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Schools Renewable Energy; Which University Major?

  1. Jul 4, 2009 #1
    If I wanted to become involved in the renewable energy field, which university major would serve me best?

    I've been accepted into an engineering program, so I was thinking ChemE, or MatE, but maybe even EE (solar panels?).

    Or would a degree in physics or chemistry serve me best?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2009 #2
    I know people that have gone into the field from several angles (physics, ChemE, MechE, etc.). What you may want to consider is looking at what research the faculty in different departments are doing at the institutions where you think you will be pursuing your degree...

    Then when you attend that institution, regardless of whether you seek employment or graduate education after your degree, you should even try to get some experience by working in their research lab (either for credit or pay... whatever can be worked out).
  4. Jul 6, 2009 #3
    political science
  5. Jul 6, 2009 #4
    As an NREL intern I've met people with many different degrees. Physics, chemistry, materials science, chemical engineering, electrical engineering...and I know there are other disciplines represented as well.

    It all depends on what kind of research you want to do or what technologies you're interested in. And if you don't know, then choose a discipline that interests you and try to get some experience.

    I would say, however, that if you're interested in photovoltaics then it would be helpful to learn what you can about solid state physics (of course, I'm proof that you don't need to know anything about it to get an internship in PV--though granted I'm mainly doing programming so far).
  6. Jul 6, 2009 #5


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    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/677617/renewable_energy_engineering_degrees.html?cat=4 [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  7. Jul 6, 2009 #6
    You're going about this ***-backwards. You should first decide what area of science/engineering you enjoy the most and would like to work in. Then you can decide if you want to work in alternative energy fields. Energy is very multi-disciplinary.

    Although if I had to pick one that was in the highest demand I would pick material science.
  8. Jul 7, 2009 #7
    I like Topher's response. Sums it up pretty well.

    For what its worth, I did my PhD in chemical engineering and now work for one of the major wind energy companies in the world. From a technical perspective, the majority of the engineering staff are electrical and mechanical engineers. Chemical and civil come in behind this.
    Another comment I would make is that since a lot of renewable energy business is very new, you get a lot of these engineers coming into the business with little to no experience in it (such as myself) so even though they're coming from different backgrounds, the learning curve is quite similar for each...at least in my particular experience.
    If I had to say, since its energy generation, the electrical engineers have the best head start when it comes to understanding things.
    Any one of elec eng, mech eng, chem eng, or civil eng would be a good background for getting into renewable energy I think. If your program gives you the option to take courses related to renewable energy in any way, take them.
    But this renewable energy is funny when you ask about what background the employees have. You just neve know sometimes. For example, I know some technical people in the materials department and was wondering what engineering dicipline they had studied. Their answer was 'none, we used to build boats'.
  9. Jul 7, 2009 #8
    It depends on what your strengths are. If you are class president and win all the debates with your superb rhetoric, and everyone thinks you are Mr or Mrs Charisma then 'political science' might be a good idea. In the UK I would recommend the PPE degree at Oxford (Politics, Philosophy, and Economics) as that's the course many top politicos take (Harold Wilson, David Cameron...). If you are a Richard Feynman type, i.e. good at physical science *and* charismatic, I would still do political science. The politicos are still not getting the message about the importance of environmental matters, and so the most essential thing is to engage with politicians. If the thought of public debate brings you out in a cold sweat, but you love messing around with computers or lab work then the science path is definitely the one. If you have physics ability then why not solid state physics? Invent a better solar panel. If you like heavy, practical engineering then wind turbines or similar might be the thing. In summary, work out what you like and enjoy doing *and then* decide what kind of environmental career you want.
  10. Jul 7, 2009 #9
    Photovoltaics engineering maybe? Depends on your college and what they offer. I believe that photovoltaics (solar panels) is a branch of electrical engineering, it is where I study. A physics degree would also serve you well, but you probably will need to study postgraduate as well.
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