Is Energy a Good Career Path?
With the demand for renewable energy increasing, the number of opportunities in the energy field is continuing to grow. So is energy a good career path?
What kinds of jobs are available in energy?
The number of careers in energy is vast and includes everything from civil engineering to power plant operation to electricians.
- Science & engineering jobs:
- Architects – As the designers and planners of homes, offices, theaters, factories and other buildings, architects can bring efficient design and renewable technologies to their designs. In 2017 alone, architects reduced their predicted carbon emissions by 17.8 million metric tons per year, the equivalent of planting 21 million acres of forest.
- Civil Engineers – Civil engineers use engineering to plan and design construction projects like roads, bridges, airports, and water systems. In this way they play a fundamental role in sustainable development by integrating renewable energy into existing infrastructures.
- Nuclear Engineers – Nuclear engineers are responsible for researching nuclear energy and nuclear waste disposal.
- Installation and repair jobs:
- Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installation – HVAC mechanics install and maintain small scale renewable technologies.
- Powerhouse, Substation and Relay Electrical and Electronics Repairers – These workers inspect and maintain electrical equipment in power stations and substations. They also may install and maintain solar power systems.
- Wind Turbine Service Technicians – These workers inspect and repair wind turbines. They may also help to test mechanical and hydraulic systems. From 2014-2024, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts wind turbine technician as the fastest-growing job in America with 108 percent growth expected.
- Production jobs:
- Petroleum Pump System and Refinery Operators – A refinery operator controls systems that process petroleum or natural gas into other products.
- Power Plant Operators – Power plant operators control, operate and maintain systems that generate electricity. Nuclear power reactor operators operate and control nuclear reactors.
- Welders, Cutters, Solderers and Brazers – These workers may be employed in the construction of new oil pipelines, power plants, or in the maintenance of existing ones.
- Construction jobs:
- Construction and Building Inspectors – These workers inspect structures to make sure they are up to code. Building inspectors may audit homes or commercial buildings to figure out ways to reduce energy waste.
- Electricians – Electricians install and repair electrical wiring in homes or commercial buildings and make sure it complies with codes.
- Pipelayers – Pipelayers lay pipe for sewers, drains and water mains. Pipelayers are in demand in the oil and gas sector.
- Corporate jobs:
- Software Developer – Solar Software Developers design, program and build software that helps solar construction businesses plan and design layouts for installing solar panels to optimize energy efficiency.
- Sustainability Manager – Also known as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) specialist, a sustainability manager is responsible for enacting and enforcing policies that will contribute to sustaining the environment for current and future generations. If you are passionate about both climate science and business, Sustainability Management might be the career for you.
What companies are in the energy field?
The energy sector is traditionally composed of non-renewable energy companies, including fossil fuel companies and nuclear power, and renewable energy companies, such as businesses that offer hydropower, solar power and wind power.
Non-renewable energy companies include oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron. ConocoPhillips is another nonrenewable energy company; it produces most of Alaska’s crude oil and is responsible for .91 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions from 1988-2015 (ExxonMobil was responsible for 1.98 percent). At ConocoPhillips, you could work as a Seaman (average salary 50,145) or as a land negotiator, negotiating transactions to acquire undeveloped land At ExxonMobil, you could work as a Geophysicist for $141,564 per year, a Senior Research Engineer for $140,591, or a CEO making $23.6 million per year.
Renewable energy companies include solar and wind power companies. NextEra Energy encompasses both solar and wind power. There you could work as a Project Manager, Wind Technician, Financial Analyst, Chemist, Solar Engineer, or even a customer service representative.
The General Electric Company and Southern Company are electric companies that are dedicated to providing electricity as well as renewable energy. At these companies, you could work as a software developer, scientific researcher, manager, installer, industrial engineer, electrical engineer, or many other opportunities. The energy sector offers a wide variety and great number of jobs.
How many jobs are available in energy?
In 2021, the energy sector comprised over 7.8 million jobs in the U.S. This represented a four percent growth in total energy employment compared to 2020. For comparison, the overall job market grew 2.8 percent. This means that energy jobs in the U.S. are growing faster than employment in the overall economy.
