- Experienced civil engineers that have acquired an MBA and gone on to use their technical knowledge in a more “business” sense have opportunities within infrastructure funds.
Also program or project engineers are in demand. These are typically talented engineers that have developed skills and aptitude in managing projects that consist of cross-functional teams. In these cases, the engineering knowledge is the secondary skill and serves as the technical foundation for the role. The top priority is the manager’s ability to evolve a project to conclusion through the direction of cross-functional teams.
There is also great demand for engineers in the product development arena. Firms across the world are investing heavily in technological advances in renewable energy and require high-level technical and engineering talent. Advances in battery capabilities, for example, could lead to renewable energy technologies becoming more efficient and cheaper.
In addition to engineering jobs, business development personnel that work with customers will be in demand, as will strategy professionals who have a strong finance and transactional background.
Investment and consulting firms that analyze and recommend new technologies are also looking for candidates with undergraduate degrees in science or technical engineering disciplines including materials science, chemistry, physics and environmental engineering.
The bottom line is that the breadth of renewable energy jobs is expanding to every part of the supply chain here in the U.S. That’s good news for the industry, for the economy, and for job prospects.
Quentin Burchill is a Managing Director at Angott Search Group, where he leads a team of experienced recruiters specializing in the energy sector. With 17 years of experience in the industry, he recruits across all functional areas and sub-sectors of the energy industry, with particular emphasis on renewables.