Playing a central role in helping to offset the impact of climate change, the UK's renewable energy industry is at the forefront of technological development, with a range of careers available for graduates
From wind turbines to solar panels and tidal barrages to biofuels, clean and renewable energy sources are increasingly familiar to all of us. They're now even more important than ever as world governments attempt to meet international targets for reducing carbon emissions.
But what opportunities are there in the sector for graduates with an interest in energy and the environment? Industry insiders - from a trade association, a recruitment firm and an energy company - give their expert views on the jobs market.
Graduate jobs in renewable energy
'As international efforts to tackle climate change by reducing carbon emissions become ever more important, the renewable energy sector will see huge growth in the coming years,' predicts Alicia Green, policy manager at RenewableUK, the trade association for wind and marine energy.
Offshore wind alone currently supports 26,000 direct and indirect jobs across the UK. This is set to rise to over 69,000 jobs by 2026. Most of these jobs are being created in the North East of England, Yorkshire and The Humber, East Anglia and Scotland, although Alicia reveals how all parts of the UK are benefitting from the Green Industrial Revolution.
In terms of solar energy, the International Energy Agency has revealed through its Renewables 2020 report that renewables are set to account for 95% of the net increase in global power capacity by 2025 - with this growth spearheaded by the solar PV (photovoltaic) system, consisting of solar panels, and onshore wind. Again, this is likely to lead to the creation of UK jobs.
Alicia explains that there's a huge breadth of roles and career pathways available in renewable energy. 'A single renewable energy project requires the contribution of people from a range of backgrounds and skillsets, from ecologists, planners and project managers to engineers, communications professionals, business developers and even helicopter pilots,' she says.
'You could work outdoors on land or at sea, in an office or in a laboratory. Many roles provide opportunities to travel and work in unusual environments across the globe. Working in renewables offers the chance to be part of an exciting, growing industry as well as playing a part in the protection of the environment.
'Promoting diversity is a priority for our sector, as we want to ensure that renewables are more innovative and successful in future. We're looking to secure the best talent from the greatest variety of backgrounds, and actively encourage graduates to find out more about how exciting a job in renewables can be.
'We're also encouraging girls to study STEM subjects at school, so that they can go on to read them at university. We need to achieve a representative gender mix at all levels within this sector, as well as fostering diversity in areas such as ethnicity and sexual orientation.'
Alicia suggests that another of the attractions of working in the industry will be its longevity as the UK makes its transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. 'Renewable energy is now our country's largest source of electricity, generating 43% of our annual power needs. However, we need to ramp this up in the years ahead to meet our carbon reduction targets, so it's good time to get on board and become part of a thriving sector.'
This means there are more options available in terms of getting a foothold in the industry. Renewable energy apprenticeships are offered by leading recruiters such as EDF Renewables and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, while there are also postgraduate study opportunities - for example, the MSc Renewable Energy and Clean Technology from The University of Manchester and the engineering-focused MSc Renewable Energy Engineering from Kingston University London.
Explore the range of renewable careers on offer at RenewableUK - Job Finder.
Growth of the renewables industry
There are fantastic opportunities for students and graduates to build a career in the clean energy and renewables industry, says David Hunt, chief executive officer and founder of specialist recruitment firm Hyperion Executive Search. 'The fact that my company recruits exclusively in the sector hopefully demonstrates my belief that there is enormous growth potential.'
Around 6,500 companies now operate within this sector with newly created jobs spread around the country, explains David. 'We are not an industry dependent on London and the southeast corridor. The much-vaunted northern powerhouse is responsible for almost 11,000 of the jobs in our sector.'
In fact, it's a global industry - David says that more than 50% of his firm's current assignments are international.
He argues that renewables can play a leading role in helping the government to tackle the skills shortage in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
'One of the most exciting areas of growth is in energy storage. This provides both UK and international job opportunities for students and graduates interested in forging a career in our sector.
'Estimates by Lux Research, an independent research and advisory firm, suggest that the global industry for energy storage could be worth $100billion (£77billion) in the next few years,' he adds.
Renewable energy skills shortages
'When the energy industry was first privatised, energy companies were overwhelmingly full of engineers and scientists,' says Asif Rehmanwala, chief executive officer at Ecotricity, a green electricity company that invests profits from customers' bills in renewable technology.
'But over the last decade, the balance has become tilted towards graduates with commercial skills,' he explains, highlighting the variety of careers that are on offer in the sector. The industry needs £200billion of investment to renew generating capacity from a range of sources including wind, solar, biomass, gas and nuclear.
'There is now a skills shortage for all types of engineers - from general mechanical, design and environmental engineers to more specific wind energy engineers - and scientists such as ecologists, as well as those with design and technical skills, including landscape and wind analysts,' says Asif. 'Starting salaries vary from £19,000 to £28,000 depending on the job type, company and location.'
Ecotricity is an example of the many smaller energy companies challenging the so-called 'big six' traditional suppliers - and these firms provide a range of opportunities for talented graduates.
'We are a vertically integrated energy company,' explains Asif. 'This means that we generate renewable energy through, for example, our own wind farms and sell it to households and businesses. So we need good people with skills and qualifications in engineering, science and maths for a range of technical roles.
'We look for people with analytical minds, perhaps displayed through a dissertation that reveals a candidate's quantitative and qualitative abilities, and we place a high premium on people that fit the ethics and core values of Ecotricity.'
Find out more
- Search for graduate jobs in energy and utilities.
- Explore postgraduate courses in renewable energy.
- Consider working in the engineering and environment sectors.