Save your energy: go green when searching for jobs

Oil and gas: bit sticky at the moment. So let’s have a look at all the other energy jobs hopping up and down for your attention.

Green collar energy jobs have popped into the public consciousness thanks to - ooh, a host of reasons. That big black slick off Florida. The growing consensus on global warming. The problems of supply, security and cost when a country is relying on fossil fuels to keep it running. The thought that peak oil may have already spiked. And the fact that the technology exists – and is getting better all the time.

This has meant a rush of money into the sector. That means jobs. But apart from the money thing, just think: as the engineers of tomorrow, the responsibility for harnessing and distributing this new energy is almost entirely up to you.

To give you a brief overview of the green sector and the different types of energy we thought we’d outline several of the emerging industries and pinpoint a few of the roles that could be yours.

Marine Power

The most immediately commercial method of exploiting the sea is through using the tides – and in particular narrow inlets such as Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, which accelerate the tidal streams moving in and out. Please view the Sea Generation website. The world’s first commercial tidal stream generator – a big underwater windmill, according to Bristol manufacturer Marine Current Turbines – was opened here in 2008.

Wave energy uses the mechanical power inherent in surface waves to create energy. Currently, the only commercial wave energy station is located three miles off-shore from Portugal and can generate enough power to light 1,500 homes. For more information on the research happening in Scotland, please visit the Voith Hydro Wavegen website.

Other applications include exploiting ocean currents to power turbines, and creating a heat exchange using the differences in temperature between shallow and deep waters. There are also plans to create ocean-going thermal energy conversion (OTEC) ships, which could harvest the heat of the oceans.

Solar Power

It’s an interesting fact that it would only take around 0.3 per cent of the world’s land to produce enough solar energy to meet all of our energy needs, which goes to show just how much potential there is in the photovoltaic cells that can convert the sun’s light into energy.

If you want to get an idea of the potential solar energy has then consider this: currently available solar panels are around 12 per cent to 18 per cent efficient. It’s predicted this will eventually rise to above 60 per cent, meaning that solar power will be an incredibly efficient source of alternative energy.

Solar power is a scalable energy source too, with opportunities for engineers at both a domestic and industrial level. These range from the solar panels we can buy at DIY stores to the incredible Solar Tower in Seville which reflects the sun’s light off hundreds of mirrors onto one point to create a supercharged solar energy source.  

Wind Power

If you’re looking for a reason to be a proud European how about the fact that we lead the world in terms of power generated by off-shore wind farms? In 2008 the world’s wind power capacity was 121 gigawatts – roughly equivalent to 1.5 per cent of worldwide electricity use. Some way to go there, then.

Wind power is seen as one of the leading contenders for the rise of alternative power sources, which again has both an industrial market (such as commercial off-shore wind farms) and a domestic market (families installing their own wind turbine on their house and even selling power back to the grid) creating a number of jobs.

One interesting aspect of the wind turbine industry is that given the global application of the technology, jobs are highly transferable (provided your language skills are up-to-scratch), meaning that if you wanted an industry that could take you wherever the wind blows, this could be it.

Micro-Renewables

This is a slightly different area of potential employment for enterprising graduates, as micro-renewables consist of replicating, on a much smaller scale and for the domestic market, the sort of industrial alternative energy sources found around the country. As national and local government planning regulations relax to encourage the domestic market to invest in micro-renewables, so it’s becoming increasingly common to find homes which have their own solar panels and wind turbines.

That’s by no means the full extent of the micro-renewables market, though. Ground source heat pumps take heat from the earth to warm radiators. Families switching to a biofuel boiler that burns wood chips will break their dependence on gas. There are even “pico” hydro power stations that can generate power from streams. This emerging market is vast (just ask yourself if the average Britain would enjoy sending their energy company an electricity bill) and it needs engineers to design, build, install and sell systems. In fact there is currently a skills gap, so salaries should increase in order to attract skilled engineers into the sector.

If you were interested in self-employment, micro-renewables might also be the ideal sector in which to think about becoming your own boss.

Hydrogen

Career routes are not obvious at the moment, as the technology has not yet advanced to the stage where pure hydrogen is easily obtainable (it currently requires more energy to produce the hydrogen than harvested when that hydrogen is combined with oxygen. Shame. Otherwise it’s the dream combination of power with practically no pollution or negative side-effects.)

So today’s challenge is to produce the hydrogen. The current favourite method is through electrolysis – relatively complicated and time-consuming, which means hydrogen is still not currently considered a commercially-viable alternative energy source – yet. That’s tomorrow’s challenge.

As well as automotive engineers working with hydrogen power in cars, therefore, the real opportunity exists for chemical engineers, who will discover how to create and exploit hydrogen.

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