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With attention swelling on our warming planet, renewable energy has shifted into the limelight as a key mechanism for reducing climate change’s devastating impact. A valuable way to help increase the widespread adoption of these critical technologies is to apply the skills and knowledge attained from a graduate degree in renewable energy. These degrees are designed to equip students to succeed in this sector by focusing on solar, wind, and hydropower systems, energy storage, energy policy, finance, or business management.
A master’s degree in renewable energy opens the potential for career advancement in an innovative and rapidly growing industry. As clean energy demand increases—for environmental, financial, and security reasons—so too does the need for experts in the field who can design, build, manage, and maintain renewable energy infrastructures. In many cases, a renewable energy graduate degree can be a smart investment for students and professionals looking to advance their careers in the energy sector while making a positive impact on the world.
This guide provides an introduction to master’s degrees in renewable energy, helping you understand your options within this broad scope and gain knowledge of how these types of degrees can impact your professional future. You can also jump ahead to our renewable energy graduate program listings.
- Master’s degrees in renewable energy concentrate on the technical & scientific aspects of renewable energy systems. A number of graduates pursue managerial positions overseeing energy projects.
- At this level, you have the option to choose a technical degree like the MS or MEng, a business degree like the MBA, or a policy degree like the MPP. Our listings primarily feature programs with an engineering feel.
- Prices for this specialist degree vary widely, from $33,000 to $85,500. Weigh your career goals and salary expectations before committing.
Renewable Energy Graduate Degrees
Sustainable vs. Renewable Energy
Before diving into the different types of degrees in this area of study, let’s clarify the distinction between sustainable energy and renewable energy graduate degrees.
In general, a master’s in sustainable energy takes a more holistic approach to the broader topic of energy sustainability, covering issues such as energy efficiency, energy management, sustainable transportation, and sustainable urban planning, in addition to renewable energy technologies.
A master’s in renewable energy, however, is more focused on the scientific and technical aspects of renewable energy systems and technologies. Students may study energy systems, energy storage, grid integration, energy management, energy policy, and energy economics.
Types of Renewable Energy Degree Programs
Master’s degree programs in renewable energy can vary dramatically from one another, depending on the area of focus. Here are the most common types of renewable energy master’s degrees:
- Master of Science (MSc): An MSc typically focuses on the scientific and technical aspects of solar, wind, and geothermal systems. Students in this program may learn about energy conversion and storage (energy distribution typically being more of a focus within MEng programs).
- Master of Engineering (MEng): An MEng concentrates on the engineering and design aspects of renewable energy systems, including the development of new technologies and the optimization of existing systems.
- Master of Business Administration (MBA): A Renewable Energy MBA zeros in on the business and management aspects of renewable energy, including finance, marketing, and strategic planning.
- Master of Public Policy (MPP): An MPP focuses on the policy and regulatory aspects of renewable energy, including energy policy development, analysis, and implementation.
- Master of Professional Studies (MPS): An MPS homes in on the practical application of renewable energy technologies in industry settings, helping develop skills in energy management, sustainability, and project management.
How Do Master’s Programs in Renewable Energy Work?
Online or In-Person
Renewable energy is still a burgeoning academic field for most colleges. While there are some stand-alone master’s programs in renewable energy, typically these degrees are included as part of a different course of study, such as engineering, business administration, or public policy.
Additionally, many of these programs are available only as online programs, as opposed to in-person. However, as renewable energy becomes a larger focus for businesses and organizations, availability of in-person master’s programs will likely increase. For a detailed list of renewable energy master’s degree programs, please see the list at the end of this guide.
Admissions and the Right Student for These Programs
There is no “one size fits all” graduate renewable energy degree. These programs differ significantly from each other, primarily depending on the technical- vs. business-oriented nature of the studies.
This difference is also reflected in admissions requirements and the type of student each renewable energy master’s degree program seeks. In general, most master’s degree programs require applicants to provide their bachelor’s degree transcripts, standardized testing scores (GRE, GMAT, etc.), a purpose statement, and recommendations (professional, academic, or both).
Specific examples of the right student, along with a sample school, for these key degree types follow:
- Master of Science: An MSc is designed for students with a background in science, engineering, or a related field. For an example, see Villanova University: Master of Science in Sustainable Engineering
- Master of Engineering: An MEng is suited for students with a strong background in engineering who want to specialize in the design and development of renewable energy systems. For an example, see University of Michigan: Energy Systems Engineering Graduate Degree Program
- Master of Business Administration: MBA degree programs are aimed at students who want to develop the business and management skills needed to work in the renewable energy sector. Often these schools require that students have real-world work experience prior to joining the program. For and example, see University of Oklahoma: Executive MBA in Energy
- Master of Public Policy: MPP degree programs seek students who want to work in the policy and regulatory aspects of renewable energy. For an example, see Oregon State University: Master of Public Policy, Energy Policy
- Master of Professional Studies: An MPS is suited for students who want to develop practical skills in renewable energy management, energy efficiency, and project management. Some programs may also require work experience in a related field. For an example, see Penn State Global Campus: Master of Professional Studies in Renewable Energy and Sustainability Systems
Program Length and Structure
A master’s degree in renewable energy typically takes one to two years, although some programs can last three to five years (for part-time and online students). Students also have the option to pursue a thesis or research focus as part of the program, which normally takes longer to complete, requiring independent research and a formal defense of the thesis.
