which engineering major for renewables

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chipperd
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which engineering major for renewables

Post by chipperd » Sun Oct 30, 2016 2:55 pm

Hello all,
My son is currently a junior in h.s. and we have checked out a couple colleges in our area. He is high functioning (3.98 gpa, AP/honors and one college class) and is looking to engineering as a major. Specifically, he would like to study(to quote him) " The harvesting, storage, delivery and further development of renewable energy sources and how to improve efficiencies in this area" . After going to UCONN last weekend and RPI this weekend, and asking this question of students and professors, he/we haven't really gotten a definitive answer. He initially thought chemical but now maybe mechanical due to it's wide application. Any input from current engineers in the field of renewables or others in the know on this would be appreciated. Thanks a bunch.

Bondman
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Bondman » Sun Oct 30, 2016 3:04 pm

Chemical -> Batteries/Panels

Biochemical -> Biofuels

Mechanical -> Turbines?

Have him take a look at the elective coursework in each engineering program at each university he is interested in. In each of the disciplines, there should be a selection of alternative energy coursework available.


Of course, petroleum is renewable over a long timespan.

KlangFool
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by KlangFool » Sun Oct 30, 2016 3:15 pm

OP,

In general, at the undergraduate level, pick one of those major engineering areas:

A) Chemical

B) Mechanical

C) Civil

D) Electrical

Do not specialize into a subarea. You do that at the master degree level. You could be at one of those 4 and work at the renewable area. But, it is too early for him to decide only work at renewable area at this moment.

He would know better after he enters the engineering school.

KlangFool

Copernicus
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Copernicus » Sun Oct 30, 2016 3:18 pm

I am not an engineer, but I went through the same process as a parent of a child entering engineering school, who later found out that was not the right branch of engineering, and the campus was too large with no personal attention, too large classes, and too many distracting activities like big sports teams, etc.

What he will learn in an undergrad engineering program will be the foundation for contributing in the broad field of 'renewables'. In junior and senior years, he could focus on special projects and internships that would give him special insights into the field, and find his niche. So, it seems that a robust undergrad engineering program that gives him an option of picking mech or elec or whatever specific major would prepare him well. He could decide to narrow focus while in the program.

As I learnt, more important considerations with big impact might be: does he learns better in a smaller school with more personal attention/mentoring or in a large campus, whether he will benefit more in prestigious but research-oriented school where TAs do the teaching, but you never meet the professors who bring prestige to the school, how are the dorms, does he need to visit home often in a year, are other friends going to the same school or not, etc.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Marjimmy » Sun Oct 30, 2016 3:48 pm

Hello, current UConn Civil Engineering student here. I can say from experience that UConn has a great engineering program. As above, any of those engineerings are great fields. But if he's looking into renewable resources perhaps Environmental is the field he's looking for specifically. Not sure if he has an interest in Chemistry currently but if so that would be suiting. If you have any questions about the school directly or more on the different fields / classes let me know.

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Svensk Anga
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Svensk Anga » Sun Oct 30, 2016 3:49 pm

Keep your options open in undergrad. In the late 1970's the next big thing for chemical engineers was conversion of coal to liquid fuels. This was vital for fuel security, balance of payments, less concern with Middle East stability, etc. Then oil prices dropped and the whole field died.

Renewables in their current form are almost always uneconomic and so depend on ongoing government subsidy. That support could be withdrawn following any election.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Ged » Sun Oct 30, 2016 3:50 pm

This is something that comes into play at the graduate level or when you are looking for a job. Undergraduate engineering programs focus on general principles that are applicable over many applications.

dailybagel
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by dailybagel » Sun Oct 30, 2016 3:51 pm

I am trained as a chemical engineer. I personally really enjoyed the discipline, because it covers science from the molecular scale to very macro scale.

I agree with others that this young student should strongly consider a traditional engineering program, like chemical, mechanical, or civil engineering.

My suggestion is for your child to look at the curriculum for the different engineering disciplines. Last time I checked, ABET (engineering accreditation body) prescribes a lot of courses, so an engineering program is fairly tightly structured. (When I was an undergraduate in the mid-2000s, I had three technical elective courses in four years--everything else was specified.)

He/she can look at the class descriptions and see if any topics seem particularly appealing or unappealing. For example, circuit design (EE), reaction engineering (chemical), or solid mechanics (mechanical). I am pretty confident he could contribute to sustainable engineering from any of those disciplines.
Last edited by dailybagel on Sun Oct 30, 2016 7:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

livesoft
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by livesoft » Sun Oct 30, 2016 3:52 pm

Civil and Environmental Engineering is a common department in many universities. They seem to go together.

