Is a Renewable Energy Degree Worth It?

renewable energy

Key Takeaways 

  • A renewable energy degree equips you with specialized skills for a growing sector committed to sustainability and innovation.
  • Graduates can access diverse career paths in engineering, policy, and management, with strong growth and earning potential.
  • The value of a renewable energy degree extends beyond earnings, contributing to environmental goals and societal benefits.

    Introduction to Renewable Energy Degrees

    Renewable energy comes from natural sources. It involves processes with renewability as their feature. Mankind has harnessed renewable energy since ancient times for different purposes, too. Windmills grind grain, wind-powered sailboats, and the sun provided heat.   

    In modern times, technology modernizes how we use renewable energy. We’re seeing advancements in materials and improvements in efficient production and use.

    The use of renewable energy is spreading, although it isn’t the mainstream source yet. Large and small applications are becoming more common, too. 

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    Rooftop solar panels on homes and buildings are popular. Many even sell power back to the main grid. The number of giant offshore wind farms and solar farms is on the rise. Entire rural communities use renewable energy for their lighting and heating needs. Rock Port, Missouri and Kodiak Island, Alaska, are prime examples. 

    Indeed, we’re seeing a steady increase in the use of renewable energy. With its potential to make America’s power grid smarter and safer, it isn’t surprising.  

    Communities, families, and individuals benefit from the increasing use of renewable energy, too. Renewable energy sources generate little to no greenhouse gas emissions. Their use means a cleaner environment and lower impact on the climate.

    Renewable energy sources are available and abundant. The sun’s always there, and so are the wind and other terrestrial sources. In contrast, fossil fuel sources have a finite amount and are limited to specific areas. 

    As for cost, renewable energy can be more cost-efficient and results-effective. These are attributed to technological advancements and increased infrastructure investments. Off-grid solutions make renewable energy accessible to remote and rural areas, too. 

    What does this all mean for young people and adults interested in a renewable energy career? The transition to renewable energy means more jobs are available in the industry. These jobs are in production, installation, and maintenance, as well as R&D.

    And there are diverse renewable energy sources that skilled professionals can specialize in:

    • Solar energy through photovoltaic cells 
    • Wind energy harnessed through wind turbines 
    • Hydroelectric power sources from fast-moving water 
    • Geothermal energy comes from hot water from the earth’s core  
    • Ocean power is harnessed for energy through tidal and wave energy 
    • Biomass energy comes from biodegradable materials that release heat and generate electricity 

    The bottom line: Now is the best time to consider a renewable energy degree. You will find plenty of opportunities with industry-specific knowledge and skills. 

    Furthermore, you will have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the world. Your career will be part of something bigger than yourself – the Earth and its protection. Therein lies the best renewable energy degree value. 

    Overview of Academic Programs in Renewable Energy

    Renewable energy-related degree programs have interdisciplinary curricula. Coursework usually covers environmental science, engineering, and policy as well as business. Students prepare for collaborative work with interdisciplinary teams. 

    Certificate Programs 

    These programs provide students with job-specific knowledge and skills. High school graduates, professionals, and adult learners are welcome. Examples include: 

    • Renewable Energy Technician Certificate
    • Renewable Energy Systems Certificate
    • Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems Certificate

    These provide quick entry into the renewable energy industry. However, career advancement usually needs an associate degree and advanced training. 

    Associate Degrees

    The two-year associate degrees provide foundational education and training in renewable energy. Students complete general education and introductory courses in engineering and environmental science. These are cost-efficient means of getting higher education and preparing for technical roles. 

    Examples of associate degrees are: 

    • AS in Renewable Energy
    • AAS in Solar Energy Technology
    • AS in Energy and Sustainability Management

    Graduates qualify for jobs like PV installers and wind turbine technicians. Other jobs include sustainability coordinator, energy efficiency technician, and renewable energy sales representative. 

    Bachelor’s Degrees

    Many high-paying sustainable power careers have a bachelor’s degree requirement. Examples include renewable energy engineers, energy managers, and energy policy analysts. 

    Consider earning a bachelor’s degree in one of these fields: 

    • Engineering, such as mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineering 
    • Environmental engineering 
    • Environmental science 
    • Sustainable and renewable energy

    Earning a bachelor’s degree demands significant time and cost investment. But it’s a great foundation for career advancement. 

