Technological advances, policy changes, and a growing emphasis on sustainable business practices are creating a fast-growing need for professionals with expertise in renewable energy and sustainability.
Penn State’s redesigned renewable energy and sustainability systems program, offered exclusively online through Penn State World Campus and taught by faculty from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, aims to meet the needs of professionals in business and government.
A newly streamlined curriculum offers more flexibility to build a graduate degree at a time when the United States is undergoing a major transition in energy and sustainability, said Erich W. Schienke, the program’s lead faculty, who oversees the sustainability management and policy track of the master’s program.
“So many people are wanting to add new expertise right now,” Schienke said. “There are opportunities all over the place.”
“The energy industry changes so fast,” agreed Mark V. Fedkin, who oversees the solar energy certificate and renewable energy track. “With this new program, we will be able to respond to those changes much more efficiently.”
Students pursuing the MPS degree will take 12 core credits in energy markets and policy, renewable and sustainable energy systems, ethical dimensions of renewable energy, and foundations in sustainability systems. They will take another 12 credits in either sustainability management policy or renewable energy systems, depending on their career interests and goals. They will also take six elective credits and complete a three-credit capstone or special topics research experience.
Students in the sustainability management and policy track take courses in applied energy policy, renewable energy and nonmarket enterprise, technologies for sustainability systems, and sustainability-driven innovation.
Students in the solar energy track take courses in solar resource assessment and economics, utility solar power and concentration, commercial solar electric systems and solar project development, and finance.
About half of the students in the program are already working in energy industries, while the rest come from across all sectors, Fedkin said. More than a quarter of the students in the program are in the military.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the two fastest growing occupations in the United States are in solar and wind power installation. Solar photovoltaic installer jobs, which employed 9,700 people in 2018, are projected to grow 63%, adding 6,100 jobs, by 2028, according to the bureau. Wind turbine service technician jobs employed 6,600 people in 2018 and are projected to grow by 57%, adding 3,800 jobs, by 2028.
“While we don't directly teach installation skills, we do teach project development and management of these areas of renewables,” Schienke said. “So, while installers may occupy the top two positions, they all must be supported and guided by project developers, which is what we teach and train students to become.”
Potential careers could include directly working on renewable energy or managing sustainability issues for businesses, hospitals, insurance companies, or regional governments, Schienke said.