The energy industry comprises the companies and people who locate fuel resources, harness them or remove them from the earth, and then process and distribute them for use. It is one of the largest, most dynamic, and often most controversial industries in the world.

The demand for energy first began when our ancient ancestors discovered they could keep themselves warm and cook food with fire. Since that time, our sources of energy have evolved, and the technologies we use to generate, distribute, and deliver energy have changed dramatically. Today energy is almost as essential to life as the air we breathe and the food we eat. We use energy every day, all day, when we work, play, drive, and eat. Even when we sleep, we need energy to heat or cool our homes and power our alarm clocks to wake us up in the morning.

Virtually no industry in the world today could function without some form of energy. Restaurants need it to power their cooking and refrigeration equipment. Manufacturers rely on it to operate their production lines. Even farms need power to operate their vehicles. Anywhere a human being lives or works energy is needed.

For the past 200 years, humans have depended on two primary sources of energy: fossil fuels and hydropower (water), but these traditional sources of energy are finite. Beginning in the last few decades of the 20th century, other sources of energy have gained in popularity and usage. As a result, the energy industry is and will continue to be in a constant state of change as scientists and engineers work to develop energy sources and generation methods that are eco-friendly and sustainable. People want energy sources that have fewer negative impacts on our environment, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and are easily renewable, with no more fears of future shortages. It’s a tall order, but one that has led to many exciting opportunities and innovations.

The energy industry is very broad, but it can be divided into three primary categories:

  1. Energy sources: fuels that are used to generate energy or power. These include fossil fuels, water, wind, solar, geothermal, and nuclear sources.
  2. Forms of energy: how the energy is transmitted and distributed to customers. The two primary forms of energy are electricity and heat.
  3. End uses of energy: once the energy is generated or created it is primarily used for transportation purposes, lighting, space conditioning (heating and cooling), and for industrial processes.

The Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) report Annual Energy Outlook 2014 projected that the demand for energy will escalate modestly through 2040. Demand for transportation energy, which powers motor vehicles, planes, trains, and ships, will increase at an overall rate of .1 percent, tempered by lowered fuel demands for cars and other personal vehicles. Electricity demand will grow by .9 percent per year during the same time period. Yet even as the industry focuses on developing alternative fuel sources, petroleum and natural gas companies continue to search for new sources of these products and new ways for extracting them from previously difficult-to-access locations. As a result, the EIA predicts that for the next two decades, the United States will reduce its dependency on foreign oil and natural gas reserves and be able to generate much of the oil and gas the country needs. Oil and gas producers have also worked to meet new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards to reduce their carbon emissions so that they have less impact on the environment. These factors could slow the growth and development of alternative fuel sources.

However, the desire to develop renewable, clean energy sources will continue to play a role in the energy industry. The efforts of the petroleum and gas industries to prolong fossil fuel resources may buy more time for the development of alternative sources, such as solar, wind, and biofuels. Thanks to interest in alternative energy sources, there are more sectors than ever before in the industry today. People who want to launch or further a career in the energy industry have some tough choices ahead of them. They can choose to work in any of these sectors (and this is not an exhaustive list; it includes segments of all three divisions of the industry): petroleum and oil, natural gas, electric generation, electric distribution and delivery, solar energy, wind energy, nuclear energy, geothermal energy, biofuels, and energy services and consultation.

Each of these sectors offers many opportunities. People who enjoy technical work are engineers, scientists, technicians, or operators. People who enjoy business management can become supervisors, managers, executives, sales reps, or brokers. Other professionals are needed to market the industry, hire workers, maintain accounting and reporting, and undertake all of the administrative tasks associated with operating a business. A new sector of the industry, energy consulting, is gaining in popularity, both in the industry and with employees. Large companies are marketing energy-saving programs and devices, and consultants and scientists developing and selling them are attracted to these companies by the lucrative salaries that they offer. As the industry becomes more complex and energy more expensive, it is highly likely that these companies and these careers will continue to grow. For example, smart grid or smart meter technologies, those that offer two-way communication and allow utility companies to gather data and adjust generating capacities, require highly trained and skilled technicians and IT personnel. Companies like IBM, General Electric, Itron, and Cisco develop these technologies and as their market increases, so does the need for employees.

Energy is an exciting industry to be in, and the career opportunities are expected to continue growing as its many sectors develop and expand.

Next Section: Primary Products