Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Green Job Series: Careers in Geothermal Energy [Second Installment]

Designing geothermal plants or new drilling equipment requires the work of many engineers. This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series profiles key engineering occupations in geothermal energy.

Engineering Occupations

Most engineers work in offices, laboratories, or industrial plants, but some work outdoors at construction sites, where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems.

Job Duties

Civil engineers design geothermal plants and supervise the construction phase. Many geothermal plants are built in rocky, difficult terrain, which require special procedures. Civil engineers also have to consider potential hazards such as earthquakes, and build plants to withstand them. These engineers are also responsible for designing access roads that lead to the plants.

Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of geothermal plants' electrical components, including machinery controls, lighting and wiring, generators, communications systems, and electricity transmission systems.

Electronics engineers are responsible for systems that control plant systems or signal processes. Electrical engineers work primarily with power generation and distribution; electronics engineers develop the complex electronic systems used to operate the geothermal plant.

Environmental engineers deal with the potential environmental impacts of geothermal plants. Although geothermal energy is an environmentally friendly source of electricity, environmental engineers must consider a site's potential impact on local plants and wildlife.

Mechanical engineers research, design, develop, and test tools and a variety of machines and mechanical devices. Many of these engineers supervise the manufacturing processes of drilling equipment or various generator or turbine components.


Engineers typically have at least a bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty. However, some jobs require more education, such as a master's degree or doctoral degree. Additionally, an engineer typically must be licensed as a professional engineer (PE) and is expected to complete continuing education to keep current with new technologies.

Entry-level engineers may also be hired as interns or junior team members and work under the close supervision of more senior engineers. As they gain experience and knowledge, they are assigned more difficult tasks and given greater independence.

Engineers are usually required to be certified as competent to carry out specific work, depending on the systems used by a particular geothermal power company.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently does not have wage data specific to the geothermal industry. However, BLS does have wage data for the electric power generation, transmission, and distribution industry group. The following table shows wages for engineering occupations in that industry group for May 2011. The wages shown are median annual wages for the United States as a whole; wages vary by employer and location.

Occupation Median annual wage
Civil engineers $84,950
Electrical engineers $84,730
Electronics engineers, except computer $90,790
Environmental engineers $79,530
Mechanical engineers $82,230

For more detailed information on engineering occupations in the geothermal industry, click the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Next week's geothermal industry series installment: Drilling Occupations.

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