    Master’s Degrees

    Leadership positions, including C-suite roles usually need a master’s degree. Students gain advanced knowledge and skills for career advancement. 

    Examples include: 

    • MS in Renewable Energy Engineering
    • MS in Energy Systems
    • MEM in Energy and Environment

    The significant cost and time commitment is a challenge. Financial management and student aid are a must.  

    Doctoral Degrees 

    Students in PhD programs focus on advanced research knowledge and skills in renewable energy. The specializations include management, technology, and policy. 

    The degrees include: 

    • Ph.D. in Renewable Energy Engineering
    • Ph.D. in Energy, Environmental, and Chemical Engineering
    • Ph.D. in Environmental and Energy Policy

    There are significant cost and time investments, too. Dropouts are aplenty. But those who succeed qualify for high-level industry positions. 

    And then there’s the question, “Is an online renewable energy degree worth it?” Of course, it is. But you must earn it from an accredited college or university.

    Career Prospects and Industry Growth

    The beauty of renewable energy careers is in their diversity. Renewable energy professionals can choose from a wide range of areas, including: 

    • Project management, such as the conception-to-completion management of infrastructure projects 
    • System design and engineering, which involves the design and installation of solar panel arrays and other projects 
    • Research and development, a vital aspect of technological advancements in renewable energy systems 
    • Policy development and advocacy, which promote clean energy adoption among governments and communities
    • Energy finance and investment, an essential aspect in expanding the reach of renewable energy 

    Professionals can choose between employment and entrepreneurship. You can, for example, become a freelancer, contractor, or consultant. 

    Employment opportunities depend on your education level and work experience. Check out these jobs and see which one best fits your credentials. 

    • Greenhouse workers 
    • Solar installers 
    • Wind turbine technicians 
    • Environmental technicians 
    • Environmental scientists 
    • Heating and ventilation engineers 
    • Air quality engineers 
    • Energy managers and engineers 
    • Environmental health and safety officers

    The robust present and projected job market for the renewable industry makes it an attractive sector, too. More than 18 million people are employed now. By 2050, the number will likely increase to 26 million people. 

    But it’s a tough market, too. With technological advancements, continuing green energy education is a must. Otherwise, you can be left out of the loop even with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. 

    Continuing education comes in many forms. Earning professional certifications and meeting license renewal requirements are examples. Consider expanding your network, keeping abreast of industry news, and upskilling.

    Economic Considerations and Return on Investment

    The growth of international investments contributes to the robust renewable energy job market. In 2022, for example, total new investments reached $495 billion worldwide. This represented a steady increase in funding over the last 20 years. 

    Again, the growth in investments fuels the increase in the number of job opportunities in renewable energy. There’s also the fact that the renewable industry is more stable, price-wise than the non-renewable energy sector. Such greater price stability contributes to better job stability. 

    As for return on investment, renewable energy jobs provide satisfactory to excellent returns. Even blue-collar jobs have average salaries above the median annual wage for all occupations. Wind turbine technicians, for example, earn $61,770 in median annual pay with a post-secondary certificate or associate degree. 

    Beyond the money, being in the renewable energy sector has non-monetary benefits, including: 

    • Being part of a clean industry that mitigates the impact of climate change 
    • Working with communities in reducing the impact of energy production and consumption on their local environment and livelihoods 
    • Enjoying flexible working hours and working with people passionate about their jobs 

    Indeed, the money and perks of the job give people renewed hope for their future.

    Making the Educational Choice in Renewable Energy

    But don’t jump in just yet – renewable energy careers aren’t for everybody. You must perform a self-assessment to determine your suitability. 

    • Do you have a passion for making a difference in the environment? 
    • Do you have realistic expectations of renewable energy work? Depending on the job, it can be physically demanding. 
    • Do you dream of a sustainable society? 

    Being in the renewable energy industry isn’t a bed of roses. There are persistent challenges that can test your patience. You must be realistic about your career path. 

    If you decide to be part of it, be sure to choose a renewable energy program with: 

    • Valid regional accreditation 
    • Industry-specific courses and internship opportunities 
    • Experienced faculty members 
    • Strong industry partnerships and links 
    • Effective student support and career development services 

    Earning your degree is only the first step in a successful career. Again, continuing education and professional development are vital to staying relevant in an ever-evolving industry.