InTrans / May 31, 2016

Renew, Reuse, Employ: Renewable energy facts and careers

Go! Magazine

Worker atop a wind turbineposted on May 31, 2016

In our renewable energy journey so far, we have spent a lot of time talking about some different renewable energy sources (solar energy, battery power, and wind energy). We even took a deeper look into how they work, why we should be using them, and their impact on the world of transportation!

These renewable energy sources have the “power” to change the world and protect our environment from pollution, greenhouse gases, and solid waste.

In this article, we’ll finally take a closer look at the real problem. Then, we’ll take a look at the different occupations in renewable energy and their salaries in the United States.

What’s the deal with fossil fuels?

The dominate energy sources consumed in the United States are oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear energy, and renewable energy.

As we’ve discussed, renewable energy only accounts for 10 percent of the energy consumed in the United States. We’re familiar with renewable energy sources at this point, which include wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal energies as well as biomass. So the real question is: Where is the rest of our energy coming from?

Most of our planet’s energy comes from nonrenewable energy sources, which are classified as nonrenewable because they cannot be restored in a short period of time. Nonrenewable energy sources consist of fossil fuels and uranium ore, which is used to create nuclear power.

Coal, crude oil, and natural gas are considered fossil fuels, because they were formed from plant and animal remains from millions of years ago, buried underneath the Earth’s surface. So why are fossil fuels a problem? Because when burned, all fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas associated with global warming.

There’s another problem with fossil fuels, and it’s that they won’t be around forever. There’s a limited supply, unlike the sun or wind, which are more likely to be there in the next century and so on. Fossil fuels also contribute to what is known as the “greenhouse effect,” or the warming that happens when certain gases are trapped in the earth’s atmosphere.

The wind energy industry

In our last article, we learned how the wind energy industry is helping to solve the environmental crisis facing our planet. We also took a closer look at how this type of energy can be used to power the world of transportation!

As the wind industry continues to grow, so do the job opportunities within it. These jobs cover manufacturing, project development, and operation and maintenance. All these fields are expected to have rapid growth in the coming years.

Wind turbine construction
Wind turbine construction. Photo from Wikimedia Commons user Paul Anderson.

First, the wind industry employs an array of different engineers, which includes: aerospace, civil, electrical, electronics, environmental, health and safety, industrial, materials, and mechanical engineers, as well as engineering technicians. For engineers, the salaries range from $74,000 to $94,000 per year! For engineering technicians, the median salary is $50,130.

The wind industry also employs people for general manufacturing jobs, which have a median salary range of $29,000 to $41,000. There’s also industrial production managers who make approximately $87,120.

There’s also scientific occupations within the wind energy industry, including atmospheric and space scientists, zoologist and wildlife biologists, geoscientists, environmental scientists, and technical specialists. The median salary for a scientific occupation ranges from $56,500 for zoologists and wildlife biologists to $84,710 for atmospheric and space scientists.

Lastly, the wind energy industry employs construction workers, in positions including: construction laborers, operating engineers, construction equipment operators, crane and tower operators, and electricians. The median salary ranges from $29,110 for construction workers to $49,800 for electricians. 1

Did you see anything on the list that you’ve wanted to be before? If so, you could work to make a difference for our environment in the wind energy industry! Visit this website to read more.

The solar energy industry

We took a closer look at solar energy in our first article, which highlighted the largest solar-powered boat ever crafted: PlanetSolar. Let’s take a look at how you can play your part in saving the planet, because as the solar industry expands, so does the need for more solar energy workers.

Positions that need to be filled in the solar energy industry include manufacturing, project development, construction, operation and maintenance, and installation.

Solar panel construction
Solar panel construction. Photo from Flickr user Wayne National Forest.

First, the solar energy industry has scientific occupations, including jobs for physicists, chemists, and material scientists. As of 2010, the median salary for a physicist is $106,370, $68,320 for a chemist, and $84,720 for a material scientist.

Second, the solar energy industry also employs a variety of engineering positions, such as materials, chemical, electrical, industrial, and mechanical engineers, as well as software developers and electrical and electronics engineering technicians.

The median salary for an engineer within the solar energy industry ranges from $92,820 to $78,910. A software developers’ median salary is $96,230, and the median salary for an electrical and electronics engineering technician in $51,060.

Third, there are different manufacturing positions within the solar energy industry, which revolve around concentrating solar power, photovoltaic solar power, and solar power water heating. These manufacturing positions have a median salary ranging from $27,500 to $47,480. Also, industrial production managers have a median salary of $97,330.

The solar energy industry also employs occupations in solar power development, and these positions range from real estate brokers to atmospheric, space, and environmental scientists. People in these positions help to select a solar power plant site and ensures the proposed site meets all the necessary criteria.

Then, there are jobs for solar power plant construction. In these positions, workers are needed to build the actual power plant. The median salary for these positions ranges from $29,600 for construction laborers to $83,170 for construction managers.

Lastly, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters, and roofers are needed for solar installation and maintenance. These workers are involved in the installation process but are not classified as solar photovoltaic installers.2

The solar industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. As solar power becomes more and more affordable, it’s becoming a promising candidate for the future of energy, with a potential of taking on a larger share of growing energy needs.

For the full list and more, visit this website to read more about a position you might be interested in within the solar energy industry



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By Hannah Postlethwait, Go! Staff Writer

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