In the world of engineering, the energy sector is a major career path engineers should consider. The energy sector is responsible for the production and supply of energy. The industries that fall into this sector include fossil fuel, petroleum, coal, electrical, nuclear, renewable, and natural gas.
Determining whether engineering provides a good career path requires a look at engineering in various energy sectors and a future engineering job outlook.
Engineering in Various Energy Sectors
Energy is one of the few sectors that combines nearly all engineering disciplines. Whether you are a mechanical, electrical, chemical, or civil engineer, the energy sector combines all the disciplines in this industry to power the entire world. In this section we will cover some of the roles and jobs that each discipline might encounter in the energy sector and whether or not it allows for a “good” career path.
Oil and Gas
In the energy industry, a wide range of opportunities and career paths abound. The most commonly associated path to the engineering sector is in the oil and gas industry. The oil and gas industry focuses on the extraction, refining, and transportation of petroleum-based products.
The oil and gas industry further resolves into three segments: upstream, midstream, and downstream. Upstream processes refer to the extraction of oil and gas. The midstream refers to the part of the industry responsible for the transportation, storage, and wholesale of a crude product. Lastly, downstream refers to the refining, processing, and subsequent distribution of crude oil.
Each of these segments requires the services of a variety of engineers – from conceptual and early process flow by process engineers to detailed structural and vessel engineering. Electrical engineers design and implement PLCs and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems that control mission-critical processes. Industrial engineers focus on the optimization of all these processes from a business standpoint.
Generating electricity, natural gas, coal, and fossil fuels provide major sources of fuel for power generation. Most of these sources generate electricity in industrial-scale turbine generators. These large generators convert mechanical energy to electrical energy.
Similarly, the design and implementation of associated infrastructure involve the collaboration of mechanical and electrical engineers as it is in the oil and gas industry. Chemical engineers possess the responsibility for identifying the fuel sources for such large-scale generators. Finally, industrial engineers optimize all these processes to cut costs and increase overall efficiency.
Renewable and Clean Energy
Recently, the implementation and utilization of renewable and clean sources of energy has drawn much attention. Common renewable energy includes wind farms, solar panel farms, nuclear energy, and biodegradable fuel sources.
Shifting towards renewability brings new opportunities available for engineers to repurpose existing skillsets for energy production.
In the renewable sector, mechanical engineers and electrical engineers collaborate on control systems, power, and physical products. These products may include turbines (wind energy), blowers and compressors (biogas), and generators (hydro-power).
Designing and implementing supporting infrastructure is the duty of a civil engineer, while chemical engineers identify new, clean forms of energy. A common current focus is the utilization of biodegradable fuel sources to produce clean energy. Ideally, these types of projects may include the repurposing of existing technologies such as food digesters or completely new processes.
Future Engineering Job Outlook
The availability of jobs in the current market and future outlook make the energy industry an even more attractive field. Currently, there are a plethora of availabilities in the energy industry with an expected growth rate of 2-3% in each sector by 2023.
In 2020, in the wake of the pandemic, there were major losses in the energy industry. There was a near 10% decline in electric power generation employment. Similarly, there was an 11.4% decline in energy efficiency sectors and a 9% decline in motor vehicles. Despite these losses, the industry was able to grow in other sectors while making recoveries in existing sectors. By 2021, EV and hybrid electric vehicle sectors each saw over 5% increases in employment. Wind generation increased by 2% while battery storage-based employment saw a 1% increase.
Comparing this data to the data of previous years it is safe to say that the energy industry will see continued growth. Even despite previous difficulties from the pandemic, growth was recovered in many sectors of the industry.
In conclusion, the energy industry provides a good and interesting career path for prospective and current engineers. While demand continues to rise for safe, affordable ways n a safe and efficient manner. Embarking on the shift towards renewable energy but still slowly weaning off of existing methods is our current goal.
The energy industry at times gets a bad reputation. Much of this bad press occurs due to high-profile disasters such as Deepwater Horizon and environmental concerns brought on by fracking. Yet, the industry delivers affordable and typically safe means of powering the economy. Furthermore, energy provides a good career path for forward-thinking engineers.
Currently, the new generation of engineers has a lot of opportunity to innovate and convert existing methods to meet the demand of environmental impacts. Whether renewable energy or non-renewable energy – each sector provides great challenges and growth potential. Furthermore, skills obtained in classic, non-renewable sectors transition very well to the renewable sector.