Navigating a career in the energy industry is full of opportunities and possible dead ends. It’s tough to know whether going down one path will lead to success or the need to backtrack. Whether you focus on hydropower, fossil fuel, or nuclear energy may have a great influence on your long-term success. But if you don’t know the career trajectory within each field or what the long-term outlook of the market is, you may be flying blind. That’s why it’s so important to educate yourself. This post will outline each industry, the necessary skills and help you decide what is best for your career.
Nuclear energy is noted as the largest carbon-free contributor to the power grid in the U.S. To date, it has struggled when competing with low-price natural gas and without the support of RPS programs, especially compared to other renewable energy sources. Nuclear power provides balancing and reliability benefits that other technologies (including solar and wind power) often struggle with. To exclude nuclear power from a clean energy strategy is a quick way to hamper the effectiveness of the initiative, as the complexities of a fully solar/wind-powered grid are difficult to overcome. And that means it may be a strong market for you to direct your career toward.
Nuclear energy has consistently acted as a cornerstone of the country’s current clean energy strategy. However, nuclear energy’s contribution to decarbonization is actually diminishing as plants struggle to compete with cheap natural gas and are unable to benefit from state and federal policies that boost renewables. So while the future is a little unclear for nuclear power, there are clear indicators that the technology is evolving in this field. As safety and waste management concerns are tackled head-on, nuclear power can be the future cornerstone of the renewable energy sector.
If you’re familiar with this form of energy, you know that hydro-power plants use flowing water to spin a turbine connected to a generator to create electricity. Hydropower as a job market is limited by one major factor, location. If you are located in an area that is supported by hydropower, it may be an excellent opportunity for you. If you aren’t located in the vicinity of hydroelectric plants, then the option for you is to look elsewhere or to move closer to work. If location is not an issue, this market is an interesting one to explore. Similar to nuclear, hydro energy is noted for its non-carbon emitting nature. This projects long-term sustainability as part of a climate-conscious energy future. Renewable energy sources such as hydro are providing an increasing share of U.S. electricity. Hydropower plants produced about 7.3% of total U.S. electricity generation and about 37% of electricity generation from renewable energy in 2020. In terms of the US share of power generation, hydro has stayed pretty steady since the 1950s.
Fossil fuels are still the largest sources of energy for U.S. electricity generation. Natural gas was the largest source—about 40%—of U.S. electricity generation in 2020. Natural gas is used in steam turbines and gas turbines to generate electricity. Coal was the third-largest energy source for U.S. electricity generation in 2020—about 19%. Nearly all coal-fired power plants use steam turbines. A few coal-fired power plants convert coal to gas for use in a gas turbine to generate electricity. Petroleum was the source of less than 1% of U.S. electricity generation in 2020. Residual fuel oil and petroleum coke are used in steam turbines. Distillate—or diesel—fuel oil is used in diesel-engine generators. Residual fuel oil and distillates can also be burned in gas turbines.
However, while fossil fuels remain a huge market, they are unlikely to provide long-term career growth. More and more restrictions are being placed on so-called “dirty” energy sources, and with those restrictions come limited career growth opportunities. So, if you are looking toward the future in terms of your career opportunities, go where the growth opportunities lie. Because investing in the energy of yesterday will keep your job prospects where the past was focused.
For help growing your career in the future-forward markets of nuclear and hydro energy, connect with the team at ESGI today.