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Understanding the Energy Sector

April 29, 2024

The energy sector touches all aspects of our daily lives. From the moment we wake up in the morning, when we drive around or take public transport, when you go to the shops, and when we arrive home at the end of the day and relax, the energy sector is behind all of these everyday events.

It should come as no surprise that the energy sector is one of the largest employers in the world. And it’s not an industry that is content to stay still. It is constantly moving and in flux, with new technology driving the sector forward and making it a vibrant and engaging sector for employment opportunities.

Another perk of the energy sector is that it is present all over the world. This means you can learn the skills you need to take you anywhere in the world. Opportunities for travel are incredibly common in the energy sector, or you could simply go where the demand for your skills is the highest.

In this guide, we’re taking a deep dive into the energy sector in 2024 and beyond so you can get a better understanding of how the sector works and if this career path is right for you.

What is the global energy sector?

The first thing you need to understand about the energy sector is how vast and expansive it is. It includes a wide range of sectors, professions and specialisations. In general, it refers to the generation of power using fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas or renewable energy, including wind and solar. There is also low carbon energy that is not completely renewable such as nuclear.

Within each sector, there are different roles available that address different parts of the energy generation process. This could include generation, transmission, storage, research and development, sales and metering.

The energy sector attracts people with a wide range of skills. It’s not only engineers who are in demand in this sector. There are also health and safety professionals, researchers, educators, environmentalists, conservationists, sales representatives and analysts. 

How big is the industry in 2024?

China, the USA and Russia are some of the biggest consumers of energy in the world. In 2019, China accounted for 141.7 exajoules of energy consumption, compared with just 7.84 exajoules consumed in the UK. Obviously, the difference in population is the primary reason for this disparity.

The global energy market is enormous and can have a widespread impact on global markets. You only have to look at how oil prices respond to world events to see how interlinked the energy sector is with economies around the world.

The energy sector shows no signs of slowing down, with much of this growth fueled by the renewable energy sector. Data shows that the worldwide renewable energy sector is set to be worth around $1.5 trillion by 2025.

While the pandemic might have caused global shifts in demand for energy, this has all but recovered by this stage. Many countries are not moving forward with plans to achieve net zero economies by 2050 or sooner.

What kinds of jobs are available in this sector?

There is a common misconception that the energy sector is filled entirely with engineering roles. This simply isn’t true and there are many different roles across different disciplines to consider. 

Power generation

Those involved with designing, building, operating and maintaining the equipment required to generate electricity are often more technical. These are the engineering roles that are most often associated with the energy sector as a whole. Working in this part of the process will typically mean more field work and practical, hands-on roles. Thi could include:

  • Mechanical engineers – These engineers are concerned with the design and build of tools required to generate energy, or to extract the raw materials required to generate energy. You might think that we have perfected oil extraction, but mechanical engineers in this sector are still looking for ways to make this process safer and more efficient.
  • Electrical engineers – These workers are involved with the electrical components that are required for energy generation. For example, they might be involved in making sure that turbines and motors are constructed correctly and deployed in the right regions. Electrical engineers also work on keeping energy plants operational while also decommissioning sites that are no longer required.
  • Geologists and environmentalists – While the geologists are required to help determine the best sites for drilling and exploration, there are also environmentalists on hand who can help to ensure minimal disruption to the sites. They will test water and soil samples in the area to ensure that they are within safe limits.

Distribution networks

Once we have generated the power, we then need to get it to where it needs to be. In the UK, we have the National Grid, which is responsible for ensuring homes and businesses throughout the UK have sufficient power when they need it. Some roles throughout this part of the sector include:

  • Project manager – Before a new energy project can be rolled out, we need project managers to plan and implement every stage of this. A project manager in the energy sector will typically oversee the rollout of new energy networks, upgrades and planned repairs.
  • Distribution engineers – These highly specialist engineers oversee the design and installation of above and below ground distribution systems. This includes things like pylons and below ground cables. They also work to optimise efficiency of these cables.