But if one is thinking about making renewable and recyclable plastics on a major scale, then I would think Chem E is the way to go.
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by triceratop » Sun Oct 30, 2016 3:56 pm

This topic is now located in the Personal Consumer Issues forum.
livesoft wrote:Civil and Environmental Engineering is a common department in many universities. They seem to go together.

But if one is thinking about making renewable and recyclable plastics on a major scale, then I would think Chem E is the way to go.
Agreed; every friend from college who went into this field recently studied Chem-E; some also studied Mat-Sci.
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Planner » Sun Oct 30, 2016 4:08 pm

Advanced nuclear energy still needs work before deployment. Molten salt reactors are my favorite, especially with thorium. I think it would appeal to anyone interested in clean energy. Some states include nuclear in their renewable and clean energy goals as well.

I'd recommend mechanical or chemical engineering. By the time he gets near the end of his master's degree, I think there will be a lot of opportunities in the area.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by chipperd » Sun Oct 30, 2016 4:23 pm

Wow. Thanks all for your input. Marjimmy, very generous offer and may take you up on that at some point. He does have an interest in chemical, but was turned off by RPI prof answer over the weekend that most chem engineers focus on petroleum (that may be the profs experience at that school). Still early on but certainly appreciate all the answers.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by sport » Sun Oct 30, 2016 4:33 pm

When DD was deciding on which field of engineering to choose, she had the benefit of an "open house" for high school students (and parents) at a good engineering school. Each department put on a presentation for anyone who was interested. This gave DD a good taste of what each discipline was all about. She settled on Material Science. If you can find such a program, I highly recommend it.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Sun Oct 30, 2016 4:47 pm

Sounds pretty EE to me.

There will be some basic sciences at the start of some of this.....battery cell chemistry or PV panel technology (semiconductors). From a system standpoint, you're talking EE. Line stabilization, I know the engineers at A123 are all EEs doing system design, storage is another battery usage model involving charging, discharging, protection and monitoring of cells which will add some software to the normal EE duties. Wind is fairly traditional basic magnetics, power electronics and control. Wave energy harvesting, somewhat a combination of these.

As far as the structures, you're adding mechanical for things like the packaging, enclosures and such and civil for site work and mounting.

You might add things like wireless charging as it's not far from the above. Wytricity has a number of patents and products in this area from cell phones up to electric vehicles where things like proximity sensing is real important (you don't want your cat fried when he goes under the car to hide).

If you want to go to lower tech renewable, then forestry and forest management for lumber growth is another area.....since I'm involved in that as well.

Seeing the schools you're looking at, don't pass on WPI.
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Mudpuppy » Sun Oct 30, 2016 5:03 pm

For renewables, there are three very broad categories: production, transmission, and storage. There's also consumption, or rather reducing consumption, although that's not always seen as part of renewable energy. Different engineering disciplines focus on different parts. For example, an electrical engineer might be concerned about how to stabilize the electric grid given that the grid likes a fairly constant balance between production and consumption, but solar generation is highly variable.

Fortunately, your child has time to think about what would interest him the most. As a junior in high school, the best thing he can do right now is focus on his mathematics, chemistry, and physics courses. Most engineering programs start out with the same basic core of calculus, physics, and chemistry. Starting out calculus-ready is really the key to success. If he can get to the point of passing the AP Calculus AB or BC exams in high school, even better.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by MathWizard » Sun Oct 30, 2016 6:53 pm

chipperd wrote:Wow. Thanks all for your input. Marjimmy, very generous offer and may take you up on that at some point. He does have an interest in chemical, but was turned off by RPI prof answer over the weekend that most chem engineers focus on petroleum (that may be the profs experience at that school). Still early on but certainly appreciate all the answers.
My son is in Chem and Biological Engineering, having switched from Mech. Engineering. He is on the bioengineering side,
but the bulk of Chem Eng. jobs go in the petroleum industry.

You want to get a solid foundation that you can build on. In engineering, and probably any any career, you will be expected
to change what you are doing as technologies, economics and political interest change through your career.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by squirm » Sun Oct 30, 2016 7:10 pm

It would be an EEE major.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Valuethinker » Mon Oct 31, 2016 6:42 am

Svensk Anga wrote:Keep your options open in undergrad. In the late 1970's the next big thing for chemical engineers was conversion of coal to liquid fuels. This was vital for fuel security, balance of payments, less concern with Middle East stability, etc. Then oil prices dropped and the whole field died.

Renewables in their current form are almost always uneconomic and so depend on ongoing government subsidy. That support could be withdrawn following any election.

