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Question

What are the requirements for job opportunities in the field of energy and power generation?

mohammad ali bagherian's picture
researcher Catholic University of Louvain

Dedicated, and experienced researcher on power generating units and renewable energy systems. Currently, doing research on energy systems integration, and comparative assessment of biomass energy...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Jun 8, 2020
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Hey everyone. 

I will be graduating soon in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and I am about to start my master in less than 4 months. I have been doing research in energy and power generation, particularly co- and tri-generation systems operation and optimization, over the past two years and I have had two publications in this field. Although I have been doing research on this field, I am not sure about the future and job opportunities that this field can offer. I still have a master to complete and potentially a PhD afterward, but I am keen to work on my practical capabilities so I can have something to say when I start applying for jobs. The thing is that I am familiar with research-based software such as Homer, TRNSYS, PVsyst, Wind pro, but I am not sure what else I should be good at in energy and power generation field so when I apply for any job I will be considered as a reliable option. Since this forum is filled with expertise I would really appreciate if you can let me know what I can start working on from now and what the most common requirements are that I should have to apply for job opportunities in energy sector.   

p.s I have been doing research on CHP and CCHP systems operation and thermo-economic optimization. Also, I published a paper on possible integration of renewable energies into CHP and CCHP systems.

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Best Answer

Welcome to the field.  There is a lot going on in this field and one things for sure, you will have good prospects for years to come.  You need to think about what sort of day to day work really interests you.  For example, at a consulting firm you would probably create models in one of those tools you've used for a few months, but in all likelihood after that you would do completely different work having nothing to do, at all, with modeling.  Also, running a modeling tool for a college class is worlds apart from running it to solve new problems with unknown answers and then convince the people paying your company a bundle of money that you did it properly.  (Ten years from now, you'll look back and understand what I mean).  Very few people earn PhDs so you should consider why you would want one.  If you have a great love of all those courses you took your junior and senior years, and doing research and development for month after month with no firm end in sight, go for it.  If you'd rather some day be involved with building and refurbishing power generation solutions for communities, well, sometimes work by a PhD contributes, but he or she is not needed for that directly.

The fact is, in order to get someone to pay you a salary or give you grant funds, you need to do what they need you to do, not what you personally love to do.  So eventually, you will need to spend 2-3 decades doing things which aren't your first interest, but rather, solve the problems people with a bigger picture view than you need solving.  I think you'll still find this work very satisfying.  But at this stage in your career you shouldn't—can't—know just what exactly that work will be.  Thus, don't worry about it.

The perennial situation with undergraduate education is that people graduate with the impression that the actual day to day work of engineering resembles solving mathematical models or working on printed circuit boards, kind of like Stark in The Iron Man.  In fact, most electrical engineers will be reporting in to project status meetings, specifying CCVTs from catalogs, integrating new equipment into old equipment, working with the civil engineers installing equipment pads, the mechanical engineers developing the cooling system, the electrical technicians wiring things up, the plant managers scheduling around outages, etc.  Or you'll be sitting in a secure cubicle next to the energy control room helping to program the SCADA system for the grid operators.  Or sizing PV panels to match inverters and clearance requirements.  Software?  You'll probably use Microsoft Word and Excel the most, and maybe PowerPoint.

Nobody expects a newly graduate to have much practical experience, and in fact, this can be desirable.  For entry-level work, employers need staff who will follow directions and do it the way the company needs it done in order to meet their internal and external customer expectations.  Naturally the occasional fresh idea is welcome and needed, if it is based on thorough knowledge of the problem at hand and not a cursory impression gleaned from coursework.

Or, perhaps one day you aspire to work at a utility or producer.  In that case you'll hire consultants to do the specialized work and mainly just review their proposals, their work, and assess equipment.  Sometimes you might get to inspect inside a transformer.  It's interesting and useful work, but nothing, at all, like what you did in class.  You will spend the the next 30 years as a senior then maybe a principal engineer but that is all until you retire, if you don't have an MBA.  In lieu of an MBA, you can work hard to get involved in project management and one-on-one work with clients.  If you're considering a master's in electrical engineering, that indicates to all future employers that you're more interested in the technical side, however.  Typically the folks who excel at management in engineering aren't those who were the A students as undergraduates, but rather got the basics down pat, passed their EE courses, then worked on their people skills, writing skills, team building, collaboration...these are rare among the population generally, and even more rare amongst us engineers, let's be honest.

Congratulations on publishing a paper—that documents your achievement...but...frankly, if you've not even yet graduated...just being honest here, friend...truly influential research requires hundreds of hours and some in-depth education to back it up and survive peer-review by actual experts.

Going after (and completing) a master's degree demonstrates deeper knowledge and interest in the field, which builds credibility.  You should go for that.  But maybe go out and work for 2-3 years, solving actual problems which help actual people.  You will likely then identify a true research need in our profession where your research skills could help.

mohammad ali bagherian's picture
mohammad ali bagherian on Jun 9, 2020

First things first, let me thank you for your complete and detailed answer. I really appreciate it. 

