Across North America, Europe and Asia, business people, municipalities and other governments are working to transform the mix of energy sources that we use. “Green jobs” are becoming common, while demand for “green things” is on the rise, even as increased calls for energy independence are in the air. New fields are emerging as a result. Just a few years ago, there was no such thing as someone who brokered carbon trades, for instance, and very few architects and homebuyers who talked of “green building.”

According to the Environmental Business Journal, the green industry in the United States in 2005 was about $265 billion, employing 1.6 million people. Ten years later, those numbers haven’t exploded as we’d hoped, for which we can blame the Great Recession that began in 2007 when the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis erupted. Had the job-growth trajectory continued at a normal pace, 85,000 new jobs would have opened up each year, and now that the recession is abating, job growth is trending toward this number.

Here are some top jobs in the renewable energy field, each calling for specialized skills but sharing a need for workers who are motivated, hardworking and solution-oriented.

1.  FARMER: The first job is the oldest: We need farmers to produce the makings of biofuel. Much of today’s production comes from large corporate farms. In the future, though, fuel production and consumption both are likely to be more localized, with small facilities producing fuels from algae, cattails, grains, fast-growing grasses such as kenaf, and other plant sources. Just about every agricultural college harbors a faculty member who’s on top of this trend and can suggest a program of appropriate study.

2.  SOLAR INSTALLER: A person who climbs roofs to install solar panels needs a tolerance for weather, discipline and organization. As one recent want ad in an industry trade journal specified, it also requires, obviously, a disregard for heights and a talent for “ladder work.” Add to that knowledge of electrical wiring (both AC and DC), general construction and the machinery of building, from power tools to bobcats, and it’s clear that not everyone is cut out to do this essential job. For that reason, it pays well.

3.  WIND WORK: Wind energy is booming and fields of turbine towers are popping up everywhere. Those towers need to be installed, and then they need to be inspected to be sure they’re performing at peak efficiency. Climbing roofs is one thing, but climbing atop a wind tower and then rappelling from the blade down to the ground is quite another.

The Education Ministry of the Canadian province of Alberta, where wind energy reigns, lays out the requirements: “Skills in math, reading and writing in order to read, interpret, and work from complex instructions, diagrams, and prints; computer literacy; capable of using and operating various equipment…good physical condition (some physical activities include ladder climbing and heavy lifting); the ability to work at substantial heights (up to and exceeding 185 feet); problem solving, decision-making, and troubleshooting abilities…”

4.  BUILDING SYSTEMS ENGINEER: A recent specialization within engineering concerns energy-efficient building systems. One leading school is the University of Colorado, whose catalog notes that the field is highly technological. Apart from taking the usual courses in building materials, engineering physics and the like, the catalog says, “You should also be (or become) competent in computer programming, word processing and spreadsheet usage to solve engineering problems.” Such skills command six-figure salaries.

5.  GEOPHYSICIST: Geothermal energy is not widely employed in the United States—yet. That situation is changing, however, especially in places where readily accessible geothermal sources are available. In constant demand are geophysicists, who specialize in exploration techniques in the search for oil, gas, minerals, water and the like.

According to one job description: “A geophysicist interprets seismic data, and recommends drilling prospects and processing techniques. A variety of equipment and modeling methods are used to prepare maps (structure, contour, isopach and others) that provide essential information for reservoir development and forecasting.” An entry-level position requires at least a bachelor’s degree in physics or geophysics, with a graduate degree preferred.

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6.  ENERGY RETROFITTER: Did you know that a waterless urinal saves 40,000 gallons of water a year? That if every parking lot and roof were painted white, the average temperature in urban centers would fall by a couple of degrees? That a well-glazed window can cut energy use in a home by a significant percentage? If you did, you have the mind to become an energy auditor and retrofitter. When Texas Instruments conducted such a program in one of its facilities, it found ways to save millions of dollars a year in energy costs—more than enough to pay for the new staff it hired to do the work.

7.  TEACHER: Middle school teachers (grades 4 to 8) and high school teachers generally specialize in specific subjects, with renewable energy falling under various sciences, though history and social sciences also find room for renewable energy and sustainable living in the curriculum.

Traditionally, public school teachers were required to have at least a bachelor’s degree, complete an approved teacher education program and be licensed. Many states, however, are now offering alternative licensing programs to attract people who have all the requisite skills except education-related college credits. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has designed a series of publications and institutes to help in this critical training program.

8.  BATTERY MAKER: Electric and hydrogen fuel-cell cars are all the rage these days, but they’re nothing without efficient batteries. There’s a huge demand for manufacturing engineers in the solid-oxide fuel-cell (SOFC) sector. Most jobs require a bachelor’s degree in mechanical, electrical or ceramic engineering or equivalent experience; experience with structured problem-solving
processes and process-capability techniques; knowledge of process failure modes and effects analysis (PFMEA); equipment design; ergonomics and safety standards. Those are highly specific skills, and they’re not common—for which reason the pay is very good.

9.  TRANSPORTATION ENGINEER: In just that vein, “greening” transportation is an industry all its own. There are dozens of job categories involved. Someone who buys an electric car, for instance, will need a good mechanic to service it. Someone has to make the car to begin with. Someone needs to design it, and someone needs to sell it. Other jobs: bicycle repair, light rail system designer, streetcar driver, road designer, vehicle systems analyst, power train inspector, technical writer, automotive engineer. The list is exhaustive.

10.  INVENTOR: An inventor makes lemonade out of lemons —or tidal power out of rising tides. Consider that with climate change between 1960 and the present, the average height of waves has risen by more than 25 percent. Tidal wave power can solve all our energy needs, but so far no one has quite figured out how to fully harness it.

If you’re of an inventive mind, you can live anywhere (though near water would be of obvious help) and work on such problems, leveraging university research labs and private foundations. Every area of renewable energy offers similar challenges and similar demand for smart solutions.

11.  PUBLIC RELATIONS: Renewable energy isn’t an open-and-shut thing, although you’d think it might be. There’s considerable resistance to it on the part of the fossil fuel industry, for understandable reasons, as well as slowness to adopt to it on the part of cash-strapped municipalities.

Presenting the pros and cons of renewable energy requires people with an understanding of economics, a mastery of details and a gift for the meeting-and-greeting of business and politics. It’s just the avenue for a liberal arts student without many tool-driven technical skills, but with an interest in making renewable energy happen.

Greg McNameeCareers in Renewable Energy


Editor’s note: The latest edition of Greg McNamee’s book, Careers in Renewable Energy, is available from PixyJack Press ( and from Amazon.

This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Winter 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.

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