Associate's and bachelor's degree programs focus on the mechanical workings of renewable energy systems, including their design and installation. On the other hand, master's degree programs look at the scientific side of renewable energy, with courses covering methods of measuring efficiency, for instance. Due to the technical nature of this discipline, a strong background in math and science is necessary for all applicants. Some renewable energy programs may be found in engineering departments at colleges and universities or incorporate engineering classes.
If you want to enroll in an associate's or bachelor's degree program, you'll need a high school diploma or GED. For a master's program, you'll need a bachelor's degree.
Associate's Degree in Renewable Energy Technology
Students in this program learn how environmental forces such as the wind and sun are used to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and other limited natural resources. Associate's degree programs teach everything from the electrical construction of photovoltaic systems to the mechanical workings of wave-driven turbines.
Students interested in renewable energy technology learn how to perform cost-to-benefit analyses, evaluate potential locations for system installations and repair existing systems. Coursework may include:
- Types of electricity
- Electromechanical technology
- Mechanical principles
Bachelor's Degree in Renewable Energy Engineering
The BLS states that renewable energy is among the top-growing segments of the electric power industry. Students in bachelor's degree tracks learn to design, install and repair green energy systems with residential and industrial applications. Programs teach how to generate heat using ground-sources, store power from wind currents and charge electrical devices using photovoltaic cells. Students also learn to grow and develop biofuels, as well as to create technological applications utilizing naturally reoccurring forces such as wind power, sunlight, water currents and geothermal energy. Fields of study include:
- Energy management
- Fluid mechanics
- Solid-state devices
Master's Degree in Renewable and Clean Energy
Students in graduate-level renewable energy programs apply knowledge of clean energy design to real world operations. Graduate degree programs teach students to retrofit existing systems with upgrades. Students also learn how to audit energy use from the manufacturing process to the transmission of energy between places. In addition, they may learn about fuel cell use and how the conversion process may lead to a loss of energy. Commonly offered courses include:
- Battery science
- Energy efficient manufacturing
- Energy management
- Fuel science
- Mathematical modeling
An associate's degree in renewable energy technology prepares graduates for a number of jobs, such as:
- Photovoltaic systems installers
- Renewable energy sales representatives
- Solar thermal systems installers
- Wind turbine technicians
According to the BLS, there were 278,340 mechanical engineers employed across various fields in May 2015. Among these, entry-level workers found employment as:
- Applications engineers
- Energy analysts
- Facilities managers
- Systems engineers
- Project engineers
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 6,870 photovoltaic systems installers employed in the U.S. in 2015, with an average salary of $40,070. The 3,950 wind turbine service technicians made an average of $53,030 per year.
BLS statistics show that the mechanical engineering subspecialty was anticipated to increase by 5% from 2014 to 2024. As of May 2015, mechanical engineers earned a mean annual wage of $88,190. Another related subspecialty, electrical engineering, was anticipated to increase by 1% from 2014-2024. There were 178,580 electrical engineers employed in May 2015. Their average annual salary was reported at $97,340.
Students who want to dedicate their careers to studying, designing, evaluating or implementing renewable energy technology can study the subject at the associate's, bachelor's or master's degree level. Available careers after graduation include but are not limited to systems engineer, wind turbine technician, energy analyst and solar thermal system installer.