Best Paying Jobs in Energy: What Do Energy Jobs Pay?
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- Many jobs in the energy sector are experiencing high demand and offer lucrative wages.
- Two of the highest-paying jobs are wind farm site managers and petroleum engineers.
- The energy sector provides employment opportunities in renewable and nonrenewable fields.
- You can find energy jobs in private, public, and nonprofit sectors.
According to the International Energy Agency, clean energy transitions are reshaping energy employment. This transition is expected to create 14 million new jobs in renewable power worldwide. At the same time, our current energy crisis has also increased the focus on strengthening fossil fuel supplies.
As our world's reliance on energy continues to increase, so does the need for skilled professionals. If you're looking for an in-demand, lucrative, and rewarding career, the energy sector offers many opportunities in renewable and nonrenewable fields.
A career in energy offers a variety of opportunities, including working as an engineer or as an analyst. You can also work in operations and maintenance, research and development, or management and business. This diversity allows you to choose a field that aligns with your passion, strengths, and interests. To help you, we've put together a list of the highest-paying jobs in the field.
What Is the Energy Field?
The energy field includes many subfields, with workers focusing on electric power generation via:
- Combined heat and power
- Geothermal sources
Many different types of engineers, scientists, managers, and technicians work in the energy field.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reports that the fuel sector — encompassing petroleum, coal, and bio-based fuels — employed more than 900,000 people from 2019-2020. And about 2.1 million people worked in the energy efficiency sector, which includes jobs in traditional HVAC, renewable heating, and renewable cooling.
In addition, the energy industry encompasses employment related to motor vehicles, including hybrid electric, full-battery electric, and traditional motor vehicles. You can also work in transmission distribution and storage, with about 1.3 million people employed in fields related to traditional transmission, distribution batteries, and smart grids in 2021, according to DOE.
Is Energy a Good Career Path?
For many workers, joining the energy field is a good career path. The energy sector offers faster-than-average job growth and high-paying salaries in many areas, particularly in clean energy or "net-zero-emission" jobs, as per a 2021 DOE report. Positions in the renewable energy field — occupations that support the White House's initiative for net-zero emissions by 2050 — made up about 40% of all energy jobs in 2021, or more than 3 million positions.
The federal government is also pushing legislation that focuses on promoting clean energy and creating more unionized jobs, among other measures.
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Highest-Paying Jobs in the Energy Field
Working at drilling and well sites, petroleum engineers develop engineering designs to extract oil and gas. Petroleum engineers made a median annual salary of $130,850 in 2021, according to theBureau of Labor Statistics(BLS). The BLS projects employers to addabout 1,900 new petroleum engineer positions from 2021-2031. This projection equals 8% growth, which is faster than the average projected job growth of 5% for all other occupations.
Petroleum engineers typically need at least a bachelor's degree, often from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Chemical engineers in research or teaching roles typically need a master's degree or doctorate. Otherwise, employers usually accept workers with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering or chemistry.
Most chemical engineers in the energy field work for engineering services companies. They may conduct research and development for companies producing petroleum and coal products. In these settings, they can streamline chemical manufacturing processes and use engineering testing methods.
The BLS projects that the number of chemical engineers will increase by 14% from 2021-2031. Workers in this role made a median annual salary of $105,550 in 2021.
Wind Farm Site Manager
Wind farms need site managers to oversee day-to-day operations, ensure workers follow safety protocols, and maintain equipment and facilities. They also train staff and work with landowners and local governments. Educational and work experience requirements vary by employer. Some jobs require a bachelor's degree, and others only need vocational training.
All managerial roles — a position projected to grow by 6% from 2021-2031 — made a median annual salary of $124,650 in 2021, according to the BLS.
Materials engineers test and create materials, including metals, ceramics, plastics, and composites. On the job, they perform failure and analysis tests, taking macro and microhardness, tensile, and leak and pressure measurements. They may also conduct durability inspections.
The BLS reports that these workers made a median annual salary of $98,300 in May 2021. And BLS projections show the position will grow by 6% from 2021-2031. The industries that employ the most materials engineers include transportation equipment manufacturing, engineering services, and computer and electronic product manufacturing.
Workers in this position made a median annual wage of $94,570 in May 2021, and the BLS projects that atmospheric scientist positions will increase by 4% from 2021-2031.
Entry-level atmospheric scientist positions that require you to collect data sets and maintain instrumentation for fieldwork often require a bachelor's degree in meteorology. Alternatively, research positions where you may need to analyze data often require a doctorate in atmospheric science or geoscience. Experience with coding languages, such as Python, C, and C++, may also be desired.
Nuclear engineers monitor operations at nuclear facilities and design nuclear equipment. They earned a median annual salary of $120,380 in May 2021, as per the BLS. However, due in part to the rise in renewable energy and the lower cost of natural gas, nuclear energy jobs are projected to decline by 11% from 2021-2031.
The largest employers of nuclear engineers include federal government agencies, scientific research and development services, and engineering services.
As of 2021, about 318,000 civil engineers were employed in the United States, and roughly half worked in engineering services, as per the BLS. Civil engineers also work for federal, local, and state government agencies and nonresidential building construction companies.
This job paid a median annual salary of $88,050 in May 2021. Duties vary by industry, with civil engineers often reviewing drawings and technical specifications for civil construction projects. Civil engineers need at least a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from an ABET-accredited program.
