The work of a geothermal energy engineer is similar to that of other engineers, such as mechanical engineers, except geothermal engineers are focused on the particular challenges of working in geothermal.
This work may include finding new ways to harness geothermal energy or developing new tools and techniques. Other engineers will work to harness geothermal heat and power to obtain renewable energy.
Geothermal energy can be obtained either by obtaining it from natural reservoirs that are close to Earth’s surface or by pumping cold water into a geothermal reservoir so that it is heated and the hot water turns into steam which can be used to turn turbines, etc.
These methods mean that geothermal energy can be used either directly or indirectly:
- Direct Use: Direct use of geothermal energy involves using the heat from a geothermal resource directly to heat a structure.
- Indirect Use: Geothermal heat can be used to turn water into steam which the powers a turbine to produce electricity at geothermal power plants.
Geothermal engineers work on developing geothermal technologies and drilling techniques as well as monitoring geothermal reservoirs and assessing any problems that may occur. In addition, these professionals may assist with the construction of geothermal plants as well as assisting with plant operations. Typical duties for geothermal engineers can include:
1. Locating Reservoirs
Geothermal engineers may help access new geothermal reservoirs by assessing different locations for ease of utilisation.
2. Designing Facilities
As well as locating geothermal resources, these engineers help design systems for accessing and using the energy at different locations. Geothermal engineers also create systems for geothermal energy production, working alongside technicians, technologists, geologists and other experts.
3. Monitoring and Evaluation
Geothermal engineers oversee the smooth operation of a geothermal site. Monitoring equipment and machinery as well as ensuring the systems are compatible and compliant with standards and requirements. Geothermal engineers may also evaluate systems and provide methods for improving performance.
Geothermal engineers may also be required to supervise others, such as during drilling operations, and overseeing other engineers on site. Geothermal engineers also take and analyse soil and rock samples from geothermal sites.
5. Planning and Reporting
All of this work requires planning and, as such, geothermal engineers need to communicate with other experts, planners and managers as well as providing reports on findings and recommendations.
Geothermal engineers work at different locations depending on their duties, including at offices, in laboratories, at geothermal project sites and in industrial manufacturing environments.
Those involved in processing geothermal energy will work on designing facilities from an office to overseeing on-site developments and processes. Other engineers will travel around the world to locate suitable geothermal sites before developing strategies to access the resources.
Other engineers will work on committees to advise on geothermal energy and develop new strategies to exploit this renewable resource.
The salary for geothermal engineers depends on location, duties, how many years of experience you have, and your employer. Wages may also depend on other factors such as whether you are required to travel or work extra hours to meet deadlines.
Most geothermal engineers work around 40 hours per week, with some occasional evening, weekend or holiday work. The average salary differs according to different sources but, as an example, Glassdoor.co.uk note an average salary of £37865 per year in the United Kingdom (as of December 2022), with a range of £24-60k+ per year.
Most geothermal engineers gain a bachelor’s degree in a subject such as engineering, biochemical engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, or mechanical engineering.
From here, some engineers will continue their education to gain a master’s or doctorate, but others will opt to enter the profession after their bachelor’s degree and gain experience.
Other professionals will seek out an apprenticeship and couple on-the-job learning with study while others will find a job in a related area and work their way up.
However, whichever route you take into geothermal engineering, work experience is key due to the relative complexity of the knowledge required for this role.
Some more advanced roles will require professional certification too, as noted by The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), who report that a professional engineer (PE) licence may be required for some roles.
Geothermal engineering not only offers a decent wage (given the right experience and knowledge), but also provides a number of other benefits.
Most notably perhaps is the opportunity to use your knowledge and skills to make a genuine difference to the future of global energy production and help combat climate change.
This profession can also offer opportunities for travel while forecasts suggest that there will be decent job growth in this profession over the next few years.
Aside from the academic knowledge required for the role, there are a number of other skills that are important for geothermal engineers.
These skills include:
1. Analytical Skills
Geothermal engineers need good analytical skills in order to review data and make appropriate decisions based upon the information at hand.
2. Problem Solving
As well as assessing data, geothermal engineers need to be able to use critical thinking, reasoning and logic to solve problems. This includes being able to assess different solutions in order to find the most effective one.
Geothermal engineers often work as part of a wider team. This may be with other engineers or professionals from different backgrounds altogether.
4. Communication Skills
As part of this teamwork, geothermal engineers will need to use good communication skills. This is not only to make sure ideas are exchanged clearly but also for writing reports, guidelines and recommendations, sometimes for people without an engineering background.
5. Leadership Skills
Geothermal engineers may also be required to lead or manage others – including engineers, technicians and technologists.
6. Self-Management Skills
Geothermal engineers also need to be self-motivated to succeed, meeting deadlines and ensuring their work is done correctly – especially given the potentially hazardous environments associated with geothermal energy.
Geothermal engineering is all about accessing and using geothermal energy, whether for producing electricity or for heating and cooling applications. Geothermal energy is a sustainable energy source that is always available, but it is the role of geothermal engineers to help locate and access this resource.
Geothermal engineers need to overcome a number of challenges as a result of the aggressive environments associated with geothermal energy, including drilling and materials challenges.
Many people see geothermal energy as an important part of the future energy mix for the world to replace the use of fossil fuels and combat climate change.