Can you imagine a world without reliable energy to heat our homes, to enable industry to flourish or allow us to use the technology we all rely on?
To address climate change it’s essential that we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, develop alternative energy sources and conserve energy supplies. With increasing environmental awareness, government targets to meet ‘net-zero’ and high energy costs, it’s not surprising that energy engineers are in demand. They have an important role to play in developing efficient, clean and innovative ways to produce, supply and store energy, as well as helping us to reduce energy usage.
Energy Engineers have traditionally worked in the oil, gas and nuclear industries, but many are now also concerned with wind, solar, tidal, hydro, geothermal, biomass and other renewables.
In this article we look at the broad role of energy engineers, where they may work, the skills they need and how you can enter a career in this area.
We’ll also hear from Reagan Gerrard who is a Project Engineer in the Heat Transfer and Pressure Vessel Division of Glacier Energy. He gives an interesting insight into his background, employer and role.
What does energy engineering involve?
It's not easy to generalise about energy engineers as they can work for a wide range of employers and are involved in all sorts of projects; they may not even have the job title ‘Energy Engineer’!
To give you an idea about the scope of the work, you could be involved in:
- finding the best location to site new wind or solar farms
- designing and overseeing the building of power generation plants
- working on energy storage and distribution projects
- improving the efficiency of power production programmes
- designing and constructing energy-efficient buildings
- researching sustainable transport, such as cars fuelled by electric, hydrogen or biofuel
- developing new generators, turbines, engines, boilers, heat pumps or batteries
- investigating new technologies such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage, or the use of hydrogen to store energy
- supporting organisations to save energy and/or to move from carbon fuels to renewable energy sources
- advising on environmental legislation and standards, and making sure that targets to reduce carbon emissions are met
Depending on your role, your tasks may include carrying out surveys and site inspections, conducting feasibility studies, designing or selecting equipment, and researching systems and processes. You may use computer and mathematical models to come up with designs or to make calculations, and carry out tests and laboratory experiments. Many energy engineers oversee projects.
We asked Reagan about his role…
“At Glacier Energy I’m responsible for planning, executing and overseeing engineering projects, mainly focusing on the design and manufacture of pressure vessels/heat exchangers. To ensure that my projects meet our objectives, budgets and timelines, I collaborate with cross-functional teams including engineering, quality, production and accounts. I also liaise with project stakeholders to provide regular updates and address issues.”
Reagan went on to tell us a little about his day-to-day duties…
“I’m involved in designing and coordinating project plans, procurement, managing resources, solving technical challenges (with the help of the team) and ensuring compliance with various regulations and quality standards.”
Where could I work as an energy engineer?
Energy engineers work for energy generation and supply companies (many are members of Energy UK) and in the manufacturing, construction, automotive and aerospace sectors. In fact, any industry that uses significant power in their operations – from chemicals to textiles – are possible employers.
Energy engineers also work in consultancy. They may be freelance or work for an agency that specialises in supporting organisations with their energy projects.
Other potential employers include government departments and agencies, charities concerned with energy, energy partnerships, universities and research institutes.
Reagan told us a bit more about Glacier Energy...
“The company has a strong history and heritage working in the oil and gas industry, and this is allowing us to develop and deploy innovative solutions to support the transition towards clean energy. We are actively using our expertise to support companies involved in, for example, hydrogen, carbon capture, energy storage and the circular economy.”
In terms of settings, you could find yourself working at a power station, in a laboratory or office, on a construction site or even on an offshore facility. Even if you are mainly based in a lab or office, you may spend some time at your clients’ premises or going on site visits.
TIP: To get an idea about the range of opportunities have a look at some of the vacancies listed on websites such as RenewableEnergyJobs, GreenJobs and Energy & Utilities Jobs.
Would I suit a career in energy engineering?
To work in energy engineering you need a clear set of skills and interests:
- An interest in the environment, science and technology is a must, as well as an appreciation of the energy market.
- Excellent scientific, mathematical and digital skills are essential, and you must have plenty of initiative along with analytical and creative problem-solving ability.
- As you will often work in collaboration with others (geoscientists, surveyors, engineering technicians, construction specialists…) you must work well in a team.
- Good written and oral communication skills are required to lead teams, give presentations, negotiate with contractors and write reports.
- If you work for an international organisation or on overseas projects, the ability to speak another language can be useful.
- Project management, research and design skills may also be important.
You can buy a Morrisby Pass to find out how well suited your strengths, interests and personality are to the career and to read our energy engineer careers profile.
How do I get into energy engineering?