I endorse the advice to keep options open- -there are so many avenues of progress from solid state physics (economics of solar panels) to batteries & storage to electric vehicles to district heating/ cooling systems etc. etc.
We don't know what will be big in 10 years, let alone 25. A good understanding of how the electricity grid works could be very valuable.

You'd be amazed though on renewables economics. Things have moved so far and fast in the last 5 years. Look at the changes in what Fatih Birol, Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency, is saying. Note that renewables installations have been far higher than either DOE-EIA or IEA have forecast.

The thing is, the world is not the United States. There are countries like Canada with built in advantages like cheap hydro. But most of the developed world (dare I say all?) has much higher retail electricity prices than most of the USA. I think the British wholesale prices are x2 US averages.

Then you get to the underdeveloped world, where the problem is even worse-- electricity either highly subsidized or very expensive (think of how many countries rely on fuel oil feeding gas turbines) or the grid nonexistent or highly unreliable. There, there may well be a repetition of what's happened with phones-- the Kenyan fixed line system had c. 100k subscribers 20 years ago, I bet it has no more than that, now, but it does have 10m+ mobile uses (from c. 100k). Solar-battery lanterns are already making big strides, relatively small improvements in storage technology and you have solar arrays w storage and light & phone chargers (the big 2) and eventually refridgeration (the 3rd of the big 3).

It's no longer the case that renewables are uncompetitive-- they *are* competitive with natural gas CCGT in many markets. No utility board of directors in a developed country with any sense of fiduciary duty is going to build new nuclear plants without major government guarantees (see what EDF extracted from the British government over Hinkley C -- 2x the current wholesale price, inflation indexed, for 35 years from mid 2020s, all for a reactor for which there is no existing, completed & working version yet). Ditto for coal plants-- the risks of a policy shift 10 or 15 years down the track are just too great.

Places like UAE and India you are seeing some amazingly low bids for new renewables capacity. Whether it all gets built I think is more tendentious-- those bids may be too low to be economic. But someone has made those bids, at well below the cost of new CCGT.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Valuethinker » Mon Oct 31, 2016 6:46 am

chipperd wrote:Hello all,
My son is currently a junior in h.s. and we have checked out a couple colleges in our area. He is high functioning (3.98 gpa, AP/honors and one college class) and is looking to engineering as a major. Specifically, he would like to study(to quote him) " The harvesting, storage, delivery and further development of renewable energy sources and how to improve efficiencies in this area" . After going to UCONN last weekend and RPI this weekend, and asking this question of students and professors, he/we haven't really gotten a definitive answer. He initially thought chemical but now maybe mechanical due to it's wide application. Any input from current engineers in the field of renewables or others in the know on this would be appreciated. Thanks a bunch.
The most important thing about his undergrad college will be "fit". That's probably as important or more so than ranking of programme. We went through this (in Canada) recently with one of my relations' children- now happily ensconced in a well-ranked engineering programme (but not Waterloo, say) but at a university with a small town "campus" feeling and good group dynamics in the engineering programme (a lot of "school spirit").

Without knowing anything about the school, the approach taken at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI?) always struck me as interesting-- totally problem focused. That's what people hire engineers for--to solve problems and real world problems are often quite "messy" compared to what they look like in books. For example, all the practical challenges of self-driving cars or of robots in general.

As to degree. So much changes: their own areas of interest, what the job market offers, the challenges of any particular field.

So the advice to keep options open as long as possible and get a good general engineering degree is as important as ever. All energy related engineering comes down to basic physics, chemistry, thermodynamics, electrical circuits-- and of course lots of math. Probably this tilts me away from suggesting "environmental engineering" per se-- a lot of the work in that field seems to be water & waste water related, or consulting doing environmental impact statements etc. I suspect you can train up to that with a good 4 year degree in engineering, generally.

An MSC will then provide the focus for a career in a particular area.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Psyayeayeduck » Mon Oct 31, 2016 7:07 am

Primarily, either mechanical engineering or electrical engineering would work if he wants to get into design whereas a chemical engineering (or physics degree) would get into the more of the science behind renewables. The path will include your typical engineering classes, mathematics, physics, and such but it will also include more specialized areas such as controls, and power design at later end of his undergraduate degree path. It also wouldn't hurt if a MS degree specializing in renewable energy is included in the career path.


And while engineering courses are expected on this route, finances will definitely be one area that would be introduced as well. One of the biggest motivators for renewables is how finances are involved such as present value vs. future value, how local/state programs help offset costs, bank loans, and converting wattage use to dollars -- that's to name a few.


