Renewable Energy Generates Sustainable Careers

Renewable Energy Generates Sustainable Careers

With world oil production approaching a plateau, energy demand soaring, growing talk of global warming, and fossil-fuel habits under scrutiny, you may be worried about the employment outlook for traditional energy industries like oil. But according to Kevin Doyle, author of The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers in the 21st Century, there is a bright side for job hunters: Renewable energy.

Once more, this trend toward renewable energy appears more than a fad among both consumers and providers. Not only are subsidiaries of fossil fuel companies, like BP Solar and GE Wind Energy, industry players now, but their very involvement means the favorable federal and state tax treatment of related technologies won't go away, Doyle says.

For job seekers, that all translates into opportunity in a wide range of niches, including wind, solar, hydrogen fuel cells and bioenergy.

Wind Will Power Thousands of Careers in the 2000s

Wind will supply a small but significant fraction of the nation's energy needs in the coming decades, if advocates have their way.

"In the short term, wind energy is our best bet for domestic job creation in alternative energy," Doyle predicts. From 1999 to 2004, the global wind power industry grew 26 percent per year, he says.

Most jobs at wind plants are in turbine installation and maintenance. "Installers with a two-year degree can come in earning $40,000 or more," Doyle says.

Solar Energy's Future Is Bright Across Specialties

"(Solar power) companies hire a wide array of technicians and engineers," Doyle says. This variety reflects the technological diversity of the industry, which ranges from solar heating and passive solar architecture to the design of photovoltaic cells that convert the sun's radiant energy into electricity.

Significant employers in the solar industry include BP Solar, GE Energy, Kyocera, Mitsubishi, Sanyo, Sharp, Shell Solar and Siemens.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells Hold Promise but Remain Controversial

Fuel cells, clean and efficient producers of electrochemical energy, are considered by some to be the holy grail of sustainable energy.

"A fuel-cell economy based on hydrogen generated by atomic energy -- that would be a revolutionary change away from fossil fuels for transportation," Doyle explains. Of course, the A-word -- atomic -- makes fuel cells as controversial as they are promising.

"Fuel cells and hydrogen are a huge challenge to engineers," Doyle says. Fuel cell R&D requires top research talent, not run-of-the-mill engineering. And the creation of a national network of hydrogen fueling stations would be an enormous undertaking.

Hundreds of firms are involved in the development or manufacture of fuel cells, their components and the infrastructure necessary to deliver hydrogen to vehicles across the country. These employers in the high tech fuel cell industry include BASF, Boeing, Delphi, DuPont Fuel Cells, Honeywell, Motorola and Toshiba.

Bioenergy and Biofuels Focus of Bush Administration Investment

Some say America's energy future should belong in part to biofuels, which are derived from recently living biomass, as opposed to fossil fuels, which are from the remains of ancient creatures. Yes, among other forms of bioenergy, we're talking about cars that run on derivatives of cow patties.

Biofuels are one of the alternative energy initiatives championed by the White House. "We're investing in…alternative fuels for automobiles like ethanol and biodiesel," said President George W. Bush in his February 18, 2006, radio address.

Government Jobs in Alternative Energy

As in many sectors, abundant federal and state government opportunities in alternative energy are often overlooked by job seekers.

"The Department of Energy has specific programs in biomass, geothermal, hydropower solar, wind and nuclear," says John Palguta, vice president for policy and research at the Partnership for Public Service. "Much of the work is actually carried out in laboratories owned by the federal government but operated by private contractors."

But federal employees such as program managers and budget analysts are still needed to oversee these research and development efforts. The research jobs include roles for engineers, physical scientists, geophysicists and hydrologists.

Additional Articles in This Feature

Learn more about energy careers.

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