Jobs in net-zero emissions, in areas including solar, wind and nuclear, composed 40 percent of total energy jobs in 2021. Employment in the solar industry grew 5.4 percent, an increase in over 17,000 jobs. The wind industry employed 3 percent more people than in the previous year. Nuclear power also showed a decrease in jobs, by 4.2 percent. Conventional heating, ventilation and air conditioning grew by 3.3 percent.
The fuel sector, meanwhile, lost jobs, showing a 3.1 percent decrease overall, though it employed 908,422 people. This loss in jobs happened despite an increase in production. The petroleum industry showed a 6.4 percent decrease in jobs. The coal industry accounted for most of the jobs lost, however, with coal jobs decreasing by 11.8 percent. Over 7,100 jobs in coal fuel were lost.
Overall, the U.S. energy sector increased by over 300,000 jobs in 2021. The fossil fuel industry accounts for 12.6 million jobs, renewable energy employs 4.6 million people and nuclear power employs 0.8 million.
What do energy jobs pay?
Is energy a good career path? Let’s take a look at the average salaries for some jobs in the sector. The energy field can be very financially rewarding for those with a Bachelor’s or advanced degree. The median salary for a Sustainability Manager is $70,530. The average salary for a Solar Software Developer is $110,140. (All figures taken from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May 2021 estimates.)
For those with vocational training, the energy field also offers competitive wages. The average worker in the Powerhouse, Substation, and Relay Electrical and Electronics Repairer category (which includes Relay Technicians, Instrument and Controls and Substation Mechanics) makes $48.50 per hour. Wind Turbine Service Technicians make a median annual wage of $52,260, while electricians make a median salary of $56,900.
What are the best paying jobs in energy?
Green careers, or jobs that contribute to environmental sustainability, can be lucrative. Among the best paying jobs in the energy sector are Solar Engineers, who make an average salary of $103,390. The typical financial analyst for a renewable energy company makes $83,660 per year. A green construction manager, who oversees projects in the alternative energy sector, makes an average of $97,180 per year. A chemical engineer who works to test and develop energy sources makes on average $108,540 per year. A software developer for solar energy systems rakes in $110,140 per year on average. Architects, who play an integral role in designing sustainable buildings, make an average of $89,400.
Nuclear power also provides many high-paying jobs. The average Nuclear Engineer makes $243,807, while the average civil engineer makes $88,570, with the highest-paid quarter making $115,110. The average Nuclear Reactor Operator makes $162,971.
The fossil fuel industry also provides some of the highest-paying jobs in the energy sector. The national average salary for a geologist for an oil and natural gas company is $70,115. About 8- percent of current fossil fuel jobs are in fossil fuel extraction, which includes oil drillers and coal miners.
Is Energy a good career path? You should consider a career in energy if…
Energy is one of the largest industries in the world and continues to grow. What’s more, there will always be a need for energy, so having a career in this field means your job will most likely not become obsolete. Unless, that is, you work for the fuel or coal industries, which are losing hobs.
You should consider a career in energy if you are interested in engineering or physical sciences and want to use your STEM education for good. You should also consider a career in energy if you are looking for a lucrative career that uses your STEM degree. Energy is very technical, so if you enjoy science, math, engineering, or technology, you may like it.
If you are passionate about the environmental impact of companies, you should consider a career in renewables or in Sustainability Management. There are many jobs in the so-called green sector that allow you to make a positive impact on society and the Earth, and these jobs continue to grow steadily.
If, on the other hand, you are not concerned with the environmental impact of your field, you could consider a career in the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry can be very lucrative for the unscrupulous. But be aware that this job sector is the one part of the energy economy that is shrinking: in 2021, employment in the renewable energy sector increased while jobs in fossil fuel industry declined. The solar industry now provides twice as many jobs as the coal industry.
Research by Johannes Emmerling, an environmental economist, predicts that if countries abide by the Paris Agreement of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, this will lead to a net increase of 8 million jobs worldwide. By 2050, their research predicted, 84 percent of total energy jobs will be in renewables, 11 percent will be in fossil fuels and 5 percent will be in nuclear power. He predicts that in 2050 renewable energy jobs will increase from the current 4.6 million to 22 million, particularly in solar and wind.