If I had a recommendation for a good school, I personally recommend North Carolina State University. They are ABET accredited (very important in terms of hiring out of college), and have a dedicated department towards renewable energy. I was lucky to get a paid degree through the REES program at NCSU (http://www.ece.ncsu.edu/graduate/rees_certificate) but they have more specialized and dedicated programs for undergraduates/graduates in the renewable energy field.

Let me know if you have any questions.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by gatorking » Mon Oct 31, 2016 8:35 am

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by surveyor » Mon Oct 31, 2016 8:47 am

Environmental Engineering + Civil Departments = treating wastewater

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by msk » Mon Oct 31, 2016 9:18 am

With that kind of GPA I would say that whatever engineering discipline he goes into at the undergrad level, he would not be practising in it ten years hence. Very high GPAs tend to end up in research. The research fields that will be most relevant ten years from now invariably will be interdisciplinary in today's terminology. He is in a similar situation as when I was applying for my undergrad studies (and also for my own son). Since childhood I wanted to be an engineer, but never did resolve whether it should be civil, electrical/electronics, or mechanical. I had never heard of chemical nor bio (50+ years ago). So I went into Physics because of indecision, then into lasers/ultrasonics/solid state at the MSc PhD levels. Three years after PhD I was in Petroleum Engineering! That was very relevant in the 1970s. My colleague at the next desk had a PhD in Nuclear Physics. So don't sweat it. My son is doing physics... Even though I was registered as a grad student in Physics, both my research director and most of my co-grad students were in Electronics Engineering. Pertinent points between an Engineering degree and a Physics (or other pure science degree): At most campuses the Engineering degree takes a year longer (but that's also similar for a Physics Honors degree rather than a Physics Major). The Engineering degree allows registration as a Professional Engineer who can sign off drawings, but a pure science degree never leads to that. If he is leaning towards research I would point him towards a Faculty of Science degree and save a year on his way to a PhD. If he thinks he might stop at the BEng level then a Faculty of Engineering degree is probably more appropriate. My daughter wanted to study Geography and enrolled into an Earth System Science program. Now she wants to be an Environmentalist. My wife studied Anthropology and ended up as a Commissioner on public hearings at the Canadian Federal level, on a wide spectrum, from nuclear power plants to ports. Let the kid study anything that turns him on now, even if it's writing Apps for phones. That may well lead to writing software for a Mars rover. His career will be different from what we envisage today.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by cpw84 » Mon Oct 31, 2016 9:40 am

I work in the power generation industry and have a degree in mechanical engineering. I currently work with steam turbines, but my company also deals with wind power. A foot in the door in one discipline at a diverse company can be used to bump over to another field. After you work for someone, they may care more about your internal company knowledge than the specifics of your degree. I would keep it flexible early on, and as many have said, save more niche, specialty majors for grad school. I can vouch for mechanical engineering giving a nice broad base of knowledge.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Valuethinker » Mon Oct 31, 2016 10:41 am

Psyayeayeduck wrote:
And while engineering courses are expected on this route, finances will definitely be one area that would be introduced as well. One of the biggest motivators for renewables is how finances are involved such as present value vs. future value, how local/state programs help offset costs, bank loans, and converting wattage use to dollars -- that's to name a few.
The thing is, that you can teach Discounted Cash Flow, NPV, IRR etc. to engineers in a couple of days. They'll sit there going "is that all there is to this?"

Accounting takes a little longer, say 3-5 days from zero knowledge.

MBA programmes do this all the time, and the engineers don't find the first term particularly bad (work overload, but they are used to that). The Poets find MBA tough, the Scientists less so.

If you have an engineering undergrad education you can do most things, excepting perhaps pure science (where you'd probably have to go back and pick up some more depth-- depending on subject), because you can handle math, labs etc. Engineers do very well in MBA and post grad Economics etc.

The downside of an engineering education is this: you need to get your ability in writing, presenting & communicating with non technical people somewhere else. Either a very good high school education, or in some other way. Because as your career progresses, you will do more of that. I have seen engineers who have struggled to reshape their minds around the messy and political nature of "real world" companies, problems and situations. That may be more the sort of person who goes into undergrad engineering, than any innate flaw with the degrees. But it's a reality. The real world is messy: read Henry Petrovski for some good examples, or anything on the Challenger Disaster, etc. Or any good book on software engineering (the Mythical Man Month being the best place to start).

