How to Get a (Hopefully Clean) Energy Job

Want to break into the clean energy industry? Become an engineer and work for a utility.

The American utility sector is badly in need of new workers. According to numerous industry figures, 45% of the utility workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next few years, creating a large employment gap just as power companies are overturning infrastructure and integrating more renewables.

A survey of 1,500 utility professionals conducted last October by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) found that the problem wasn’t somewhere in the future – it’s happening now. More than 65% of respondents said there is already a shortage of energy management practitioners, many of whom need special skills in clean energy deployment, nuclear power or carbon capture and storage.

(Seemingly counter to the common wisdom, a large majority of those surveyed by AEE said they were not going to retire in the next 5 or 10 years; however, more than 60% said they were concerned about the lack of energy professionals specifically in the clean energy field during that time.)

The problem isn’t uniquely American either; Canada, European countries like Germany and the UK, and African countries like Kenya are also facing shortages of engineers to scale up their clean energy industries.

Technical colleges and universities are crafting more power engineering programs, many with a focus on clean energy. But they’ve yet to catch up to the demand.

The U.S. Power and Engineering Workforce Collaborative estimates that only 2,000 undergraduate, masters and doctoral students get degrees in power engineering each year. That falls short of the estimated 11,000 workers needed in the U.S. by 2013.

Further compounding the problem, IEEE reports that 40 percent of power engineering educators in the U.S. will hit retirement age in the next few years.

So if you’re looking at getting a stable (and hopefully green) job, you might want to consider a path in power engineering in the utility sector – as long as the educational system can keep up with it.

In this week’s podcast, we’ll take a look at the looming shortage of engineers at utilities. We’ll talk to Gary Lemay of PSNH and Albert Thumann of AEE about what the problem means for employment and educational opportunities.

And if you’re not the engineering type? We’ll get some advice on how to break into the renewables industry from Paul Grana of Tigo Energy. He’ll tell us about how to network, how to find your passion, and how to decide on what kind of companies to approach.

Inside Renewable Energy is a weekly audio news program featuring stories and interviews on all the latest developments in the renewable energy industries.

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I am a reporter with ClimateProgress.org, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for RenewableEnergyWorld.com, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in touch through twitter! My profile name is: Stphn_Lacey

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