Solve climate change? Check. Make renewables better? Check. Help the government make greener policies? You bet! Studying environmental engineering can give you the skills you need to help build a more sustainable future.
When South Australia was plunged into darkness due to a state-wide power outage in 2016, Georgia Kappos had a lightbulb moment about which major to pursue.
Georgia had already enrolled in a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Electrical and Electronic) at The University of Adelaide, but after watching politicians and journalists blame the blackout on the state’s shift to renewable energy, she knew that studying the subject could help her find real answers.
“I just got so consumed in finding out what could cause a blackout like this and if renewables were really to blame,” she says. “It was then I really realised how important renewable energy is and how reliable a good engineering strategy can make it!”
While a career in engineering may sound like it’s all hard hats and hanging out at dusty construction sites, environmental engineers spend their days figuring out how to make our world more sustainable. They could be spending their day exploring how to improve water availability and management, restore natural ecosystems, or figuring out ways to combat climate change.
Environmental engineers can also be found creating sustainable business models at big companies and developing environmental legislation for the government.
“Environmental engineers solve a range of problems – some that the average person might not even consider,” says Georgia. “As time and technology evolves, so will the jobs of environmental engineers.”
Learn by doing
Environmental engineering students don’t spend all their time buried in dry textbooks or sitting through snoozy lectures. For her Honours project, Georgia explored how to make energy supplies more reliable when a generator – think a giant solar panel covering the roof of a shopping centre – is plugged into a distribution network.
Georgia used real-world data and models to explore the best way to control voltage in the network to ensure that users have a steady supply of renewable power. In addition to learning about the technical ins and outs of solving renewable energy problems, Georgia learnt just how broad environmental engineering is.
“It taught me about the unique junction of policy, economics, and science,” she says.
A diverse set of skills
Diving into a broad set of topics is also what Alice Miller enjoys about doing a double degree in Engineering (Environmental and Climate Solutions) and Mathematical Sciences (Advanced) at The University of Adelaide. So far, she has explored everything from water engineering and environmental modelling to sustainability and the circular economy.
While Alice wasn’t sure about what she wanted to do when she was finishing high school, she knew she wanted a creative and challenging career where she could make a difference.
“Environmental engineering ended up being a perfect match for this,” says Alice. “It allows me to study maths and science principles in a way that I can apply them to solve real world environmental problems.”
When she isn’t juggling the demands of two degrees, Alice is busy running The University of Adelaide’s Women in STEM Society to support students and connect them to peers, mentors, and career opportunities. She says that it’s important to remember that solving some of the world’s biggest environmental challenges will take more than one voice.
“We need diverse perspectives in environmental engineering to be able to develop solutions for a range of environmental and social problems that accurately reflect our diverse society.”
This article was brought to you in partnership with the University of Adelaide. Find out more about their environmental and sustainability degrees here.
Author: Gemma Conroy
Gemma is a freelance journalist with a passion for making science accessible to everyone. Gemma has a degree in biology from Macquarie University and loves sharing amazing discoveries with the world.