Green Energy Grows Tech Jobs

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The renewable energy industry has grown at a rapid and steady pace over the past decade, and will probably continue on that course in coming years. This is good news for any engineers, computer scientists, data analysts, programmers, and software developers who want to find employment in the field.

Green energy has proven it has legs: a recent Energy Infrastructure Update report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects showed wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower providing 54.1 percent of new electrical-generating capacity in the first five months of 2014; there was a bump this May when the green grid leaped to 88.2 percent of new installed electrical generating capacity.

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Rick Thompson, president and co-founder of Greentech Media, a Boston-based company that provides critical market analysis through research, data services, advisory services and consulting, said in an interview that he sees a few current and near-future areas that are trending toward significant growth:

Diverse Skill Sets

With regard to overall skill sets, Thompson has noticed interest in technologists and engineers (both software and hardware) with experience in power electronics and industrial control systems, as well as software development, programming and data analytics.

Solar

Naysayers may point out that it isn’t always sunny, but solar power dominates the green energy spectrum. According to several research sources, it may become our leading power supply by 2050.

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While we may lag Europe in our use of renewables, many American firms are betting on explosive solar growth. “We’re expecting solar to quadruple in the next five years” Thompson said, pointing out how heralded companies Solar City and Vivint Solar recently had successful IPOs.

Super Grid (A.K.A. Grid Edge)

If you want to work on the grid, you’ll use your expertise to support the growing penetration of everything from solar, water and wind power to energy storage systems and electric vehicles.

The more renewable energies synch with the grid, the more the latter must evolve its technology stack. The grid is relatively antiquated, Thompson said. “There’s a lot of information technology, software data and analytics that are being applied to make it much more intelligent and efficient.”

Not having a background in green energy shouldn’t prove a deterrent to employment, either. Thompson is confident that an entryway into the industry can come via networking and communications experience.

“It’s the type of tech that drove the Internet in the 90s with companies like Cisco and Juniper Networks,” he said. “I spent my career primarily doing Internet technology and when I switched over to this field, I did so because I saw so many similarities to how Internet and telecom started to form. They utilize the same principles that are now being applied on top of the electric grid.”

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things could end up touching green energy in a big way. “There are a lot of sensors and devices in the renewable energy space that have some level of communications link,” Thompson explained, “and connecting those devices and enabling them to communicate, as well as developing apps on top of them are all based on the Internet of Things.”

Nuclear

Despite being controversial and polarizing, the newest nuclear energy plant prototypes show tremendous promise in reducing our carbon footprint. While conceding that the opinions of people in his own company vary on this topic, Thompson believes nuclear energy will see real growth in the not-too-distant future. “There are obviously concerns and risks, he said, “But the newer, smaller forms that are being engineered and looked at now have potential. It’s another opportunity for clean energy.”

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