Pursuing a Renewable Energy Major: What Students Should Know

renewable energy majors

Sitting across the desk from dozens of students over my years as a college counselor, I’ve had the privilege of advising young minds on how to turn their interests into meaningful careers. Of all the passions I’ve encountered, few seem as noble or forward-thinking as those wanting to major in renewable energy. When asked what draws them to this burgeoning field, their answers span from wanting to fight climate change to envisioning a future powered by the sun, wind, and tides. While admirable, I often find the knowledge gap between dreams and reality vast. They are unaware of the diverse degree options within renewable energy or the array of professions it could lead to. I made it my mission to illuminate the paths not yet seen, equipping students with the insight to make their first confident steps.

Choosing Between Technical or Business degree specializing in alternative energy-Focused Degrees

The foundation of any career decision starts with identifying your innate strengths and preferences. I commonly ask – do you consider yourself more of a technical or creative thinker? The former leads down an engineering path, while the latter suggests business and policy roles. Both energy efficiency and sustainable practices are essential pillars upholding the renewable sector. My “technicals” have minds adept at physics, math, and analytical thinking. They find elegance in designing systems and solving complex problems. I guide them toward mechanical, electrical, and general engineering majors that will arm them with skills to conceive and construct renewable infrastructure.

Mechanical Engineering

Specifically, a mechanical engineering degree provides expertise in thermodynamics, materials science, and mechanical systems design to tackle challenges like:
    • Designing wind turbine blades and generators for optimal efficiency
    • Modeling solar collector orientation for maximum irradiation
    • Developing gearboxes and drive trains to handle turbine torque

Electrical engineering

Electrical engineering majors gain competency in power electronics, control systems, and transmission grids that enable:
    • Designing inverters and circuitry to convert solar and wind DC output of renewable energy sources to usable AC
    • Programming control algorithms and sensors for autonomous turbine operation
    • Optimizing microgrids and interconnections to add renewable sources
There is also growing demand for civil and structural engineers to assess site geology, design foundations for offshore wind towers, and ensure the structural resilience of solar arrays. My “creatives” feel stifled by calculus and fluid mechanics. They have high emotional intelligence and visibility into human needs and behaviors. I direct them to environmental studies, sustainability, economics, and business degrees tailored to managing renewable projects, regulations, and financing.

Environmental Science

Environmental science and sustainability programs offer excellent springboards through coursework in:
    • Geographic information systems to map ideal renewable plant locations
    • Life cycle analysis modeling of environmental impacts
    • Ecology and energy and sustainability, integral to site environmental assessments
    • Environmental policy evaluation and planning
For students interested in driving business development, I point them to renewable energy-focused programs in:
    • Energy economics and finance to project costs, model incentives, and secure funding
    • Markets and management to develop corporate strategy and oversee operations
    • Policy and regulations degree program to interface with utilities and governments for friendly energy industry legislation
    • Marketing, sales, and communications to promote renewable adoption
Neither path is limiting. I’ve learned technical experts make vital contributions beyond physical products as leaders and advisors. And business graduates certainly understand enough science to back the technologies intelligently. However having an initial direction provides focus when navigating the sea of possibilities.

Most In-Demand Careers

With the clean energy industry, encompassing solar energy and wind energy, projected to dominate future growth across virtually every industry, I highlight degree programs and careers primed for expansion so students can align ambitions with opportunity. The following emerged as some of the fastest-growing and highest-salary roles:


Role Responsibilities Median Salary
Solar PV Installer Science degree program to study how to size, install, and connect solar systems to buildings $46,470
Wind Turbine Technician Install, maintain utility-scale wind turbines $56,230
Electrical Engineer Design electronics and systems for renewables $103,390
Construction Manager Plan and oversee large-scale renewable builds $107,680
Project Developer Lead feasibility studies, permitting, financing $83,650 annual salary for a degree in energy technology annual salary for a degree in energy technology
I indicate that while engineering and construction careers generally pay higher starting out, business positions have greater earning potential at senior levels to motivate leadership rungs on the corporate ladder.


