“Not only does geothermal energy provide more jobs than conventional energy technologies, it also provides quality, long-term jobs.” That’s the view of the US-based Geothermal Energy Association, which released an in-depth report on job creation in the geothermal sector just last year, showing that geothermal creates and supports a “significant” number of new jobs when compared with other energy technologies. To find out more about employment in this growing industry, we spoke to recruiters in the field as well as people already working in geothermal jobs.
What kind of jobs are available?
According to Christopher Ouizeman, head of the Australian arm of sustainability recruitment consultancy Allen & York Australiasia Ltd., the geothermal industry employs “the full spectrum of talent,” including most commercial engineering, technical engineering, and scientific positions. He explains that a geothermal employer will be looking for different skills depending on what stage of the process they have reached, be it exploration, feasibility, construction, commissioning or operation.
“As an example, we currently have a need for professionals with geothermal drilling experience as well as a team of hydro geologists and a small group of environmental engineers to look at environmental and social impacts,” Ouizeman says.
Ouizeman admits that Australia’s geothermal industry is not large when compared with other energy sources, but does not see this as a major problem for job seekers. “I would say job prospects were fair to good, and if the Australian Federal Government commits to its carbon management initiatives, prospects move from good to excellent,” he explains.
Susan Jeanes, chief executive of the Australian Geothermal Energy Association, also has a positive take on the Australian geothermal jobs market, pointing out that the industry is currently in need of geologists, engineers, rig operators, and commercial managers with experience in the energy and resources sector. “The research sector will also get a boost in terms of jobs because the major institutions, such as the CSIRO and leading universities in the sector, have formed the Geothermal Research Initiative to work on the industry’s technical challenges,” Jeanes adds.
Jeanes explains that these challenges include underground reservoir development and stimulation, improved drilling technologies, and the development of above-ground power systems. “A good deal of the below-ground engineering research and development will occur in Australia in that we have the optimum geology for the development of Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) or ‘hot rock’ technologies on a global scale,” Jeanes says, adding that she expects job prospects to improve as the industry demonstrates success over the next couple of years.
Chad Brezynskie, Vice President of sales and marketing for the Ontario-based GeoSmart Energy, says the US geothermal jobs market is definitely on the up. “The industry has seen tremendous growth over the last five or six years, so there has been and will be lots of opportunity for those looking with the right attitude and qualifications,” he explains.
In the UK, the geothermal energy sector is currently being boosted by the Government’s Deep Geothermal Challenge Fund, which supports deep geothermal energy exploitation in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While the geothermal sector is still getting off the ground here, there are still positions to be found. A look at recent UK-based job listings shows a need for many different types of engineers as well as geophysicists, drill site managers, and health and safety advisors.
What qualifications do I need?
According to Ouizeman, geothermal energy companies traditionally seek staff with tertiary qualifications in their chosen professions. “The largest concentration of disciplines are engineering and scientific, across most fields,” he says, adding that salary ranges depend on the discipline, role and the employee’s experience level.
Ouizeman adds that geothermal specialists who can add value and knowledge to the market are viewed favourably, but people with no geothermal experience will also be considered for lower-level jobs. “The sector can be largely project-based, hence at times certain disciplines (i.e drillers) are in high demand and at other times, alternative needs emerge,” he explains. “Once a plant is established, skill shortage areas would include reliability engineers, process engineers, and environmental professionals.”
“The geothermal energy sector pays market rates for its personnel, as opposed to the mining and resources sector, which tends to pay slightly above market rates,” Ouizeman adds. “Engineers and scientific professionals could earn as low as AUD$50,000 per year for graduates, to as high as AUD$400,000 per year for senior executive level roles. Many engineering and scientific roles are positioned between the AUD$100,000 and AUD$199,000 mark.”
Brezynskie’s US-based estimates for geothermal salaries are similarly wide-ranging. “In my experience, an outside sales person typically earns US$60,000 to US$100,000 annually,” he says, explaining that GeoSmart Energy looks to employ “hardworking overachievers” with strong backgrounds in the industry and HVAC (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning) licenses.
From the Geothermal Energy Association’s perspective, this is an industry with room for employees with many different qualifications and skill sets. “While degreed professionals such as engineers, lawyers, and managers are important to the development of a geothermal power plant, the process would be impossible without the experience or technical green collar personnels such as drillers, welders, and machinists,” states the Association’s 2010 report, Green Jobs Through Geothermal Energy. The report concludes that while it is difficult to quantify just how many jobs are generated and supported by geothermal energy, geothermal development is “integral to the nation’s clean energy portfolio in providing numerous stable and long-lasting jobs.”