Is Energy a Good Career Path?
The energy industry handles the generation and delivery of electric power. In the US, our electricity relies on a grid system that delivers power from a plant to our homes and offices. We visit gas stations to refill our tanks with gasoline. The energy industry workers ensure we continue to have access to the power we need to support our modern lifestyles.
Like every industry, there are pros and cons of working in energy. We’ll dive deeper into some objections and benefits later in this article. To preview, much of the contention revolves around the use of fossil fuels and the impact they have on our climate and ourselves.
If you consider yourself an environmentalist or conservationist, this is a great time to join the renewable energy sector. A career in energy can open doors for you to fight for what you believe in: clean energy methods, environmental issues, or improving the existing energy generation methods. You don’t have to have any advanced degrees; you simply have to find the right mission to champion.
Why Consider a Career in Energy
There are many opportunities in this high-growth industry. The U.S. Energy & Employment Jobs Report (USEER) estimates there were a total of 7.8 million jobs in the energy sector in 2021, a 4% jump from 2020. There was the most significant growth in clean energy jobs involving solar power, wind power, and electric vehicles. On the other hand, the number of fossil fuel jobs decreased. This supports the trend of shifting to clean and renewable energy sources. Let’s explore some more trends in the energy industry that make it a good career path.
1. You can work from anywhere
People employed in the energy sector work in lots of different environments. Some work in corporate or federal office buildings. Some work on oil rigs. Some people build and maintain farms that harvest solar and wind power. Still others make house calls to install energy efficient upgrades or advise on residential renewable energy options. There are energy company employees who work from home, work in labs, or work in universities. Since we use energy in countless places, people who work for the energy industry are in countless places, too.
2. Energy is turning to tech to solve problems
People have been using coal to generate electricity since the 1880s. After nearly 150 years, don’t we have a better way to produce energy? Creative minds are answering this question with the help of technology.
Scientists and engineers are looking for new ways to harness renewable energy sources. Achieving this will bolster both our energy production and our energy reserves. There are several emerging technologies that are helping us transition to renewable energy systems. Three examples are smart grids, electric vehicles, and pumped-storage hydropower.
Smart grids allow electricity distribution companies to monitor and control the amount of electricity. The Department of Energy's website, SmartGrid.gov, describes a nationwide smart grid system: "Like the Internet, the Smart Grid will consist of controls, computers, automation, and new technologies and equipment working together, but in this case, these technologies will work with the electrical grid to respond digitally to our quickly changing electric demand." In short, it’s a two-way feedback system to optimize when and where we send electricity.
Electric vehicles reduce harmful emissions from diesel engines. As more car companies manufacture hybrid and fully electric vehicle models, cars become more energy efficient with longer driving ranges between charges. Besides being more eco-friendly to run, electric vehicles can cut down emissions further by getting charged by solar panels. This option isn’t yet feasible for every American home, but is becoming increasingly affordable thanks to better production and availability.
Pumped-storage hydropower, or "pumped-hydro," is a means of storing energy through massive pumps and water; when power is needed, the pumped water flows downhill, releasing energy that isn't dependent on the sun shining or the wind blowing. One of the big problems with renewable energy management is that we don't have ideal ways to store the created energy. Solar panels, for example, only work when the sun is shining. Batteries tend to rely on hard-to-source metals like lithium and cobalt, so pumped-hydro offers a different kind of solution for electric storage.
3. The career outlook indicates a faster than average job growth potential
The increase in energy-related jobs has attracted many younger employees. A younger workforce paired with the shift to renewable technologies means the opportunities for career growth come faster than other industries.
4. Energy jobs pay well
The Wage Report in 2020 indicates that jobs in the energy industry generally pay more than average median wages. There were exceptions, but only in occupational groups that already earn lower wages. Overall, energy jobs pay well in the US.
5. You can make a positive impact on the world
People in the workforce tend to prefer jobs that allow them to find meaning and value. If you're passionate about the environment, working in clean and renewable energy may be particularly attractive to you.
