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What Does an Energy Engineer Do?

Energy engineers work with renewable energy sources, like solar power.
An energy engineer might design or work to improve wind turbines.
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  • Written By: Debra Durkee
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 20 July 2014
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An energy engineer is an individual who works with new types of renewable energy sources. This includes being on the forefront of developing new, alternative fuel options, including wind and solar power. These engineers work hand in hand with government agencies and companies all over the world in order to make sure that mankind's ever-increasing energy needs are met.

The typical energy engineer has a wide background of education on which to build, as there are a variety of concerns within the research and development of new energy sources. A background in mechanical engineering will help an individual in the development of the physical means by which new technologies are harnessed and turned into a usable form of energy. Some environmental training is also beneficial, as the ultimate goal of the energy engineer is to create a new source of energy with the minimum impact on the world's environment.

Originally, most of the world's energy came from expendable fossil fuels such as oil. Fuels like these are not renewable, and the energy engineer is tasked with finding an alternative fuel source before the world consumes the resources available to it. In addition, he or she can also be involved in creating technologies to make energy consumption more efficient.

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Sources of renewable energy include solar, wind, and water power; the energy engineer designs methods for trapping and using this power without impacting the world around. There has also been research on harnessing the power contained in the Earth itself; buildings can be outfitted with nontraditional, geothermal systems that trap and use the naturally occurring heat of the Earth. The energy engineer works not just on developing strategies to replace the energy that powers our homes, but also those that heat homes, run cars, and keep the lights on.

In addition to finding new sources of energy, the energy engineer also finds new ways to make using that energy more efficient. Developing management strategies, finding better ways to transfer energy with minimal loss, and creating more efficient mechanisms for using the energy are all areas that individuals can work in. Systems that automatically regulate a building's heat and lighting to turn on and off when people are present in the building are the work of energy engineers, as is the development of solar cells, energy-efficient lighting, and construction of wind turbines.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an internationally accepted system of measuring the energy efficiency and environmental friendless of a building. Some of the systems included in these buildings, such as lighting systems and solar heating panels, were designed by energy engineers. Products can range from simple insulated windows that lessen heat loss to high-tech solar panels designed to capture the heat of the sun and turn it into energy.

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aplenty
Post 3

@submariner- There are a number of programs that prepare students specifically for renewable energy engineering. If you are looking for a single resource that will guide you to finding a good program, you should check out the U.S. Department of Energy website.

I know that Humboldt State, Arizona State, and Oregon Institute of Technology all offer undergraduate degree programs that specialize in sustainable and energy engineering. A number of schools offer graduate engineering programs for energy. The ones I know of in the U.S. are Stanford, Texas Tech, and U. Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Sweden Royal Institute of Tech, University of New South Wales, and Ulster University all offer top-level energy engineering programs ranging from hydrogen engineering to photovoltaic engineering.

cougars
Post 2

@ Submariner- I think it would depend on what you are looking to do in the energy field. If you want to design new photovoltaic cells, you might want a background in chemical engineering or semiconductor technology. If you are working with thermal solar, a background in mechanical engineering may be more appropriate since you will need to know how various power cycles work.

If you are working with wave or wind power, you should know the basics of fluid dynamics and structural engineering. Industrial engineering and environmental engineering are also important.

I would recommend setting your foundation in chemical, bioengineering (if working with biofuels), environmental or mechanical engineering. Once you become an engineer, you can pursue a graduate degree that is more focused on the energy field you are looking to enter; especially considering most research positions require a graduate degree. There are a number of specialized graduate programs across the globe that will prepare you for any position in the energy sector.

submariner
Post 1

What engineering field would best prepare a person to become an energy engineer? There seems to be a lot of opportunity in energy engineering, but I have not seen any programs that are specifically related to energy engineering. Would an electrical engineering program be the best? Would a mechanical engineering program best prepare me to work as an energy engineer?

I would like to work in the field of solar or wind development. I would rather work on the design or supply side rather than the end-user side of energy development. In my opinion, solving the big grid related energy issues are most important in finding a solution to the national energy problem.

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