I struggle everyday realizing what is my true purpose, whether I should end up working or continuing my research. This is just due to the fact that I grew up in production lines, but at the same time I always admired research community and I have been a research enthusiast myself. To me, being in research community is contributing to science and frankly, there is nothing worthier than that. I don't intend to pursue PhD just for the sake of it because one will end up earning as much as those graduated with a master and started working. I want a PhD so I can accomplish my objective in life and set an example for my future descendent to come. 

Since my father have been in industry for over 4 decades, having his own production lines from auto part manufacturing to steel making, and me growing up in those factories and working there, I absolutely know that academia and actual work are two separate things. Although the actual works are established based on academia knowledge but one might not experience what they learnt in universities, but rather more complex problems that require understanding, thinking, and analysis. Given that I experienced that problem solving in industry, I realize true benefits of practical experience and knowledge. For this particular matter, I am looking to work on those practical knowledge, equipment, and products from now so I can be ahead of my competitors when I enter to the actual industry. My true passion is to end up in the actual field rather than office job such as designing and modelling. This is just a personal desire as I prefer to be involved in practical work.

Since people around myself have ended up working in other EE industries, such as electrical equipment or maintenance and operation of electrical facilities, I have no one to ask about this field. Energy generation to me is a vast world and It does not focus on a particular matter, but it includes different areas and aspects. This both worries me and also giving me hope. It is good that it's not focused since it can provide more job opportunities, but it also worries me that I end up choosing the wrong field. That's why I would like to know other's experience and take on this field and learn from the experts.

Again, I really appreciate that you took your time to show me what this field can be and what it has to offer.

Welcome to Energy central.

There are multiple disciplines available in the energy and power generation sector to choose from.

The first thing you have to decide is whether you want to opt for R&D (research and development) discipline or design/engineering/construction jobs in the power sector.

You are planning to do a master’s and are interested in Ph.D., so R&D can be an option to consider. There is a lot of work going on in Power Plant optimization and energy efficiency improvements which requires research and you can be a part of these organizations.

The other option is to go for design/ engineering or construction-related jobs in the power industry. The sector as such is divided into renewable and non-renewable power plants. In renewable, you can perform design or engineering for solar Photovoltaic plants, wind power plants, hydropower generation, or even Nuclear power plants. In the next few years, there are talks about small modular nuclear reactors, which can bring opportunities in design, engineering, or constructing new modular reactors. The present trend globally is to move towards the renewables (green industry). There is a lot of investment happening in Solar, Wind, and BESS (Battery Energy Storage) industry.

In non-renewables, it's mainly gas-fired simple cycle, combined cycle, cogeneration power plants. There you can gain valuable experience on Gas turbines, Steam turbines, HRSG (heat recovery steam generators), and boilers.

There are also jobs in Operation and Maintenance of the power plants.

Energy and Power is a very diverse industry and there are different types of power plants as explained above, where you can work. Depending upon your interest and the available opportunities, you have to select whether you want to build your career in the design side or in construction commissioning or in the operation and maintenance space or maybe in the R&D sector.

All the best to you.

Anshuman

With B.Sc. or M.Sc. or even Ph.D, it is a hard question to answer. When going fishing one does not know what a specific kind of fish he will have. Make it successive trials until you find what fits you. Main requirement is knowing well what you has learned.

The Energy Sector, particularly utility and power generation continues to go through its transformation (less dependence on fossil sources) and more reliance on renewable sources which is a good place for a job seeker to be in our market.  So for any person wanting a solid career, the utility and power generation are areas of the Energy Sector would be a job's gift that keeps on giving.  

For you, given your degree fields of Electrical and Electronics in Engineering, and the pursuit of a PhD the amount of formal education drives me to believe research and science may be your best option.  The US Department of Energy (DOE) comes to mind right off.  Other options could be moving towards an R&D Corporation that leverages your knowledge base.  Finally the PhD, depending on the University you receive yours from could be another option for instruction or research.

Mohammed - Dudley hit many key points so I will not repeat.  I would encourage you to find an area that you enjoy and gain a broad knowledge in that area.  Not just the specific technology but how technology is being applied to address customer issues and what are the adjacent areas and issues.   The energy segment is always transforming but now it is moving more quickly and there are many more factors - sustainability, social issues, employment, economic, political and just some.  In many cases the best technical solution will not progress because of other issues so being aware of these is important.  Getting an advanced technical degree is a great goal and can add value but you may want to gain some real experience before you commit 4-6 years to advance learning.  Also you will find that with the right focus you can be learning continuously after you leave university, and hopefully you will be known to be the most prepared person in the room - always ready to take on more responsibility - vs. the great specialist that when we need that very detailed work done - he/she can do it.  Those with a variety of skills and interests will always get more opportunities.  Good luck.  

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