I would add Sverin Borenstein does the kind of Renewable Energy/ Economic analysis that is interesting

http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/borenste/

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by KlangFool » Mon Oct 31, 2016 10:53 am

msk wrote:With that kind of GPA I would say that whatever engineering discipline he goes into at the undergrad level, he would not be practising in it ten years hence. Very high GPAs tend to end up in research. The research fields that will be most relevant ten years from now invariably will be interdisciplinary in today's terminology. He is in a similar situation as when I was applying for my undergrad studies (and also for my own son). Since childhood I wanted to be an engineer, but never did resolve whether it should be civil, electrical/electronics, or mechanical. I had never heard of chemical nor bio (50+ years ago). So I went into Physics because of indecision, then into lasers/ultrasonics/solid state at the MSc PhD levels. Three years after PhD I was in Petroleum Engineering! That was very relevant in the 1970s. My colleague at the next desk had a PhD in Nuclear Physics. So don't sweat it. My son is doing physics... Even though I was registered as a grad student in Physics, both my research director and most of my co-grad students were in Electronics Engineering. Pertinent points between an Engineering degree and a Physics (or other pure science degree): At most campuses the Engineering degree takes a year longer (but that's also similar for a Physics Honors degree rather than a Physics Major). The Engineering degree allows registration as a Professional Engineer who can sign off drawings, but a pure science degree never leads to that. If he is leaning towards research I would point him towards a Faculty of Science degree and save a year on his way to a PhD. If he thinks he might stop at the BEng level then a Faculty of Engineering degree is probably more appropriate. My daughter wanted to study Geography and enrolled into an Earth System Science program. Now she wants to be an Environmentalist. My wife studied Anthropology and ended up as a Commissioner on public hearings at the Canadian Federal level, on a wide spectrum, from nuclear power plants to ports. Let the kid study anything that turns him on now, even if it's writing Apps for phones. That may well lead to writing software for a Mars rover. His career will be different from what we envisage today.
msk,

My son wants to do a Physic degree. I said no and I will not pay for that. So, he is double majoring in Physic and Mechanical Engineering.

In general, it is a bad idea to do a science degree at the undergraduate level. Many doors will be shut in the process.

KlangFool

navyasw02
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by navyasw02 » Mon Oct 31, 2016 11:06 am

KlangFool wrote:
msk wrote:With that kind of GPA I would say that whatever engineering discipline he goes into at the undergrad level, he would not be practising in it ten years hence. Very high GPAs tend to end up in research. The research fields that will be most relevant ten years from now invariably will be interdisciplinary in today's terminology. He is in a similar situation as when I was applying for my undergrad studies (and also for my own son). Since childhood I wanted to be an engineer, but never did resolve whether it should be civil, electrical/electronics, or mechanical. I had never heard of chemical nor bio (50+ years ago). So I went into Physics because of indecision, then into lasers/ultrasonics/solid state at the MSc PhD levels. Three years after PhD I was in Petroleum Engineering! That was very relevant in the 1970s. My colleague at the next desk had a PhD in Nuclear Physics. So don't sweat it. My son is doing physics... Even though I was registered as a grad student in Physics, both my research director and most of my co-grad students were in Electronics Engineering. Pertinent points between an Engineering degree and a Physics (or other pure science degree): At most campuses the Engineering degree takes a year longer (but that's also similar for a Physics Honors degree rather than a Physics Major). The Engineering degree allows registration as a Professional Engineer who can sign off drawings, but a pure science degree never leads to that. If he is leaning towards research I would point him towards a Faculty of Science degree and save a year on his way to a PhD. If he thinks he might stop at the BEng level then a Faculty of Engineering degree is probably more appropriate. My daughter wanted to study Geography and enrolled into an Earth System Science program. Now she wants to be an Environmentalist. My wife studied Anthropology and ended up as a Commissioner on public hearings at the Canadian Federal level, on a wide spectrum, from nuclear power plants to ports. Let the kid study anything that turns him on now, even if it's writing Apps for phones. That may well lead to writing software for a Mars rover. His career will be different from what we envisage today.
msk,

My son wants to do a Physic degree. I said no and I will not pay for that. So, he is double majoring in Physic and Mechanical Engineering.

In general, it is a bad idea to do a science degree at the undergraduate level. Many doors will be shut in the process.

KlangFool
I respectfully disagree with you on this. A lot of my engineer friends have physics and math degrees since hard sciences are the foundation of engineering. Physics makes you derive everything that the engineers boil down to a simple equation for practical use.

TravelforFun
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by TravelforFun » Mon Oct 31, 2016 11:08 am

Civil engineer here. I've been a PE for the last 35 years, worked in both public and private sector, and my career has served me well. Through the ups and downs of the economy, I can also say that our work is more stable than other engineering professions.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by KlangFool » