If you're interested in the use of energy and the technologies involved, a career as an energy engineer could be for you

As an energy engineer, you'll be involved with the production of energy through natural resources, such as the extraction of oil and gas, as well as from renewable or sustainable sources of energy, including biofuels, hydro, wind and solar power.

Your focus will be on finding efficient, clean and innovative ways to supply energy. You could work in a variety of roles, including:

  • designing and testing machinery
  • developing ways of improving existing processes
  • converting, transmitting and supplying useful energy to meet our needs for electricity
  • researching and developing ways to generate new energy, reduce emissions from fossil fuels and minimise environmental damage.

Responsibilities

As an energy engineer, you'll need to:

  • design, develop and build renewable energy technologies
  • combine renewable energy production with existing power systems
  • arrange new supplies and negotiate tariffs with fuel providers
  • carry out site inspections and energy surveys
  • design and select equipment
  • use mathematical and computer models to complete design and specification calculations
  • carry out lab experiments and adapt them to large-scale industrial processes
  • prepare detailed schedules of work, feasibility studies and cost estimates
  • check site and ground conditions for the installation of renewable technologies, such as wind turbines
  • negotiate service agreements and manage associated costs and revenues
  • liaise and negotiate with specialist contractors, geologists and other relevant organisations
  • keep up to date with legislation and environmental standards and make sure systems and processes comply
  • develop technical expertise in all matters to do with energy and environmental control.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for energy engineers range from £20,000 to £30,000.
  • With experience, you could earn a salary in the range of £35,000 to £60,000.
  • Salaries can be even higher at the most senior levels within large companies.

The salary you earn can vary depending on your location and the size and nature of your employer.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

If you work within design, research or development roles, you'll typically work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. In power plant or drilling operations, you may find you need to cover a seven-day shift pattern.

Part-time work or career breaks may be possible in some organisations. Self-employment and freelance work is available in energy or environmental consultancy, once considerable experience has been achieved.

What to expect

  • You may be based in an office, laboratory or on-site. Site visits and field work are conducted outside and in all weathers. Some jobs may be off-shore in remote locations.
  • In some situations, it may be a very isolated job where you are the only person doing the work. In other cases, there may be strong team support.
  • Women continue to be under-represented in the profession, although numbers are increasing. Initiatives are in place to encourage more women into the industry including WISE and Women's Engineering Society (WES).
  • The dress code tends to be conservative for meetings and it is expected that energy engineers will be smartly dressed even when visiting sites.
  • A reasonable level of fitness and mobility is required as the work can be physically demanding.
  • Travel may form a large part of the role, particularly if your employer has multiple sites, although absence from home overnight is uncommon.
  • Overseas travel opportunities may be available with some multinational organisations.
  • A company car may be offered with some organisations, but if not, mileage for site visits is usually payable.

Qualifications

To become an energy engineer you need to have a degree in engineering or a scientific subject. Relevant subjects include:

  • earth sciences
  • electrical, mechanical or chemical engineering
  • environmental engineering
  • environmental science and management
  • mining or petroleum engineering
  • renewable or sustainable energy.

Renewable and sustainable energy solutions are increasing in both their profile and application. This has led to a number of specialist qualifications becoming available that focus on energy and the environment, such as energy engineering, sustainable energy and climate science.

A postgraduate qualification isn't essential but can be useful, particularly if your first degree is not in engineering or a related science. Courses are available in a variety of relevant subjects including renewable energy engineering, sustainable energy systems and energy futures. Such courses can also help develop particular interests and may help to secure a more senior position.

It's useful if your first degree or Masters is accredited by a relevant professional body, such as the Energy Institute (EI) or Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), as this will help you to achieve the status of chartered engineer at a later date. Details of accredited courses are available at Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • an interest in science, technology and the environment
  • general understanding of the energy market
  • knowledge of relevant legislation surrounding energy efficiency and carbon emissions
  • good communication skills, both written and oral
  • scientific and mathematical ability
  • organisational and negotiation skills
  • IT skills, including knowledge of 3D software such as AutoCAD
  • commercial awareness and an understanding of business
  • project management skills
  • initiative and the ability to recognise emerging problems and proactively develop solutions.

Foreign language skills can be an advantage for working in multinational companies.

Work experience

Most employers will expect you to have some experience, so any relevant knowledge and skills you can build up through a placement as part of your course or work experience is useful. A number of the major oil and petroleum companies, including BP and Shell, offer summer and one-year internships.

You can make speculative applications for work experience with various employers.

It's also helpful to become a student member of relevant societies, institutes or charities. As well as increasing your knowledge of the sector and showing commitment to potential employers, it will provide opportunities to network and make useful contacts. In addition, it's important to keep track of developments and changes in the sector.

Employers

Demand for energy engineers is good as employers in all the major sectors recognise the need to develop specialist energy posts due to increasing legislation, rising energy prices and a greater public awareness. There are many organisations that employ energy engineers, including:

  • industrial employers
  • fuel production industries including oil, gas and nuclear
  • manufacturing companies
  • government departments.

You could also be based in a research department where you would research, develop and test alternative sources of energy, such as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal power.

Other potential areas where you could find work include:

  • the motor industry, helping to meet strict exhaust emission legislation
  • the wider manufacturing industry, designing, testing and installing energy equipment to generators, turbines and engines
  • chemical engineering, involving the design of combustion chambers, oil and coal refining and biodiesel production
  • energy agencies, large charities, energy partnerships and consultancies, advising on energy conservation and the efficient management of plant and buildings
  • higher and further education, in teaching and research.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies advertise vacancies and also handle contract vacancies, particularly for experienced engineers.

Professional development

You may want to work towards gaining chartered engineer status (CEng). This is an internationally recognised qualification awarded by the Engineering Council. With CEng status you have higher earning potential and improved career prospects.

You'll need to be a member of a professional institution so that you can apply through them for professional registration. Relevant bodies include:

The process of becoming chartered is more straightforward if you have an accredited Bachelors degree along with a Masters, or an accredited integrated MEng degree. For details of which qualifications are accredited, see the Engineering Council's Accredited Course Search.

Some employers will offer opportunities to study for a part-time MSc in a relevant subject to help with the process of becoming chartered. Find out more about becoming chartered at Engineering Council: Chartered Engineer.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important in energy engineering to make sure you keep up to date with developments and technology. EI supports CPD and has an online tool to help you keep track of your relevant activities. These may include reading trade press and attending networking events and conferences.

Training courses, seminars and conferences that can help to develop your knowledge and skills are offered by EI and IET.

Career prospects

Due to the demand in this area, career opportunities are good and in most instances you'll have the chance to work up to a senior engineer or management position. This may require moving employers to a bigger company or possibly having to relocate.

Achieving chartered status can help with professional development and may lead to higher salaries. It's possible to reach fellowship level with organisations such as EI. You will typically need to have been in a role for more than seven years and have spent at least five of those in a senior role.

You could choose to specialise in areas such as corporate social responsibility (CSR), or move into research and development to look into new and better ways to optimise production and find new renewable energy sources.

There are also opportunities to join the growing number of environmental consultancies, become self-employed or move into the education field to lecture on energy engineering.