Where the Jobs Are in Solar and Wind Energy

by Derek Loosvelt | June 24, 2014

Although the Captivate elevator news service typically flashes useless facts like how long Kanye West and Kim Kardashian spent editing their wedding photo they later Instagrammed (four days), every once in a while it will offer up an interesting, important piece of news. Recently, I came across this brow-raising headline somewhere in between the thirteenth and seventeenth floors: “Germany now gets 50 percent of its electricity from solar energy.” Which seemed almost too incredible to be true: half of the country’s electricity needs are now sourced from the sun? But a quick Google search proved that the item was no lie.

The following comes from theweek.com:

And now for the first time ever, [Germany] has succeeded at generating over 50 percent of its electricity from solar. On Monday June 9, which was a national holiday in Germany, solar power production peaked at 23.1 GW, which equaled 50.6 percent of total electricity demand. That was less than the 24.24 GW peak hit on Friday, June 6, but it was the first time ever that solar had met 50 percent of German demand.

The item was, of course, good news for renewable energy proponents worldwide. It should also be good news for those seeking careers in the renewable energy sector (not to mention the world's polar bear population). And below, for information on which pockets of the solar and wind energy sector are good ones to look for jobs, is an excerpt from an interview with Andrew Holland, senior fellow for energy and climate at the American Security Project in Washington, D.C. Holland, an expert in energy and climate change, works at the center of debates about how to achieve sustainable energy security and effectively address climate change.

The following interview is an excerpt from the new Vault Career Guide to Energy.

What are the three biggest challenges the energy industry faces today?
The first is how to become sustainable—how to extract energy without polluting the environment and hurting human health. The second challenge is to address the rapid globalization of the industry. It’s no longer American businesses and consumers setting prices. Those are now being set globally. The third challenge is how to address government uncertainty. Both political parties see the issues of energy as a political football. They push back and forth and there is serious uncertainty as to what direction energy policy will go.

How are companies responding to these challenges?
On the sustainability side, some are investing into clean energy, but also a lot of the traditional energy production companies are becoming more sustainable. They want to pollute less, but the most important reason is that it saves them money. If they can be more energy efficient, they will waste less money. Some companies are fighting against these efforts and that’s unfortunate. Those are the companies that have always made money doing things a certain way. Instead of becoming more energy efficient, they are fighting regulations. On the political uncertainty side, we are pushing for a more inclusive government, more consensus around energy issues.

How are companies responding to government regulations?
Government support of renewable energy sources does wax and wane, making it difficult to make a business plan. It would be better if we had a long-term renewable energy goal instead of these short-term stimulus incentives and breaks. An example is wind generation. The wind generation tax credit ended recently. The first half of the year there were a record amount of wind farms put up largely because of the tax credit and other support mechanisms. That has lagged considerably since it is expected to expire and has not been extended yet. Wind power is important for national security and sustainability because it’s a sustainable energy source and doesn’t require any fuel.

The other important thing to note is if there is no government support, it doesn’t mean there won’t be an industry—it will just be in other countries. We’re all competing to have a wind energy, solar energy industry. If America doesn’t want to support its industry, the result will be a Chinese solar industry and China will have the jobs and manufacturing base.

How are these issues affecting jobs and careers?
There are jobs in both the emerging/sustainable industry and jobs in things like solar and wind energy. There’s more likely to be jobs in the service side than on the manufacturing side. High technology plants making solar systems are not likely to be huge employers, but installing them, servicing them, maintaining them, and selling them will be where the jobs are. The same goes for wind. The American companies that will really benefit from next-generation energy products will be the ones financing, selling, and designing them, rather than actually building them, due to global competition and the Chinese price of labor. Also, don’t overlook the old school sources of energy jobs, like fossil fuels. Unemployment in North Dakota is 1 percent because of the boom going on there in oil production.

To read more about jobs in renewable energy, and for information on interviewing tips and resume and cover letter writing in the industry, get the Vault Career Guide to Energy.

Read More:
Here Comes the Sun: Germany gets 50 percent of its electricity from solar for the first time (The Week)
Stunning New Video View of Swimming Polar Bears (NYTimes)

Filed Under: Job Search


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