12 Best Paying Jobs in the Energy Field

Want to make a great living in the energy industry? Find out what jobs pay the best and why the energy industry offers a unique experience to work in a booming field.

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by Nalea Ko

Updated September 15, 2022

Edited by Kelly Thomas
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Do you want to make good money while working in the energy sector? Many jobs in the energy field offer competitive salaries to skilled workers. For example, professionals who work as geoscientists or chemical engineers make median annual salaries above $100,000.

Almost 8 million people worked in the energy sector in 2021, according to an employment report shared by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The energy industry added 300,000 positions from 2020-2021, rising by 4.0%. In contrast, the overall U.S. workforce only grew by 2.8% over that period. Additionally, many jobs in the energy sector are expected to grow over the next decade, particularly jobs in the renewable energy field. Continue reading to learn more about the fastest-growing jobs in the energy field.

What Is the Energy Field?

The energy field includes several subfields, with workers focusing on electric power generation via solar, wind, coal, nuclear, hydropower, combined heat and power, bioenergy, and geothermal sources. Many different types of engineers, scientists, managers, and technicians work in the energy field.

The fuel sector —encompassing petroleum, coal, and bio-based fuels — employed more than 900,000 people as of 2021. And about 2.1 million people worked in the energy efficiency sector, which includes jobs in traditional HVAC, renewable heating, and renewable cooling.

Additionally, the energy industry encompasses employment related to motor vehicles, including hybrid electric, full-battery electric, and traditional motor vehicles. People also work in transmission distribution and storage, with 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 lucrative financial rewards in many areas, particularly in clean energy or "net-zero-emission" jobs (DOE). 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, such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, that focuses on promoting clean energy and creating more unionized jobs, among other measures.

Highest-Paying Jobs in the Energy Field

Petroleum Engineer

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 the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employers are projected to add about 2,100 new petroleum engineer positions from 2020-2030. This would represent 8% growth, which is on par with the average projected job growth 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 Engineer

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, where they streamline chemical manufacturing processes and use engineering testing methods.

The BLS projects that the number of chemical engineers will increase by 9% from 2020-2030. 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 the 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, with some jobs requiring a bachelor's degree and others only needing vocational training.

Wind energy operation managers —a position projected to grow by 5-10% from 2020-2030 —made a median annual salary of $124,650 in 2021, according to the Occupational Information Network.

Materials Engineer

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.

These workers made a median annual salary of $98,300 in 2021 (BLS), and the position is projected to experience 8% growth from 2020-2030. The industries that employ the most materials engineers include transportation equipment manufacturing, engineering services, and computer and electronic product manufacturing.

Atmospheric Scientist

Workers in this position made a median annual wage of $94,570 in 2021, and the BLS projects that atmospheric scientist positions will increase by 8% from 2020-2030.

Entry-level atmospheric scientist positions that require professionals to collect data sets and maintain instrumentation for field campaigns often require a bachelor's degree in meteorology. Alternatively, research positions where workers may be expected 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 Engineer

Nuclear engineers — a job that requires workers to monitor operations at nuclear facilities and design nuclear equipment — earned a median annual salary of $120,380 in 2021 (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 8% from 2020-2030.

The largest employers of nuclear engineers include federal government agencies (18% of workers), scientific research and development services (15%), and manufacturing (10%).

Civil Engineer

As of 2020, about 310,000 civil engineers were employed in the United States, and roughly half of them worked in engineering services (BLS). Civil engineers also work for federal, local, and state government agencies and non-residential building construction companies.

This job pays a median annual salary of $88,050. Duties vary by industry, with civil engineers often reviewing drawings and technical specifications for civil construction projects. At a minimum, civil engineers need a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from an ABET-accredited program.

Industrial Engineer

The BLS projects that the growth of industrial engineering jobs will outpace the average job growth in the U.S, with employment increasing by 14% from 2020-2030. Additionally, industrial engineers make a median annual salary of $95,300.

These professionals need a bachelor's degree or higher. They have 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 collaborate 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. Solar project developers made a median annual salary of $72,010 in 2021, according to the Occupational Information Network.

Power Plant Operator

With some employers, workers may only need a high school diploma and on-the-job training to become a power plant operator — a position that fetches a median annual salary of $94,790, according to the BLS. However, employment for this position is projected to decline by 14% from 2020-2030.

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 utilities sector, while another 16% work for the government.

Geoscientist

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 data analysis 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 2021, according to the BLS. About 29,000 geoscientists were employed in the U.S. in 2021, and this field is projected to increase by 7% from 2020-2030.

Solar Energy Technician

Solar energy technicians usually only need a high school diploma and vocational training. Employment for solar energy technicians is projected to grow by an incredibly high 52% from 2020-2030 — one of the fastest-growing jobs in the nation. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $47,670 in 2021 (BLS).

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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Energy Field Jobs

Do renewable energy jobs pay well?

Many renewable energy jobs pay above-average salaries — especially administrator and executive-level positions. Jobs in the energy field that require a bachelor's degree or higher tend to fetch the highest pay.

For instance, the BLS reports that petroleum engineers and nuclear engineers earn median annual salaries of roughly $120,000 and $130,000, respectively. And workers tend to boost their earnings as they gain more experience and take on additional responsibilities.

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% (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 roughly 3,300 and 1,400 positions.

What do I need to study to work in the energy sector?

Generally, jobs in the energy industry require knowledge related to chemistry, computer science, mathematics, engineering, and/or physics. The level of education needed to work in the energy sector depends on the job. Some positions only require a high school diploma and vocational training, while others need a four-year degree or higher.

As an example, aspiring geoscientists tend to study physical sciences or natural resources. They usually need at least a bachelor's degree, although research positions may require a graduate degree. Industrial engineers may have degrees in industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, or manufacturing engineering.

Feature Image: chinaface / E+ / Getty Images

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