Future Energy Industry Outlook
Let’s back up for a quick recap of power generation technology. As a species, Homo sapiens were historically limited to the power they could create: walking, pushing, carrying, and so on. Later on, we started using animal-generated power. We started to get heat from burning natural resources or the sun. We learned to travel using wind and waves to power boats.
In the 1770s, we learned to convert heat into energy with the invention of the coal-powered steam engine. Since then, we’ve found many additional ways to create energy and tools that use energy. The future of the energy industry continues this pattern to generate the electricity we now rely upon to power our technology — with an emphasis on renewable energy sources that don’t rely on burning coal.
The renewable energy sector looks to solar power and other natural energy sources to provide clean, unlimited power for all our modern day dreams. Renewable energy comes from natural resources that don’t cause depletion or pollution. These include water, wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Renewable energy engineers harness these energy sources and design new technologies to generate power, such as through wind turbines or photovoltaic cells. They design and implement solutions to improve efficiency, decrease cost, and provide better reliability for cleaner energy.
Renewable energy can’t yet keep up with supply and demand. One problem with renewable energy is the lack of efficient storage options. The most common types, lithium ion batteries, are good for small scale power — like for your phone — but not as good for larger scale power — like your house — because of cost, resource production scarcity, and safety concerns. Some tech companies are working on ways to store power with new battery technology like deep cycle batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.
Careers in Energy: How Many Jobs Are Available?
There are a wide range of job opportunities. You can narrow down your choices based on your level of education, your interests, and how much money you’d like to earn. For example, there were 301,000 jobs for industrial engineers in 2021 with an estimated 10% growth in the industry by 2031. An industrial engineer earns an average of $95,300 annually with only a bachelor’s degree required. What’s more is that job title didn’t even make it on our list of the Best Paying Jobs in Energy!
If you’re not an engineer, consider business operations, consulting, analyzing data, marketing, accounting, or servicing equipment for a power company, government office, nonprofit, or startup. Our energy consumption overall has risen consistently, despite pandemic-related drops in demand for gas. Energy remains a solid career choice for stability or growth.
>> Read More: How many jobs are available in energy?
Pros and Cons of Careers in Energy
As we discussed above, there are many reasons to consider a career in energy.
- Work from anywhere
- Ability to solve energy problems with tech solutions
- Positive job outlook, with many job openings and predicted job growth
- Earn higher average wages
- Make an impact at work
However, there are some cons to working in the energy industry as well. Here are some other factors to consider.
- Public perception.
The US still relies on oil, gas, and coal to power its homes, businesses, street lamps, public transportation, and most other electrical systems. Many believe sourcing fossil fuels, burning fossil fuels, and disposing of fossil fuel waste products can have negative effects on the environment. Many people believe this reliance on finite resources of the Earth is a problem, and they put much of the blame on the energy industry.
- Some jobs are in decline.
Certain subgroups, such as the oil industry and coal power plant jobs, are in decline. This means fewer opportunities in those categories as well as less job stability.
Energy is a good career path for problem solvers who are interested in power generation. If you’re looking for a new job that earns good money, has a positive growth outlook, and makes an impact, consider jobs in the renewable energy industry. While you're job searching, use Teal's Job Application Tracker tool to keep yourself organized. The job tracker helps you bookmark jobs as you browse online. You can also add notes and update the statuses of your applications throughout the process.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are examples of energy careers?
There are many jobs within the energy sector. From engineers to accountants, there are plenty of opportunities to get into the field at energy companies and other companies hiring for energy-related positions.
There are many subcategories within the energy industry, such as oil and gas, electricity generation, nuclear power, renewable energy, and energy storage.
Is renewable energy a good career choice?
Yes, renewable energy is a good career choice. There has been growth in the number of jobs and the number of opportunities is expected to continue rising. Renewable energy jobs pay well as a whole, though many require advanced education and specialized training or experience.
Are renewable energy companies profitable?
Yes; however, oil and gas companies are still more profitable overall, as we still rely on these sources of energy. Many renewable energy companies have promising stocks, though, likely due to increased concerns about the environment, technological advancements, and growing adoption of renewable energy sources.