Renewable Energy Careers: How to Get Started

There’s arguably never been a better time for renewable energy careers. According to the Global Green Skills Report 2022 from LinkedIn, the growing availability of green jobs will soon outpace the labor supply. That’s quite a sharp contrast to job growth among oil and gas jobs.

Renewable energy jobs saw a 237% increase over the past five years, and it’s safe to say the sector will only continue to grow as the world races to reach net zero emissions. In this post, we’ll take a look at how to get started with a renewable energy career—complete with examples of in-demand jobs and skills for the green economy.

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Table of contents

  1. What is renewable energy?
  2. Renewable career categories
  3. Renewable career options
  4. Job skills for a renewable career
  5. Tips for switching to a career in renewable energy
  6. We want to help you find a way to work on climate!

What is renewable energy?

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Before we get into the details, let’s take a step back and talk about what renewable energy is. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewable energy is energy generated from any naturally replenishing source. Unlike oil or gas which will one day be depleted, renewable energy will never run out—or at least until our sun dies in about five billion years!

The EIA identifies multiple types of renewable energy, some with their own sub-types:

  • Solar—photovoltaic (PV) cells convert sunlight into electricity
  • Wind—the wind turns massive turbines that generate electricity
  • Biomass—burning organic material from plants and animals to generate electricity via a steam turbine
  • Geothermal—pumping hot water from deep wells in the Earth’s crust to power turbines that generate electricity
  • Hydropower—hydroelectric dams harness the power of quickly flowing water to turn a turbine and generate electricity

Renewable energy ≠ clean energy

It’s important to note that not all forms of renewable energy count as clean energy. In other words, an energy source can technically be renewable but still emit carbon at the point of energy generation or have other negative environmental consequences. Renewable does not mean zero impact.

Many European countries, for example, generate electricity by burning wood pellets (biomass) to power steam turbines. According to the Southern Environmental Law Center, these wood pellets often come from monoculture tree plantations in the Southeastern US that choke out native plants, reduce biodiversity, degrade the soil, and make areas more susceptible to infestations from species like the mountain pine beetle.

Not to mention burning wood pellets releases their stored CO2 back into the atmosphere. Because we can keep planting and growing trees, wood pellets are considered a form of renewable energy. But their harmful environmental impact prevents them from being considered clean energy—an important distinction.

Renewable career categories

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One of the most surprising things you’ll find when researching renewable energy jobs is the number of job categories. Gone are the days when the only renewable energy jobs were installing solar panels or manufacturing wind turbines. As the industry matures, the diversity of renewable jobs will increase.

Here are some job categories you might encounter:

  • Engineering—designing renewable energy projects like new solar farms or offshore wind
  • Financing—ensuring the financial feasibility of these projects
  • Law—handling permits, liability, and legal structures
  • Construction—building the physical infrastructure for renewable energy developments
  • Maintenance—managing repairs and replacements for old or faulty parts and components
  • Operations—someone has to make sure all these developments stay running smoothly!
  • Regulatory—making sure renewable developments operate in compliance with applicable regulations
  • Technology/IT—configuring and managing networks and software systems
  • Research and development (R&D)—developing new and improved ways to generate electricity from renewable sources
  • Manufacturing—assembling the solar panels and wind turbines that will eventually generate power

This is by no means an exhaustive list. The renewable industry is growing leaps and bounds, but this should give you a pretty good idea of where you can narrow your focus.

Renewable career options

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Contrary to popular notions of what a career in renewable energy looks like, you have many more options than being a technician who installs solar panels or climbs wind turbines. These are important career paths for the renewable sector, but that’s hardly scraping the surface of all available jobs. Instead, it’s better to look at the specific type of renewables you want to explore and narrow your focus from there.