Energy engineers are normally graduates, but there are different entry routes.
Many energy engineers start by taking a degree in, for instance, mechanical, chemical, electrical or environmental engineering. There are also more specialist undergraduate courses leading to BEng and MEng degrees in subjects such as energy engineering, renewable energy engineering, sustainable engineering, electrical power engineering and nuclear engineering.
Entry requirements for engineering degree courses vary, so check carefully with individual universities. Your A-levels/Highers usually need to include maths and another scientific or technological subject. An alternative qualification, such as a suitable BTEC National (Level 3) or T level, may be acceptable.
TIP: Certain employers and professional bodies – such as The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Power Academy – offer sponsorships, scholarships and other awards, so explore your eligibility.
A full- or part-time postgraduate course in energy engineering may be useful if you have a more general undergraduate degree or if you want to study certain topics in detail.
TIP: Research the content of higher education courses carefully. Investigate the facilities available and the university’s links with industry. Employers often seek people with relevant experience, so a sandwich course may be valuable.
Training in employment
Employers provide training for your particular role. Some energy engineers start as technicians – often training through an apprenticeship – and work their way up to more responsible positions.
Most employers support your career development and may encourage you to continue with your studies. Some offer formal graduate training schemes or apprenticeships that give you the opportunity to gain the experience and competencies necessary to achieve Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng) status – see below.
An increasing number of degree apprenticeships have become available in recent years. These provide structured training in the workplace alongside studying part-time for a degree or postgraduate qualification.
In England, for instance, it’s possible to take a degree apprenticeship at level 6 to train as an Electro-Mechanical Engineer, Civil Engineer or Nuclear Engineer, or at level 7 to train as a postgraduate Engineer or Power & Propulsion Gas Turbine Engineer.
Employers set their own entry requirements, but you are likely to need suitable A-levels or equivalent for a level 6 apprenticeship or a relevant first degree for a level 7 apprenticeship.
How did Reagan enter the sector? “After A-levels I studied chemical engineering at university and this is where my passion for the energy sector was formed. I’ve been working in this field for nearly three years now, two within Glacier Energy. To understand the value that our work is providing I’ve visited sites such as chemical parks, steel mills and clean energy stores. Although I’ve already learned a lot, I know that I’ll keep on learning.”
What opportunities are there to progress in energy engineering?
Reagan’s TIP: “As well as engaging in development opportunities and networking, my main piece of advice is to listen to the people you work with as they have countless years of experience. Also remember that once in employment you need to work hard, take the initiative and solve problems that arise. To do well you need to be focused and take responsibility.”
With demand high for those with expertise in energy engineering, career prospects are good both in the UK and overseas, and you can work your way up to a more specialist or responsible role.
Some energy engineers move into general management, research, consultancy, teaching in higher education or self-employment.
Gaining IEng or CEng status will help with your professional development. There are different ways to achieve this, but if you have a degree or master’s qualification that has been accredited by a body licensed by the Engineering Council, such as the Energy Institute (EI) or IET, this will give you a quicker route.
TIP: Joining a relevant professional body, such as the EI or IET, will help with your continuing professional development as they offer networking events and courses; different levels of membership are available.
How can I find out more about careers in energy engineering?
You can find more on careers in energy engineering through bodies like the EI and RenewableUK as well as careers sites, such as This is Engineering and My Energy Future. Energy engineer career profiles can be found on Prospects and through the various national careers sites – the National Careers Service, My World of Work and Careers Wales. To explore the range of jobs in the energy sector in general, have a look at the Young Energy Professionals Forum booklet, Guide to Jobs in Energy.
If you’re not sure about working in engineering but have an interest in ‘green jobs’, you can explore the range of career options through the Green Careers Hub and get involved in initiatives such as Green Careers Week.
A career in energy engineering will offer you plenty of variety, the opportunity to be involved in a rapidly developing sector and the chance to contribute to a lower-carbon economy.
Let’s finish with some words from Reagan…
“My role comes with challenges but the satisfactions outweigh these. Seeing a project through from inception to delivery whilst successfully hitting all the deliverables is highly rewarding. This paired with working for a company that is actively supporting the drive towards clean energy is a great feeling. I look forward to what the future brings for my career and the sector.”
Debbie Steel, November 2023
With a background working with apprentices and teaching in further education, Debbie was employed as an in-house careers author before establishing herself as a freelancer. As well as co-authoring numerous careers books, Debbie has produced resources and web content for a range of high-profile clients. She is an enthusiastic proponent of impartial and reliable careers information.