Shine bright: Graduate opportunities in alternative energy

  • Graduate students can help shape the future of energy use in America.
    Graduate students can help shape the future of energy use in America.

    Shine bright: Graduate opportunities in alternative energy

    Do you want to work and study in an exciting, fast-growing sector fueled by innovation and technological development? Then consider graduate opportunities in alternative energy.

    Wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy are transforming how communities and countries are powered while minimizing environmental impact. Along with the surge in research and development into alternative energy technologies is a windfall of jobs, from those in construction, to operations as well as public policy.

    Job growth in the sector 
    There were nearly 3.4 million Americans directly employed by the clean energy industry in the first quarter of 2016, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. This figure outpaced the 2.8 million Americans employed by the fossil fuel industry for that same time period. A prior report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found an additional 1.3 to 1.9 million jobs could be created by 2050 if the U.S. increases its investment in energy efficiency technologies.

    Wages high
    A report by the Environmental Defense Fund notes that renewable energy jobs often command above-average salaries because they require on-site work and specialized talent. It states that average wages for jobs in energy efficiency are nearly $5,000 above the national median. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites a median annual wage of $86,380 for materials engineers, which is a job role related to the production of solar panels. It also notes a 2016 median pay for wind turbine technicians of $52,260. Salaries are typically higher for science-based roles in the industry as well as those that require managerial duties and research and development.

    Graduate opportunities 
    There are many opportunities available to graduate students interested in alternative energy.

    Companies are looking for consultants and experts to help them improve the energy efficiency of their operations, and graduate students can participate in training programs that can help prepare them for this role. For example, the EDF runs a Climate Corps fellowship program which has placed more than 700 graduate students in sustainability- and energy-related positions at more than 400 organizations across the country since 2008.

    Individuals with both academic and experiential-based knowledge are needed for roles in various aspects of the alternative energy industry. Logisticians and project managers are needed to move raw materials through the supply chain and deliver wind and solar equipment. Professionals with leadership and managerial skills are needed to oversee operations and coordinate talent. Engineers are in demand who can guide the design, development and manufacture of energy parts and systems.

    Furthermore, there is great opportunity for graduate students in the areas of research and public policy. Because the alternative energy sector is a relatively young field, many new methods of alternative energy design, technology and application must be developed. Many universities have introduced master’s programs in renewable and clean energy, with available customizations in solar, wind and other areas. For instance, the Oregon Institute of Technology offers a Master of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering.

    Graduate students have a significant opportunity to further the development of renewable energy resources and advocate for a cleaner environment and more sustainable industrial operations. Explore renewable energy master’s programs today and start making your mark.

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