An energy engineer is 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.

Energy engineers are focused on finding efficient, clean and innovative ways to supply energy. They 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.

They research and develop ways to generate new energy, reduce emissions from fossil fuels and minimise environmental damage.

Responsibilities

The workload can be extremely varied depending on the sector or individual project. In general, tasks may involve:

  • being part of designing, developing and building renewable energy technologies;
  • combining renewable energy production with existing power systems;
  • arranging new supplies and negotiating tariffs with fuel providers;
  • carrying out site inspections and energy surveys;
  • designing and selecting equipment;
  • using mathematical and computer models to complete design and specification calculations;
  • carrying out lab experiments and adapting them to large-scale industrial processes;
  • preparing detailed schedules of work, feasibility studies and cost estimates;
  • checking site and ground conditions for the installation of renewable technologies, such as wind turbines;
  • negotiating service agreements and managing associated costs and revenues;
  • liaising and negotiating with fuel providers, specialist contractors, geologists and other relevant organisations;
  • contributing to sustainable energy initiatives and researching new energy methods;
  • keeping up to date with legislation and environmental standards and making sure systems and processes comply;
  • monitoring new technologies or applications and developing performance indicators;
  • developing technical expertise in all matters to do with energy and environmental control.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for energy engineers are around £20,000 to £28,000.
  • With experience, salaries of £28,000 to £40,000 can be earned and at the most senior levels it is possible to reach salaries of more than £60,000.

Salaries can vary considerably according to the geographical location, sector, size and nature of the employing organisation.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours also vary. Design, research and development roles are usually from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. In power plant or drilling operations, hours may be based on a seven-day shift pattern. Part-time work or career breaks may be possible in some organisations.

What to expect

  • The work can 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.
  • Self-employment and freelance work are possible in energy or environmental consultancy, once considerable experience has been achieved.
  • 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).
  • Opportunities exist throughout the UK and abroad.
  • 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 constitute a large part of the role, particularly if the employing organisation 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 an engineering or scientific-related degree. 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 degrees being available that focus on energy and the environment, such as energy engineering, sustainable energy and climate science.

A postgraduate qualification is not essential but it can be useful, particularly if your first degree is not in an engineering or science-related subject. 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 is useful if your first degree or Masters is accredited by a relevant professional body, such as the Energy Institute or Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), as it can 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 need to show evidence of the following:

  • 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;
  • the ability to manage change;
  • commercial awareness and an understanding of business;
  • project management skills;
  • initiative and the ability to recognise emerging problems and pro-actively develop solutions.

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

Work experience

Most employers look for candidates with 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. Relevant contact details can be found at Energy Institute - Company Members Directory.

It is 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 is 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 are recognising the need to develop specialist energy posts due to increasing legislation, rising energy prices and a greater public awareness. Almost every area of industry uses a large amount of energy in its production processes; therefore there are many organisations that employ energy engineers including:

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

Energy engineers are also based in research departments where they research, develop and test alternative sources of energy, such as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal power.

Other potential areas where energy engineers can 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.

There has been growth in higher and further education, with teaching and research opportunities increasingly becoming available.

Look for job vacancies at:

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

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

It is likely that training will be on the job, through supervised work as well as internal and external courses. Some large employers have graduate training programmes, which will be well structured and often give experience of different parts of the company.

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 will 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.

You will also need to demonstrate that you are working at a particular level and have the required professional competences and commitment, as set out in the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC).

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important in energy engineering to make sure you keep up to date with developments and technology. The 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 the EI and IET.

The EI also runs the Young Professionals Network (YPN), which is aimed at helping those in the first few years of their career.

Career prospects

The renewable energy industry is expanding rapidly. As the demand for oil and gas rises, pressure for businesses to reduce carbon emissions and be more energy efficient increases. In turn, this has led to a growth in renewable or sustainable sources of energy such as solar, wind and hydropower.

Due to the demand in this area, career opportunities are good and in most instances there will be 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 is possible to reach fellowship level with organisations such as the 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.

The diverse nature of the profession offers opportunities to move into different areas of work in order to gain new skills and experience, or to take on leadership roles to influence strategy and growth.

You could 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 finding new renewable energy sources.

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