A new career for engineers has appeared in the last three years, and American universities are responding to the call, with several now offering, or plan to offer, students degrees in renewable energy engineering. The Oregon Institute of Technology will be graduating the first class of 50 students this year with the degree, and many other institutions are following suit, as private industry has taken notice of the growing consumer and corporate interest in renewable energy.
The Oregon Tech program was initiated in 2005, and students enrolled in the bachelor of science program are required to learn the fundamentals of electrical and mechanical engineering and take a number of electives in solar power generation, pump, generator and motor technologies, hydropower, biomass conversion, wind technologies, and geothermal principles.
Oregon Tech is the only completely geothermally heated university campus in America, and its Geo-Heat Center is known worldwide as a leader in geothermal research and development.
“We’re constantly getting phone calls from renewable-energy companies who advertise jobs,” Robert Bass told the New York Times. Bass is assistant professor at Oregon Tech in charge of the program. “And starting salaries are very good.”
Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois will be admitting its first group of students to its new renewable energy program in the fall of 2008. Students will have two tracks to choose from – a technology track or an economics/public policy track. ISU plans to prepare its students for careers biofuels, wind and solar energy, or for work in regulatory and governmental agencies. The program is part of Illinois State’s Department of Technology.
So far, ISU has a dozen students who have applied to the program according to Dave Kennell, coordinator for the ISU program. “We have 3 out of state applicants from New Jersey, Texas, Washington,” Kennell said. “We would like to see a total of about 60 students in the program.”
Kennell will be teaching the introduction to renewable energy course, as well as some of the electrical engineering, and the capstone course, the final course to help the students coordinate the knowledge they’ve gained during the program.
“We will mainly focus on wind, solar and biomass, since they are the most viable for our region,” Kennell said.
According to Kennell, Horizon Wind Energy based in Houston, Texas, has expressed interest in the program, and sits on the advisory board for the renewable energy program. Horizon operates a massive wind farm southeast of Bloomington-Normal near Arrowsmith, Illinois. The Twin Groves Wind Farm became fully operational in 2007, and is producing approximately 396 megawatts of power for about 120,000 homes.