Sales

The way the energy network operates is there are lots of different companies selling energy to the end consumer. The National Grid provides the energy, and then metering organisations take control of reporting back on how much energy every customer has used so they can be billed accordingly. Competition is fierce among providers, which is why sales is such an important part of this sector. Examples of jobs include:

  • Energy analyst – These professionals spot trends in energy usage and report back to the National Grid to help optimise performance. This information may also be used to set country-wide standards and policies on energy usage.
  • Metering technicians – Most properties will have an energy metre which keeps track of how much energy you are using. These machines need to be installed, maintained and checked to ensure that they are working and the customer’s bill is up to date.
  • Sales advisors – Every energy company is vying for attention from commercial and residential customers. This is where sales advisors come in, helping to reach out to potential customers and convince them to switch to a new provider. 

Who are the biggest employers in the energy sector?

Some of the largest companies in the world happen to also be in the energy sector, this includes household names such as Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and EDF. There are also regional players, such as Chevron in the United States, PetroChina in China, Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia, and Iberdrola in Spain.

There’s no shortage of employers in the UK and further afield. For those looking for work with specific energy providers, companies like Octopus Energy, Utility Warehouse and E.ON are often looking for new talent. Engineers can start their search with companies such as ENGIE, CBRE and Mott MacDonald.

What skills do I need to work in the energy sector?

This all depends on the roles you are exploring, as they will all be very different. The majority of people working in the energy sector have landed there following specialist training, which usually includes a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree or sometimes even a PhD. 

Job descriptions for energy sector roles are typically split into hard and soft skills. The hard skills will be highly specific to the role and might include specific training and qualifications required for the role. Examples of soft skills could include:

  • Communication – those in the energy sector often need to communicate complex ideas, and this can only be achieved with impeccable communication skills. This includes speaking but also listening.
  • Problem solving – these skills will serve you well in any role, whether you are installing new wind turbines or decommissioning an old power station.
  • Team work – there are very few roles in the energy sector that will allow you to work in isolation. It is a collaborative sector, so you’ll need to know how to work effectively as part of a wider team.
  • Leadership – while not essential for every role, there are some areas of the energy sector where there is a clear and defined need for strong leadership. This typically occurs in engineering roles on large projects where someone needs to take the lead and guide a team of engineers.
  • Organisation and planning – the energy sector is a very structured and organised sector and it pays to be methodical in your approach to tasks. With so much resting on successful outcomes, you need to have a good level of organisation and self discipline to be successful in this field.

What does the future hold for the energy sector?

Renewable energy is front and centre in the energy sector, but this doesn’t mean that all other sectors will be forgotten. Nuclear energy is growing in popularity in the UK as a method for providing more stability and certainty as the region switches to renewable energy sources. While not completely net zero, it is a low carbon alternative to fuels like oil and gas.

We can expect to see more interest, investment and development across the renewables sector, particularly solar and wind. Homes will also need to be updated with new heat pumps to allow them to be heated without gas, and this will require lots of engineers with the skills and experience to achieve this.

The ageing infrastructure will also need to be continually updated and renewed as we make way for a new future of renewable energy. With more homes adding solar panels to their roofs, the energy grid will need to work both ways, with customers able to draw energy from the National Grid and generate energy for the National Grid. This will alter the way we generate, distribute, track and sell energy.

Is this a future-proof career path?

If you’re looking for a career path with staying power, then the energy sector is a good place to look. We will always need energy, even if the source of that energy changes over time, there will always be a demand for this resource. As such, training and working in the energy sector is about as future-proof as you can get.

That said, it’s not a career where you can get in and stay put for your whole career. The nature of the industry means that it will always be changing and evolving. This means that the workers need to be willing to change and evolve, too.

Working in the energy sector means you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of learning and development. You may need to retrain and upskill to remain relevant in this industry. While this might scare a lot of people, others find it to be a reason to choose this sector over others. 

Final thoughts

There are few sectors of life untouched by the energy sector, so it makes sense that this would be a dynamic and varied career path with lots of opportunities for career growth.

You don’t have to be an engineer to work in this sector, and there are plenty of roles available for those with the analytical and organisational skills to help make projects happen. This includes project managers and sales representatives. 

There are also opportunities for those who want to be on the ground with a new workplace every day, such as metering engineers. And for those interested in travelling, there are also opportunities overseas, as engineers within the energy sector are in demand for energy projects around the world. 

In short, there are career paths available whether you are just starting your career and thinking about career paths, or looking to retrain following redundancy. With determination and focus, anyone can build a secure career within the thriving energy sector.

Nolan Recruitment is a Specialist Engineering Recruitment Agency. One of the UK's best Engineering & Technical Recruiter

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