Wind energy, biofuels and methane digesters may sound like daunting subjects, but careers in the fast-growing industry of renewable energy go hand-in-hand with agriculture.
Renewable energy comes from natural resources, such as sunlight, wind, rain, crops and geothermal heat. Today’s farmers are utilizing these natural resources for renewable energy in the forms of wind power, solar energy and biomass energy to help reduce pollution, generate electricity and produce fuel for cars and tractors.
A THRIVING SECTOR
As the need for clean, renewable energy grows, job opportunities within the field follow suit.
“I believe that this career field is growing so rapidly due to rising gasoline prices, as well as the Renewable Portfolio Standard legislation requirement that has been imposed in many states,” says Zhiwu Wang, visiting assistant professor in renewable energy at The Ohio State University. This particular piece of legislation requires states to increase their production of energy using renewable resources.
Ohio State University Visiting Assistant Professor Russell Yoder agrees.
“In general, I tell students and educators that the industry will be seven times larger in 10 years than it is today,” he says. “Some of this growth will be organic and some will be the result of existing legislation.”
According to Wang, the most popular forms of renewable energy include bioethanol, which is produced from corn; biomethane, produced from organic wastes; solar energy and wind energy, which is created using wind turbines. In those particular fields, Wang says some of the most sought-after careers are lab technicians, plant operators and sales personnel, who take care of the energy plants on a daily basis. Other careers include wind systems technician, digester operator, BioPlant construction worker and more. For those interested in the renewable energy field, who want something a little less hands-on, there are also indirect jobs such as working for component supply and fabrication, or lobbying for the industry.
SCIENCE AND MATH
FFA members who have an interest in renewable energy can get a head start by building a solid foundation in high school sciences and mathematics. Bioenergy careers require knowledge in biology and chemistry, while wind and solar energy use lots of physics and math. If offered, high school technology classes would also be helpful in preparing for the field.
Yoder suggests students read as much as possible about the industry and allow that reading to guide them toward a special interest.