In order for a state’s advanced energy economy to thrive, the state will need workers with advanced energy and energy engineering skills beyond a basic knowledge of STEM concepts. Currently, the higher education systems of some states lack an energy-related college major. Additionally, professional degree programs do not offer courses focused on energy.
A state should encourage its higher education institutions to consider establishing interdisciplinary energy engineering degree programs. New energy majors could draw heavily from existing courses, faculty, and industry relationships, minimizing startup costs. Universities that already have a strong base of research can form partnerships with local energy firms. This existing infrastructure could be expanded to support broader, interdisciplinary programs. In addition to establishing technically-focused academic programs, law and business schools should consider adding classes focused on energy topics, such as energy law and energy finance, to support the growing sector.
Expanding energy course offerings and degree programs will increase the number of trained and knowledgeable workers and help attract more innovative companies and investments. Many states with strong solar and battery industries have established specialized degree programs in order to increase the pool of highly-qualified workers available to local companies and to attract increased investment to their states. Institutions could look to successes at Penn State and San Jose State University for higher education programs in advanced energy.
Energy Engineering at Penn State
Across the nation, several universities have successfully established programs in advanced energy or energy engineering, including Pennsylvania State University. The university’s Bachelor of Science program in Energy Engineering offers a multi-disciplinary education, with courses in renewable energy, electrochemical engineering, business, finance, and management. During the first two years of the program, students take classes similar to most other engineering degrees, but during the last two years they take classes that apply engineering skills to energy problems. For example, students apply thermodynamics and chemical processing to the natural gas and biomass industries. The program also offers internship opportunities with the Department of Energy and opens the doors to a wide range of career opportunities for graduating students. Established in the summer of 2007, the program has increased its enrollment by 27% since 2001 with nearly 200 enrolled students as of 2015.
San Jose State University offers a master’s degree in battery technology, called “Battery University.” This graduate-level program is designed to increase the number of trained and skilled workers available to the rapidly growing battery industry. Course topics include basic overviews of battery technology and manufacturing, as well as overviews of energy market dynamics and policy considerations. The program includes opportunities for hands-on experience, allowing students to work with local battery companies. The program is flexible, allowing students to take classes online and on nights and weekends.