Role Responsibilities Median Salary
Policy and Planning Manager Advise governments on energy strategy and regulation $108,880
Site Assessor Evaluate locations for project viability and impact $71,380 annual salary for a degree program in the renewable energy sector
Sales Representative in the renewable energy sector Sell renewable energy systems and energy efficiency financing plans $63,790 tuition for bachelor of science in alternative energy
Business Operations Manager Coordinate supply chain, vendors, budgets $104,240
Financial Analyst Model project costs and returns for funding $99,730
Beyond median wages, I underscore that top performers across both tracks stand to realize six figure salaries earlier in their careers and ascend to executive levels. And intangible benefits like purposeful work, travel opportunities, and being part of an exciting growth industry carry immense value.

Notable Schools Leading the Way

With a general direction identified, I guide academic programs that provide the knowledge and credentials to excel in their chosen renewable course. I share this short list of top universities in the field:


University Key Program Areas in renewable energy technologies
Stanford University’s renewable energy engineering program Sustainable energy systems, thermal fluids, clean tech innovation
MIT Mechanical engineering, materials science, nuclear engineering
Georgia Tech Electrical, biomolecular, and energy engineering
University of Michigan Environmental engineering, sustainable systems
Oregon Institute of Technology Renewable energy engineering, project development
I showcase unique aspects that set these programs apart:


    • Cutting-edge research through the Precourt Institute for Energy and Stanford Energy 3.0 initiative
    • Fully sustainable campus infrastructure as a living laboratory
    • Ties to Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem


    • World-renowned research output through the MIT Energy Initiative
    • Emphasis on real-world problem-solving and commercialization
    • Over 150 energy-focused classes across science and engineering

Georgia Tech

    • Top-ranked undergraduate energy program
    • Option for dual nuclear and renewable energy degree
    • Partnerships with national labs like Oak Ridge and Savannah River

University of Michigan

    • Multidisciplinary approach combining policy, tech, economics, and environment
    • Option for joint business or public policy master’s degree
    • Great job placement rates

Oregon Tech

    • One of few dedicated renewable energy engineering degrees
    • Hands-on curriculum and labs for residential to utility-scale systems
    • Strong industry connections for internships and jobs
University Key Program Areas
UC Berkeley Business and public policy, environmental economics
Penn State Energy business and finance, energy policy
Duke University Markets and management studies
Arizona State Sustainability leadership and policy

UC Berkeley

    • Highly ranked programs across business, economics, policy, and environment
    • Robust research funding in energy technology and partnerships with national labs
    • Passionate activism woven into the institutional fabric

Penn State

    • Established interdisciplinary research in the energy industry through the Institutes of Energy and the Environment
    • Undergraduate majors in energy business/economics and energy policy/finance
    • Great job placement rates from engaged industry network


    • Cutting-edge program bridging business, environment, law, policy and ethics
    • Emphasis on markets and management approach to sustainability
    • Tight-knit alumni community

Arizona State

    • Largest school for sustainability leadership in the country
    • Real-world capstone projects making an impact
    • Location in rapidly growing Southwest renewable hub
I reference specialty rankings, distinguished faculty, research centers in the renewable energy sector, noted alumni, and job placement rates to showcase the pedigree of these schools offering science degrees. Top candidates even have funded research projects awaiting them.

