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When considering the future of the energy sector, many people immediately think of power plants, renewable energy, or the grid. However, the most direct and personal way the majority of the population interacts with energy is the use and management of it in buildings.
Ensuring tomorrow’s energy systems are smart, sustainable, and effective requires educated professionals in those facilities who understand all aspects of the equipment, the energy being sent to the building, what went into building and installing those systems, and the relationship with the power provider. These professionals are the energy management leaders.
To prepare students for a career as an energy management professional, more and more schools are offering bachelor’s degrees in energy management. Anyone interested in this type of work has more options than ever. This article covers questions you may have about deciding whether such a program is for you, including a comprehensive list of all energy management degree offerings across the university landscape.
- Undergraduates who specialize in energy management are interested in the most effective use of energy within buildings & facilities and the intersection of technical & business aspects of energy systems.
- Bachelor’s degrees in energy management address fundamental engineering principles, practical energy management concerns (e.g. safety & risk), and corporate considerations (e.g. budgets).
- Graduates often find jobs in energy auditing & energy management positions that require an understanding of sustainable business practices. You’ll notice that our listings contain both BS and BBA options.
What Is Energy Management?
The difference between energy management and other energy-focused fields can be defined in terms of location. While other professionals may consider the power plant, fossil fuel production fields, transmission infrastructure, or even legislative halls (where regulations are determined), energy management specialists typically focus on the use and optimization of energy within the confines of a building or facility. This management may be introduced during the initial construction process or once the building becomes operational.
The other key difference between energy management and related energy fields is that those in energy management also focus on the business side of energy, not just the technology itself. Operating within business budgets, understanding key relationships between the facility and power provider, and accounting for aspects like the payback period of equipment are paramount to the typical energy management professional.
That said, energy management does cross over into other fields since it’s not a narrowly defined industry. Some energy management professionals also deal with land management, on-site renewable energy systems development, fuel production considerations, and more. But in the end, the energy management leader typically maintains a broad overview of the technical and business aspects of relevant energy systems.
Because of this, those pursuing a career in energy management can expect to attain skills ranging from traditional engineering (e.g., materials science and physics) and business (e.g., finance, accounting, and business decision-making) to others that are forward-looking and career specific (e.g., sustainable land use and HVAC system design).
With such a background, energy management professionals are prepared for a number of potential responsibilities, including
- designing energy systems for buildings
- guiding retrofits for major energy systems
- testing energy equipment
- communicating technical and nontechnical information
- HVAC engineering and systems controls
- energy modeling
- in-plant engineering for HVAC systems
What Is an Energy Management Degree?
The first energy management degree, focused on the petroleum industry, was established by the University of Oklahoma in 1958. Of course, the energy industry has evolved greatly in the decades since, with HVAC systems, electrification, and evolving building energy considerations becoming a core part of the energy management professional and associated study programs.
Today, over 20 specific programs focus on some type of energy management, with that number climbing as the definition of energy management becomes looser. As the energy management sector evolves, so too will the degree programs guiding them.
What will be consistent, though, is that energy management degrees remain in the compelling and desirable intersection that is both technical and business focused. Students learn to think like engineers to optimize energy systems while also bringing in an understanding of economics to work successfully within a budget and reduce construction or operational costs. The Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston notes the following:
We would like your business graduates to have grounding in technical disciplines. The energy industry is a very technical industry mostly comprised of engineers. Our business leaders need to be able to communicate and work in a technical environment.
Thus students who choose to partake in these programs should possess skills and interest in the engineering aspects of energy but also want real-world application and focus in a way that allows them to communicate effectively and work with both technical and nontechnical audiences.
Students interested in joining an energy management degree program must therefore demonstrate an ability toward the mathematical and science background of engineering with a practical ability to grasp business concepts.
Tuition for these energy management programs tends to parallel similar technical fields. For example, the Fitchburg State University Energy Management program can run about $20,000 per year, no different than the rest of its other degree programs.
What Will Students Learn in an Energy Management Program?
Typically, energy management curriculum focuses on what students will need to know in the field when it comes to HVAC equipment, building energy systems, and the management of the facility-utility relationship.
One of the great aspects of pursuing an energy management degree is that certain programs allow more specialized deep dives into specific subsets of the energy management industry. For example, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry offers a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Energy Management which focuses on “the study of responsible energy resources use and the development of sustainable sources of energy.”
Other degrees remain more focused on the traditional facilities energy management career. For instance, Ferris State University’s Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Engineering Technology and Energy Management program “addresses designing, retrofitting, testing, and balancing on a problem-solving level and prepares the HVACR engineering technologist to fill a wide technological gap between the service technicians and engineers.”
Energy Management Coursework
Energy management students can expect a robust mix of general education courses, an early focus on engineering building blocks (e.g., electrical systems, calculus, software applications, materials science, engineering, and building design), and direct energy management preparation (e.g., safety and risk management, HVAC systems, co-generation and waste management). The goal throughout the coursework is to teach students how to think and problem solve like true energy management professionals.
Lastly, they will likely need to have a broad knowledge of energy systems, with higher-level classes covering the clean energy sector, sustainable practices, the science behind energy consumption, and the public policy and regulation that covers it all.
As students’ education progresses into advanced classes, they’ll learn to understand the nuance of sustainability in these systems, the fast-moving digital technologies (e.g., smart energy, load shifting, EV charging, and more) that are becoming common place, and how to think critically about energy management challenges, opportunities, and more.
It should be noted that the work accomplished for an energy management degree isn’t just to prepare students to sit at a desk all day, but rather for a dynamic career in the field. That means students can expect parts of these programs to be hands on. Applied laboratory work, in-field practice, and on-site preparations for the career that lies ahead are all commonplace, as well as internships and study abroad opportunities to see how energy systems vary in different regions of the world. Because work is so hands on, students can also expect to see in-person mentoring programs, such as through the Tulsa Energy Management Student Association.
What Can Students Do with Their Energy Management Degree?
Broadly speaking, energy management degree graduates demonstrate both logical and creative thinking skills, affording them opportunities to move directly into building design and operation roles. They can also anticipate a future in key leadership positions in the design and construction of buildings. No matter which direction graduates take, engineering design and building insights will be at the heart of the energy management career.
Starting salaries will vary, of course, by region and the area of energy management in which a student focuses. But to give a few examples:
- Everglades University cites that graduating energy auditors can start at $70,000 per year, with energy managers starting at about $100,000 per year.
- Valencia College, a two-year college, reports that the average salary for graduates of their Associate in Science in Energy Management and Controls Technology reaches up to $80,000; the bachelor’s degree promises to be even more appealing.
- Franklin University reports that the highest earning energy and sustainability managers reach ~$372,000 per year, with a median annual salary of nearly $186,000.
Whichever direction an energy management graduate takes, the unequivocal consensus is that this field is a fast moving one with growth opportunities abounding. As noted by Walden University, world energy demand is expected to increase 28% by 2040, and this increasing demand means the economy needs more boots on the ground to optimize and manage energy systems—for the good of the planet, the viability of the energy sector, and the success of individual businesses managing their energy systems. These areas are where the industry will continue to prioritize and value graduates with energy management degrees.