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Which Engineering Degree Do I Need?

  1. Nov 2, 2008 #1
    I want to know what Engineering Degree I need to get to be able to design/improve Alternate Energy Sources i.e. solar, solarthermal, wind, geothermal, etc... I know it may require more than one Engineering Degree. Any help on this would be greatly appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 2, 2008 #2


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    Generally, energy conversion systems would require a degree in mechanical engineering, with a specialty on power systems.

    Photovoltaic systems would probably be covered in an electrical engineering, although perhaps, one might find it in a mech. program.

    Some universities may offer a program in alternative energy engineering.

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) had a Environmental and Energy Engineering program, but that was restructured such that energy engineering part was moved into Mechanical Engineering.

    Here are the mechanical and environmental curricula (links subject to change)
    http://www.cee.rpi.edu/env_engineering.cfm [Broken]

    Some innovative research at RPI into alternative energy sources.
    Student in accelerated BS/PhD program at RPI works on PEM Fuel Cells.

    Rensselaer Student Invents Alternative to Silicon Chip
    http://soenews.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey=706 [Broken]
    http://www.eng.rpi.edu/lemelson/finalist_Huang.cfm [Broken]

    U. Wisconsin
    http://www.engr.wisc.edu/me/ - UWisc - Mech Eng.
    http://sel.me.wisc.edu/ - UWisc - Solar energy lab
    http://www.engr.wisc.edu/ep/ - UWisc - Eng. Phys.

    Univ. Illinois Urbana-Champaign
    http://www.mechse.uiuc.edu/ - Mech Eng.
    http://www.mechse.illinois.edu/content/courses/index.php [Broken] - Mech Eng courses.

    One may have to tailor one's major, e.g. a joint Mechanical and Civil/Environmental course program.

    One should start with universities in one's state, and see what they have to offer. Compare to other programs that appear to offer what one would like.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  4. Nov 2, 2008 #3
    Alternative energy is a very multidisciplinary field. It requires work from MEs, EEs, and Chemists mostly but material science is also a very important field. Don't choose your major just because you want to work on alternative energy solutions, choose it because of the field you like the most. Almost any science related degree, except maybe computer science, will give you the opportunities to be involved in alternative energy.
  5. Nov 2, 2008 #4


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    And then there's solar thermal...

    I'd say that unless you specifically wanted to get into building nuclear plants, photovoltaics, or generators and power conversion systems, mechanical is probably your best bet. But it does depend on your specific interest.
  6. Nov 2, 2008 #5


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    FYI, I'm an HVAC engineer and good computer programming (and hardware) is something the industry is sorely lacking. Most central chiller plants run so inefficiently that if you add some good software to run them, you typically save 25%+ of your energy. The trouble is, there are only one or two companies making good control systems that can monitor and adjust operation for energy efficiency.

    Not alternate energy exactly, but it is the other side of the coin.
  7. Nov 2, 2008 #6


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    Definitely. I didn't elaborate on all possibilities.

    Certainly solar thermal or solar dynamic would be part of a mechanical engineering course, and I agree with Russ that mechanical engineering is probably the best bet of all the engineering disciplines.

    Geothermal would probably require some geological engineering (or perhaps petroleum engineering) background, particular the physics of geological or geothermal reservoirs. Otherwise one would simply concentrate on the heat exchanger, which is the thermal interface between the working fluid loop which extracts thermal energy from the geo-thermal reservoir and the working (power-generating) fluid loop which includes the turbine that drives the generator. The working fluids in both systems would likely be very different.

    Any of the methods/technologies mentioned is a specialty by itself. I think it would be a lot of work to try to specialize in all those areas.
  8. Nov 2, 2008 #7
    I wasn't aware that there was so many different fields of Engineering. Everyone seems to agree that in Engineering, you have to love the field your in. Guess I have a little more research to do into the many different fields. Thanks for the help guys.
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