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Common Paths in Energy & Utilities

By Erdin Beshimov

Careers in engineering, energy science, renewable energy, and professional services are now staple professions in energy and utilities. Read more about them to find a career of discovery and achievement.

Energy Science

Remember the eerie scenes from futuristic movies where the world runs out of energy, descending into darkness and chaos, where symbols of progress like cars and computers turn into dusty, sinister mementos? If you do, you know just what our world may look like if we do not harness and efficiently use new energy sources. In order to do that, we need to look to science.

Today's energy scientists (geoscientists, biophysicists, biochemists, engineers) work to develop efficient and sustainable technologies for converting sunlight into energy, enhancing energy flows from windmills, and obtaining energy from biomass -- trees, grass, agricultural crops and other biological material. Exciting prospects exist in geothermal energy, too. In the future, we may harness the energy from the heat of the dry rock formations of Earth's crust and from the magma that lies deeper.

Energy science needs technology analysts to evaluate the attributes of renewable energy technologies by examining their potential costs, benefits, risks, and timeframes. Much of science is experimentation, but certain experiments can be ruled too expensive or dangerous. Mathematicians and statisticians conduct numerical simulation to study complex systems and natural phenomena where direct experimentation is not feasible.


Someone has to assemble energy technologies once scientists figure them out. And this responsibility falls on the shoulders of engineers. There are more things to do for engineers than one can possibly mention. As scientists uncover the latest techniques for in photovoltaics -- conversion of sunlight into electricity -- engineers translate them into the nuts and bolts of energy-efficient houses and winter farms. Once geologists discover deep-seated resource basins, engineers build sophisticated machinery to extract the resources and process them.

Engineering as a field can be broken down into three functional areas: exploration, processing, and production. Exploration is the search for and extraction of resources. Key jobs in this field are production, reservoir and drilling engineers. Electrical engineers are involved in seismic exploration and also provide control systems for the full range of equipment used. Structural engineers work out what is needed to withstand the ferocious conditions of offshore production.

Refining is the conversion process of turning a crude resource into a salable product. In this phase, for example, oil is transformed into such products as gasoline, jet fuel, motor oil, and asphalt. This process is driven by chemical and petrochemical engineers, and operation engineers maintain the refining facilities.

Production engineers focus on designing and building facilities in the energy industry required to bring the product to market. These facilities may be producing platforms, pipelines, refineries or generating stations.

Professional Services

Energy and utility companies are increasingly recruiting graduates into commercial roles like accounting, finance, marketing, sales, IT, business development and human resources. These are the most common roles, but companies also rely on the services of international negotiators, risk managers, legal assistants, analysts, and more.

This proliferation of roles and the demand for professional services is driven by intensifying competition in the industry and its unstoppable internationalization. Gone are the days of "regulated monopolies" in the energy and utilities market, and companies are realizing that no edge is ever too small. Besides, customers are discovering the freedom of choosing their gas, water and electricity providers, and they are loving it. Pleasing them won't be an easy feat, and energy marketers and salesmen will need to have their creative juices flowing.

Needless to say, this is an opportunity-rich field. From a professional development point of view it surely gets ten out of ten. Going into professional services in energy and utilities is a boot-camp for fusing your functional specialty with industry expertise. Risk management in oil and gas, marketing in water supply, IT in resource delivery -- can any resume beat that?

Renewable Energy

Hardly a day goes by without some pundit attaching the word "energy" to the word "crisis." Your ears are probably immune to alarmism by now. But isn't it prudent to ask what will happen to the world once resource scarcity turns into resource absence? In actuality, we'd never run out of oil. It's just that it will become so scarce and so hard to extract that it will be way too expensive to use. So no matter whether you believe pundit warnings or not, renewable energy is the way to go, especially since it has the extra advantage of being clean.

Renewable energy can be divided into five sectors: solar, wind, hydropower, bioenergy, and geothermal. There are fascinating career opportunities in each of the five sectors. Electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineers are needed in research and development, while architects are needed for design of solar-powered structures. Meteorologists identify locations for wind energy installations, and engineers and architects help build them. In the area of hydropower, biologists and environmental scientists are needed to study the effects of hydropower projects on the environment. The geothermal industry offers excellent opportunities for geologists, geochemists, geophysicists, and hydraulic and reservoir engineers. Finally, bioenergy draws talent from biochemical and agricultural fields.

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