Solar energy jobs

Career paths in the field of solar energy might include some of the following roles:

  • Solar PV Technician
  • Solar Fleet Manager
  • Solar Site Assessor
  • Solar Project Developer
  • Solar Energy Systems Designer
  • Engineering Technician
  • Materials Scientist
  • Electrical Engineer

Wind energy jobs

Here are some common job titles in wind energy:

  • Wind Resource Analyst
  • Power Systems Engineer
  • Aerospace Engineer
  • Engineering Manager
  • Meteorological Technician
  • Project Manager
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Atmospheric Scientist

Geothermal energy jobs

Some common job titles for the geothermal space include:

  • Geologist
  • Hydrologist
  • Reservoir Engineer
  • Welder
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Surveyor
  • Plumber

Hydropower jobs

Jobs in the hydropower space might include:

  • Hydroelectric Plant Operator
  • Civil Engineer
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Electrician/Technician
  • Project Manager
  • Machinist

You might notice biomass energy jobs are missing from this section. This is intentional. While biomass is a form of renewable energy, whether or not it’s a source of clean energy remains controversial.

It’s also worth noting that the jobs listed above are some of the more specialized jobs in their respective fields. The fact is, solar projects need to hire attorneys, marketers, and salespeople in addition to electrical engineers, and a hydropower plant likewise needs software developers and construction workers as well as hydrologists. There’s a good chance you can get a job in renewable energy doing the same work you do now, just in a different capacity.

Job skills for a renewable career

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Like any job, the skills you’ll need for a renewable energy career depend heavily on the specific job you want. Do you want to be an electrical engineer for a solar energy company? Better start applying to engineering schools! Fancy yourself a materials scientist? Get to work on your dissertation!

Rather than focusing on skills, try to gain experience in the field that interests you. If you’re good at what you do, skills will naturally follow. Are you a marketer? Try finding freelance work for a renewable energy company or do some pro bono work for a related organization. If you’re a software developer, familiarize yourself with the kinds of systems you’ll one day help build.

Depending on your desired role, employers will want to see certain skills. If that seems applicable to you, it’s a good idea to study job descriptions on job board sites like Indeed or Monster. You can also do some sleuthing on LinkedIn to see what skills professionals in those roles list on their profiles.

Tips for switching to a career in renewable energy

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For the full rundown of switching to a green career, check out our post “Ready to Make Climate Change Your Career? Here’s How.” We interviewed six green collar professionals about their climate journeys and neatly packaged their advice in a blog post. If reading’s not your thing, here’s the abridged version:

  1. Set your intention. Think about where you are and where you want to go. Do you really need to change jobs or go to a different company to have a career in renewable energy? Are there any opportunities for intrapreneurship at your current company that would allow you to work on renewables? If not, that’s totally fine—but it could save you a lot of time and stress hunting for a new job.
  2. Network. Evaluate your current network for renewable energy connections and get to work on expanding that part of your network. Numerous online communities provide opportunities to meet like-minded climate professionals (Ahem. Hi, we’re Work on Climate!), and you might be able to attend some in-person mixers or industry events, depending on where you’re located. If you’re a college graduate, check your school’s alumni association to see if they offer any resources.
  3. Go for it. You’ll probably have better chances of getting a job in renewable energy if you have a shared connection, but this isn’t necessary. When you decide to start applying for jobs, know where to look. Employers regularly post job opportunities in the Work on Climate Slack community, but you should also check out job sites like Climatebase and email newsletters like Ed’s Clean Energy & Sustainability Jobs List and the EuroClimateJobs Newsletter.
  4. Think of creative ways to stand out. Employers in the renewable energy sector care that you care about the climate crisis. Leverage your passion by highlighting volunteer experience on your résumé or by writing a heartfelt cover letter. If you’re a fan of someone high up in a company of interest, reach out directly through email, LinkedIn, or Twitter. You never know if a simple message of appreciation can turn into something bigger.

We want to help you find a way to work on climate!

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Forrest Brown

Forrest Brown is a content marketer and climate writer based in Decatur, Georgia. He has been a volunteer for the Work on Climate marketing team since September 2021. When he's not writing, you'll probably find Forrest hanging out with his wife and cats, playing guitar, working in the garden, or checking out new restaurants around Atlanta.