There are distinct sectors of the alternative energy industry, including solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, and biomass/biofuels.
The primary goal of the solar, wind, and geothermal energy industries is to generate electricity and distribute it to consumers. Much like traditional power plants, they operate as generating stations. For wind energy these stations take the form of wind farms, which are rows of large-scale turbines. For solar power stations, instead of rows of turbines, there are rows of solar panels designed to capture and reflect the sun’s rays and direct them into a receiver. The receiver stores the energy in the form of heat and then creates steam that drives the power turbines. Geothermal plants are more like traditional power plants, but instead of the plants generating the energy via coal or natural gas, the plants use the steam from the earth to power the generators.
Wind turbines produce more than energy in the wind energy sector; they also produce jobs. A large number of the jobs available in the wind energy industry are for turbine technicians of various levels. Employers are seeking wind turbine technicians, business managers, construction technicians, welders, and site managers. In most cases, these employees must have some training or technical/mechanical experience. Their primary responsibilities are to keep all wind turbines functioning smoothly and efficiently. Managers and sales associates work with customers, sell wind energy, and supervise employees. Engineers are also in demand, to help design and improve wind energy systems.
In the geothermal industry, employers are most often looking for geothermal engineers, analysts, process engineers, experienced drillers, and plant maintenance workers. Engineers and analysts help design and build new systems. Process engineers manage geofluid and cooling water chemical treatment programs. Drillers and plant maintenance workers help construct geothermal systems and maintain them.
The jobs most in demand in the solar energy industry are sales managers, sales representatives, project managers, system designers, solar energy engineers, and solar specialists. Sales reps and managers call on potential customers to sell solar energy systems. In many instances in this industry, the client creates the energy to save money, and excess energy is sold to the national power grid. In many cases, these clients are large industrial customers, looking to save money on their energy bills and to meet tougher environmental regulations and standards.
Solar energy engineers and specialists must have a degree in a science or engineering discipline, and knowledge of solar energy systems. They meet with clients to determine their power needs, and develop solar energy systems that match their requirements. Project managers and technicians work on system installations, repairs, and maintenance projects.
Biofuel, on the other hand, is generally used to power vehicles or machines. It is made from biomass, usually derived from feedstocks, or crops grown to be converted for use as fuels. The most common feedstocks and crops used to produce biofuels are corn and sugar. Some companies use the byproducts (or waste materials) of creating wood products to create feedstocks. Often, these are used to produce liquid biofuels, of which the most common are methanol and ethanol. The cost of producing biofuels has decreased over the years, due to the ability to use byproducts.
There are several types of jobs available in the biofuels industry. Most employers are refiners. They purchase the feedstocks from a crop producer and then convert it into biofuels for sale. Account managers drive sales of biofuels by meeting with potential clients and obtaining contracts. Chemical process engineers develop improved methods for producing biofuels and solve any problems the company may be having in the refining process. Schedulers keep the process flowing smoothly by ensuring that shipments of feedstocks and biofuels deliveries are scheduled and delivered as needed. Other jobs in the industry include managers, supervisors, and scientists.
In addition to these industry-specific jobs, there are traditional jobs available in the alternative energy industry, such as accountants, customer service personnel, marketing and advertising representatives, and business managers.