Designing solar energy facilities for maximum efficiency is a challenge that is generating more high-salary jobs for engineers, according to a new report. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Nadine Y. Barclay
The BLS has published another in a series of career summaries of green job fields, many with promising opportunities for civil engineers.
July 23, 2013—The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released the latest in a series of profiles of the most promising fields in which to find a “green job.” The BLS defines a green job as one that either involves the production of goods and services that benefits conservation or the environment, or a job in which a worker makes production more environmentally conscious.
Many of the fields profiled by BLS include robust roles for engineers, especially in the fields of geothermal energy, environmental remediation, sustainability, and green construction. The BLS reports that more than 3 million people are employed in green jobs. The number is growing steadily. Some of the fields are so new that the BLS drew salary data from related fields that overlap.
The U.S. leads the world in geothermal energy, with 3,187 megawatts of installed generating capacity. Unlike other renewable energy sources—such a wind or solar—geothermal systems provide a constant, consistent source of power. The systems are expensive to develop, but costs are expected to decrease as the technology becomes more common.
Civil engineers are in the forefront of the industry, designing the plants and overseeing construction. Because the best sources of geothermal energy are often in difficult terrain, the projects provide engineering challenges. Civil engineers in the field averaged earnings of approximately $85,000 in 2011, according to the BLS.
Although solar power represents approximately 1 percent of the total electricity generated in the United States, the systems are gaining in popularity as technical advances make solar photovoltaic panels less expensive and thus more competitive with other energy sources.
Civil engineers working in this industry design and oversee construction of the complex plants, some of which feature large heliostats, steam turbines, complicated plumbing systems, and storage facilities. These plants are often located in harsh, remote desert areas. Designing the facilities for maximum efficiency is an engineering challenge. The BLS reports that civil engineers in the field averaged $74,620 in 2010.
The market for green nonresidential building has grown at a staggering rate in the past 8 years. McGraw-Hill Construction valued the market at $3 billion in 2005 and estimates it will be worth as much as $145 billion in 2015.
Civil engineers have had an integral role in this growth, developing solutions to improve the energy efficiency of structures, minimize waste, and reduce the carbon footprint of a project. These solutions often involve a structure’s facade, mechanical systems, and material choices. The BLS reports that civil engineers in the field averaged nearly $76,120 in 2010.
A quintessential green job is environmental remediation, cleaning up areas of extreme or dangerous pollution. The field employs mapping and analysis to determine the extent of a problem and the best technical solutions to mitigate it.
Civil and environmental engineers combine knowledge of soils, biology, and chemistry to find the best solutions for remediation projects. Environmental engineers in the field earned approximately $82,000 in 2011, according to the BLS.
The combination of rising gasoline costs and the specter of greenhouse gas emissions from traditional fossil fuels have sparked an interest in biofuels. Biofuels are derived from plant or animal sources using a chemical conversion process.
Civil engineers are involved in the development of biofuel processing plants, developing designs that site the facility close to biological feedstocks and minimize the environmental impacts. This is vital because a chief complaint against biofuel is that it is only an improvement over fossil fuel if the feedstocks are raised properly. The BLS reports that civil engineers in the field earned an average of $96,370 in 2011.
Sustainability is a broad field that encompasses everything from design, to construction, to management. Professionals in the field of sustainability are focused on the wise use of resources so as to not deplete them for future generations.
There are many, robust roles for civil engineers in the field of sustainability, from increasing building efficiency to designing more efficient water and wastewater treatment facilities. The BLS reports that engineers in this field earned $77,990 in 2011.
For more on green jobs with roles for engineers, visit the BLS’s website on green jobs.