Power up a green STEM career with a renewable energy engineering degree

unsw renewable energy engineering degree

Wondering where a degree in renewable energy engineering could lead? Here are 5 real-life career paths that might surprise you!

Revolutionising how we power our world without fossil fuels is one of the biggest and most important challenges facing our generation. Want to be part of the solution? Well you’re in luck!

Australia is home to one of the world’s leading research schools into renewable energy technologies. The School of Photovoltaics and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE) at UNSW Sydney is the home of world-changing tech and has generated grads who have gone on to launch multi-billion dollar businesses.

In fact, more than three-quarters of the world’s new solar panels use technology that was invented at UNSW by Professor Martin Green, who in 1983 invented a super-efficient solar cell that has been described as one of the top 10 milestones in the history of the technology. Mentor goals, much?

UNSW SPREE offers two undergraduate qualifications, the only degrees of their kind in the world and both industry-renowned – the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Photovoltaics and Solar Energy) and the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Renewable Energy).

Become a renewable energy expert

While the Renewable Energy (RE) degree encompasses solar, it includes other renewable technologies such as wind and biomass, so if you’re looking for a bit of a broader qualification to launch your career in the world of next-gen energy and sustainability, that one might be for you.

UNSW’s RE degree will equip you with some serious sustainability credentials relevant to a number of sectors and could see you landing a graduate gig in anything from a tech startup, to government or construction. And with a 2020 Climate Council report predicting 76,000 new jobs in re-engineering Australia’s energy system by 2030 – there’ll be no shortage of opportunities knocking.

Here are 5 examples of real-life career paths that all started with this degree:

1. NASA mission commander and Arctic expert

Martha completed her PhD in photovoltaics (PV) at UNSW SPREE.

Yes – you read that right! Martha Lenio had a mechanical engineering degree under her belt before she joined SPREE to complete her PhD in photovoltaics. Martha’s seriously impressive CV includes being first female commander on a NASA-funded Mars mission simulation. “In space you’re living off renewable energy,” she says. 

“The more sustainable you make space travel, the further you can go.” 

Now, Martha is working with the non government organisation, WWF-Canada, to help remote communities transition to green energy. “My work is directly helping communities in Nunavut transition away from fossil fuel use, while helping to safeguard this unique area for future generations,” she says.

2. Engineer at TESLA

Karina Boyle who graduated from UNSW with a double degree in RE Engineering and Commerce
Karina Boyle who graduated from UNSW with a double degree in Renewable Energy Engineering and Commerce, and now works at TESLA.

Elon Musk fans will be excited to hear that the electric vehicle and clean energy company TESLA is snapping up UNSW SPREE grads.

Bonne Eggleston renewable energy engineering unsw
Bonne Eggleston is another alumnus of UNSW SPREE also working at TESLA.

People like Karina Boyle who graduated from UNSW with a double degree in RE Engineering and Commerce. Karina is now an associate sales engineer for TESLA’s home battery system, Powerwall. Battery storage is a massive part of the world of renewables, so it makes sense that RE grads might end up in a job like this. “At TESLA everyday is different and always exciting,” says Karina.

Bonne Eggleston is another alumnus of UNSW SPREE also working at TESLA. Bonne completed both his undergraduate degree and PhD with the school and now works in a senior manager role developing world-class battery cell manufacturing technologies.

3. Startup entrepreneur

chris mcgrath renewable energy engineering unsw
Chris McGrath co-founded solar startup 5B with fellow SPREE graduate Eden Tehan.

When you consider UNSW invented the solar cells we use on our roofs today, then it’s not surprising the school has a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship! 

Chris McGrath graduated from UNSW with a Bachelor of RE Engineering and scored his first job out of uni with one of Australia’s first ‘pure’ renewable energy companies, Infigen Energy (now Iberdrola Australia). He later teamed up with fellow UNSW SPREE grad and Infigen colleague Eden Tehan, to launch 5B.

“We had an idea to completely revolutionise the way solar projects are delivered … we quit our jobs and seized the opportunity to reinvent solar,” says Chris.

Now a global company, 5B (which is named after the 5 billion years of sunshine Earth has left) uses innovative tech to simplify and speed up the large-scale installation of solar energy systems. Their mission? “To accelerate the planet’s transition to fast, easy, low-cost clean energy by harnessing the full power of the Sun.”

4. Academic/researcher

If a career in academia is on the cards for you, then there’s plenty to still be discovered and developed in the world of renewables.

Jessica Yajie Jiang renewable energy engineering unsw
Jessica Yajie Jiang is a UNSW researcher working on optimising solar cell efficiency and performance.

Jessica Yajie Jiang had a double degree in materials science and engineering before joining SPREE for her PhD in photovoltaics (solar energy) under the supervision of Professor Martin Green. She is now still at the school as a lecturer and postdoctoral research fellow, working on optimising solar cell efficiency and performance.

“Studying in SPREE UNSW has given me the opportunity to learn state-of-the-art technology, to work with world-renowned researchers and to have close engagement with industry in renewable energy,” she says.

5. Sustainability analyst, construction

Australia’s construction industry is big business, generating around 9% of Australia’s GDP and representing about 9% of all jobs in Australia. Reducing waste and emissions and improving efficiency makes both ethical and business sense for the future of this sector (and our world!).

sam black renewable energy engineering unsw
Sam Black collects and analyses sustainability data for global construction company, LendLease.

That means employers in the industry are on the hunt for people with relevant sustainability credentials, including graduates from UNSW SPREE.

Sam Black completed a Bachelor of RE Engineering at UNSW and has worked at multinational project management and construction company, LendLease for more than 10 years. As a Sustainability Systems and Reporting Manager at LendLease, he manages the collection and reporting of global sustainability data for the company – including energy and water use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste generation.

“I studied renewable energy engineering at UNSW because I was concerned about climate change and interested in a career in sustainability,” says Sam. “It’s really satisfying to now be playing a part in improving the sustainability of one of the biggest construction companies in Australia, and the world.” 

This post was brought to you in partnership with the UNSW School of Photovolatics and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE).

Gemma Chilton

Author: Gemma Chilton

Gemma is the Managing Editor of Careers with STEM magazine. She has previously worked as Digital Managing Editor at Australian Geographic and a staff writer at Cosmos science magazine.

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