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B.S. in EE trying to transition into a renewable energy career

  1. May 2, 2014 #1
    I'm currently on a career path I got into through an applied physics masters, but there isn't much of future in my particular field so I'm trying to switch. Additionally, I'm very concerned about climate change and I have a B.S in Electrical Engineering (with a minor in physics), so I'm considering transitioning into a career in renewable energy, where I know EEs are needed.

    I'm favoring solar energy over other types of renewables, as I think it has the most potential (decent Wattage per square meter, lots of growth in past couple years, solar cell prices keep declining, etc). In terms of solar energy, I'm aware EEs often design solar photovoltaics (PV) systems (i.e. system level design, component specification, power output optimization) for residential and commercial applications, or do more tangential work, like inverter design or embedded systems/controls work. I'm interesting in doing any of those things. I think I'd rather stay away from material science stuff related to photovoltaics though, as I'm under the impression most solar cell manufacturing has gone to China and I'd need at least a master's to really do anything in that field anyway.

    My first choice is to find employment in the solar energy field. My second choice is to go back to school and specialize in something related to solar energy. My first choice is preferable not only for financial reasons (i.e. student debt), but also because I'm not that familiar with the solar energy field, so I feel like I should learn more about it before I try to specialize in any EE subjects related to it.

    The problem is I don't really know how to get my foot in the door. Additionally, it's been four years since I graduated with my EE degree, and my masters career path is not applicable to EE stuff, which I'm sure is a negative, but I don't know how big of a negative.

    Any advice about how to get my foot in the door? Any type of EE work related to renewables I haven't mentioned? Any advice in general?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 3, 2014 #2

    jim hardy

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    There's a huge wind energy conference in Las Vegas next week that you could attend and hand resumes to exhibitors.



    my old employer has a big solar plant here

    but it uses focused solar to preheat water for a steam plant, not photovoltaic.

    Why not shoot a resume down there? It's a power plant so enclose a hand written note describing your practical hands-on skills.

    hmm right now there's a solar pv job opening on bottom of page 2 here: https://nee.taleo.net/careersection/external/jobsearch.ftl?lang=en
    check it out.

    edit another on page 5 if you didn't mind starting out as a technician which is little below your education level. But you'd gain great experience.

    old jim
  4. May 3, 2014 #3
    The variability of solar or wind energy is a serious problem. The reason they're not more widely used is because we have no efficient, safe methods to store the energy. Large conventional power plants, whatever kind they are, require significant lead times to start up and many require large amounts of energy just to get started. Many require the grid just to bootstrap the starting process.

    Against a backdrop like that, it should come as no surprise that "Renewables" are still not popular.

    So if you REALLY want to make a difference, work on the energy storage problem. That alone, even if we only used fossil fuels, will improve efficiency dramatically.
  5. May 3, 2014 #4

    jim hardy

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    The plant above can run at night, just takes a bit more fuel to make up for the missing "solar boost".

    A practical compromise if you ask me.

    Observe size of solar array to achieve maybe 10% better efficiency.
    Sorta gives an idea of just what it takes to replace even a little bit of fossil fuel.


    EDIT real efficiency gain may be more like 3% to 7%. section 6 here:
    http://netl.doe.gov/File Library/Re...lications/Efficiency-Upgrade-Final-Report.pdf
    Last edited: May 3, 2014
  6. May 6, 2014 #5


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    The problem with a "mission-oriented" career is typically you don't get to choose what you work on, but rather what you can convince someone to pay for you to do.

    When there is alignment between your passions and what you can get money to do, you are fortunate indeed.

    There is so much incredibly interesting work out there for an EE to do. I would advise the OP to investigate renewable energy but keep your eyes open to other fascinating opportunities.
  7. May 6, 2014 #6

    jim hardy

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    Don't rule out maintenance for some industry that operates big machinery. Transportation, communication, energy are all vital to infrastructure. While not so glamorous as design or research or new construction it is never boring.

    see also last post in this thread: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=587655
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