The BLS projects that the growth of industrial engineering jobs will outpace the average job growth in the U.S., with employment increasing by 10% from 2021-2031. In addition, industrial engineers make a median annual salary of $95,300.
These professionals need a bachelor's degree or higher. They need the training required to help organizations operate more efficiently and reduce costs. Workers also develop cost estimates for future products and help manage safety programs.
Solar Project Developer
Solar project developers work with contractors, investors, landowners, local government agencies, laborers, and vendors to complete projects on time. The job requires workers to estimate construction, labor, and material costs and keep projects under budget.
The necessary educational experience for solar project developers depends on the employer, with some requiring a bachelor's degree in engineering or construction management. Companies may also hire solar project developers with vocational training. First-line supervisors of construction trade workers — a similar job title to solar project developers— made a median annual salary of $72,010 in May 2021, according to the BLS.
Power Plant Operator
With some employers, you may only need a high school diploma and on-the-job training to become a power plant operator. These workers made a median annual salary of $94,790 in May 2021, according to the BLS. However, the BLS projects employment for this position to decline by 15% from 2021-2031.
Power plant operators inspect and adjust equipment at power plants, power distributors and dispatchers, and nuclear power reactor operating sites. About 71% of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers work in the utility sector, while another 17% work for the government.
Geoscientists work outdoors and in laboratories to collect and analyze samples. They're often tasked with locating oil and gas deposits. They may lead field investigations, oversee project budgets, and tend to administrative tasks, such as analyzing data and writing reports. Employers often require at least a bachelor's degree.
Workers in this position earned a median annual salary of $83,680 in May 2021, according to the BLS. Almost 25,000 geoscientists were employed in the U.S. in 2021, and the BLS projects the field to increase by 5% from 2021-2031.
Solar Energy Technician
Solar energy technicians usually only need a high school diploma and vocational training. The BLS projects employment for solar energy technicians to grow by 27% from 2021-2031 — one of the fastest-growing jobs in the nation. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $47,670 in May 2021.
Solar energy technicians install, maintain, and repair residential and commercial solar systems. They often work outside on rooftops in various weather conditions — especially technicians who install solar modules and panels.
What Education Do I Need to Work in the Energy Sector?
The qualifications required for a career in energy vary depending on your goal. Many positions need, at a minimum, a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, whether that's engineering, geology, or environmental science. Other skilled trades and construction roles only require a high school diploma and vocational training. Some positions even offer on-the-job training or apprenticeships.
The energy sector also encompasses roles like software developer, financial analyst, research chemist, and machine operator. This diversity means you can explore many career possibilities. But the first step is determining your interest area. Are you drawn to engineering, IT, science, accounting, skilled trades, or management?
Consider your aspirations, interests, and resources. For example, if you're drawn to clean energy, you can attend a community college or technical school to earn a certificate to become a wind turbine technician. You can also receive on-the-job training in this role. A job as a solar engineer, on the other hand, requires at least a bachelor's degree in engineering.
Finding a Job in the Energy Sector
Energy jobs are found in private, public, and nonprofit sectors. They vary from entry-level to professional positions and vary widely in responsibilities. The following steps can help you head in the right direction toward your dream job.
- Narrow Down the Possibilities: Research areas that interest you and learn about business and skilled trade positions.
- Determine the Job Requirements: If you need more education to qualify, attend a university, technical college, or community college, depending on the position you want. Some positions offer earn-and-learn apprenticeships or on-the-job training.
- Apply for Internships: Internships let you gain real-world experience and prepare you with the skills you need for jobs.
- Get Involved: Another way to gain experience and meet potential contacts in your chosen field is to get involved. Consider volunteering with alternative or traditional energy groups.
- Prepare an Industry-Friendly Resume: Make sure your resume showcases your relevant skills, training, and education.
- Find Job Openings and Apply: A few potential sources for energy job listings include the DOE and the Center for Energy Workforce Development.
Frequently Asked Questions About Energy Field Jobs
Do energy jobs pay well?
Yes. Energy jobs are noted to pay higher wages than other industries. According to a 2021 DOE report, energy jobs pay about 34% higher salaries on average than the median pay of all other industries. However, the average pay varies significantly, depending on the role. In addition, many of the highest-paying jobs require a bachelor's degree.
Is energy engineering in demand?
Yes. In 2021, while the total U.S. workforce grew by 2.8%, employment in the energy sector jumped by 4.0%, according to the DOE. A growing interest in carbon-reducing vehicles and renewable energy has contributed significantly to job gains, especially in states such as Texas, California, Florida, and West Virginia.
Specifically, DOE numbers show that the solar energy field added more than 17,000 jobs in 2021, while wind and hydropower jobs increased by about 3,300 and 1,400 positions, respectively.
Which energy field makes the most money?
The fuel sector, which includes petroleum, is one of the highest-paying energy fields. The BLS reports that petroleum engineers earned a median wage of $130,850 as of May 2021, making them one of the top-paying positions. Petroleum engineers in management positions make even greater salaries, earning a median of $165,480 annually.
What is the highest-paying job in renewable energy?
Wind energy operations managers are among the highest-paying jobs in renewable energy. Managers, in general, made a median annual salary of $124,650 in 2021, as per the BLS. The Occupational Information Network reports that New Jersey is one of the highest-paying states, where these professionals earn an average wage of $159,890.
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