In the example degree programs above, program length varies. Villanova University’s in-person program requires completing 30 credits (10 courses) over two, three, or even five years (with no summer courses).
The University of Oklahoma’s Executive MBA offers a primarily online program targeting more career-oriented students. This program requires six, eight-week online course modules, and three weeklong in-person residencies to earn the degree in 15 months.
Penn State Global Campus’ MPS program offers an entirely online curriculum that requires 33 credits for completion, normally done over three semesters.
Since each master’s degree program differs in its focus, the coursework differs accordingly. Continuing with the five types of renewable energy degrees outlined above, here are highlights of sample coursework for each degree:
- Master of Science: Villanova University, MSc in Sustainable Engineering
- Key advanced courses: Renewable Energy Policy, Intro to Power Electronics, Renewable Energy Systems, Power System Modeling, Electrochemical Power Sources, Advanced Life Cycle Assessment and Introduction to Product Design, Supply Chain Sustainability.
- Master of Engineering: University of Michigan, MEng in Energy Systems
- Key advanced courses: Materials for Energy Solutions, Energy Technology Manufacturing, Energy Sustainability and Process, Energy Systems Platforms.
- Additionally, UM requires a focus on courses within a career pathway, including Battery Science and Engineering; Energy Generation, Distribution, and Usage; Transportation Power; Chemical Energy Conversion; and Environmental Stewardship of Energy Resources.
- Master of Business Administration: University of Oklahoma, Executive MBA in Energy
- Key advanced courses: Renewable Energy Technology and Innovation, Renewable Energy Analysis and Forecasting, Renewable Energy Law and Regulations, Accounting for Renewable Energy, Renewable Energy Project Valuation, Renewable Energy Project Business Plan, Renewable Energy Project: Develop, Implement, and Manage.
- Master of Public Policy: Oregon State University, MPP in Energy Policy
- Key advanced courses: Economics of Traditional and Renewable Energy; Climate and Society; Collaborative Governance; Integrated Approaches to Food-Water-Energy-Climate; U.S. Energy Policy; International Energy Policy; Renewable Energy Policy; The Politics of Climate Change; Environmental Politics and Policy; International Environmental Politics and Policy.
- Master of Professional Studies: Penn State Global Campus, MPS in Renewable Energy and Sustainability Systems
- Key advanced courses: Ethical Dimensions of Renewable Energy and Sustainability Systems; Foundations in Sustainability Systems; Energy Markets, Policy, and Regulation; Renewable and Sustainable Energy Systems.
- Penn State also offers additional courses in one of two tracks: Sustainability Management or Renewable Energy Systems.
Many graduate programs go beyond standard classroom learning by offering real-world experience as part of the curriculum, providing students with hands-on, in-depth project experience while working closely with a faculty member. Two school examples offering this real-world experience include
- University of Michigan: This program provides a capstone course (three credits) to offer an industry-relevant project experience, where students work directly with a faculty member to solve a clearly defined problem or need.
- Penn State Global Campus: This capstone coursework includes work on either renewable energy systems projects using a systems analysis and case-study approach or a special research project with a faculty member.
How Much Do Master’s in Renewable Energy Cost?
Not surprisingly, just as the focus and coursework of these degree programs vary, their costs also differ greatly. Penn State’s Global Campus tuition runs between $33,000 and $36,000. Villanova University’s master’s costs about $45,000, as does Johns Hopkins MSc in Energy Policy. The University of Oklahoma Executive MBA program comes in at a very high-end tuition of $85,500.
Is a Master’s in Renewable Energy Worth It?
As interest expands in mitigating climate change and reducing society’s dependence on fossil fuels, the growth of the renewable energy sector rapidly continues to increase.
Whether a master’s degree in renewable energy is worth the investment depends on numerous factors, including career goals, tuition costs, and the type of job desired. On the one hand, this degree can provide valuable knowledge and skills to advance your career and increase your salary. On the other hand, pursuing a master’s can be expensive, and the return on investment may vary depending on your career trajectory and the job market.
Just as there are many differences between master’s degree programs in renewable energy, numerous differences exist in the types of careers, salaries, and job requirements of this expanding sector. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that two of the fastest growing occupations in the country over the next decade will be wind technicians and solar installers. While these positions do not offer the highest median salary, $56,000 and $47,000, respectively, they also do not necessarily require master’s degrees to earn the job.
Renewable energy project managers can earn over $100,000 annually, but these positions typically require a master’s degree. Alternatively, renewable energy engineers can earn over $99,000 and typically require only a bachelor’s degree.
Ultimately, the decision to pursue a master’s degree in renewable energy should be based on a careful consideration of your goals, interests, and financial situation. It is important to weigh the benefits of specific graduate programs—networking opportunities, access to industry experts, and practical experience offered by the program—against the investment of costs and time of pursuing a master’s degree.