Additional Considerations

With the foundation set, I encourage students to look beyond superficial rankings and weigh personal factors. Does a rural or urban campus seem more appealing? What specializations and electives can you mix in like green architecture or renewable materials? Does the institution offer an energy management degree program and prioritize sustainability on campus with LEED-certified buildings and solar operations? Most importantly, I prompt them to seek experiential learning like internships and undergraduate research. Renewable energy encompasses an enormous ecosystem of companies, non-profits, and government agencies. Testing different workplace environments first-hand helps solidify post-grad plans. Some even lead directly to a full-time offer. I remind them of the importance of renewable energy and sustainability.
    • Renewable internships focusing on energy efficiency range from field technician roles to shadowing executives
    • Options span startups to Fortune 500 companies to national labs
    • It’s never too early to start building your resume and connections
I highlight profitable scholarships and co-op programs available in the degree in renewable energy if finances are a concern. And stress that this experience is well worth taking a semester off for.

Conclusion: Launching into Renewable Careers

My support doesn’t end at enrollment or graduation. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to get updates from past advisees as they navigate their careers – interning at solar startups, constructing offshore wind farms, advising governments on energy transitions, leading corporate sustainability teams, and starting their renewable ventures. They reinforce my steadfast belief in the promise of renewable energy and the talent poised to usher it into the mainstream. I tell every student with that spark of interest – if you have the drive and vision, this field welcomes you with open arms. Now, let me help you find the right ones to walk into. The roadmaps I’ve curated over the years continue to prove valuable in directing students toward their purpose in the renewable energy program. And with the climate crisis deepening, the need for renewable leaders only accelerates. I urge everyone to find their unique contribution, big or small. Our future may depend on it.

Frequently Asked Questions about Renewable Energy Majors

What is the focus of a science degree in renewable energy engineering?

A science degree in renewable energy engineering is designed to provide students with a deep understanding of energy systems, energy conversion, and implementing sustainable energy technologies. It prepares graduates for careers in designing and improving renewable energy systems, such as solar and wind power.

How do energy studies contribute to a career in renewable energy?

Energy studies offer a comprehensive look at energy resources, including both traditional and renewable energy resources, energy needs, and environmental impacts. This knowledge is crucial for professionals in the renewable energy industry who work on energy solutions and address energy and environmental challenges.

What can I expect from a college of engineering offering renewable energy programs?

A college of engineering typically offers a robust degree program in renewable energy, including a bachelor of science in renewable energy, a master of science in renewable energy, or even dual degree options. These programs often feature courses in energy systems engineering, clean energy technology, and renewable energy management.

What role does an energy institute play in renewable energy education?

An energy institute often serves as a hub for energy research and development, offering renewable energy courses, hosting a renewable energy speaker series, and fostering innovation in clean energy technology. Institutes may also provide resources for studying renewable energy and promote careers in the energy sector.

What are renewable and sustainable energy programs like at universities?

Renewable and sustainable energy programs focus on equipping students with the skills to implement sustainable energy technologies and manage renewable energy resources effectively. They may offer a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or certificates in energy, covering topics like energy conversion, energy systems design, and alternative energy technologies.

Can I specialize in clean energy technology at a university?

Many universities offer specializations or minors in energy that focus on clean energy technology. These programs teach students about developing and managing clean energy systems, including solar thermal and alternative energy systems.

What is the significance of understanding energy in the renewable energy field?

A thorough understanding of energy is essential in renewable energy to develop effective solutions and address global energy issues. It involves knowledge of energy conversion, energy efficiency, and integrating renewable energy into existing systems.

How does North Carolina State University contribute to renewable energy education?

North Carolina State University, through its NC Clean Energy Technology Center, offers programs and courses in energy that promote renewable energy and provide education on alternative and renewable energy systems. The center may also support energy research and clean energy technology development.

What types of jobs are available with a degree in renewable energy?

With a degree in renewable energy, graduates can pursue renewable energy jobs in various sectors, including engineering, project management, policy analysis, and more. They may work on renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency projects, or promoting renewable energy.

What is the importance of energy and environmental studies in renewable energy?

Energy and environmental studies are crucial for understanding the impact of energy systems on the environment and for developing sustainable and renewable energy solutions. These studies help professionals address energy and environmental challenges and contribute to environmental harmony.

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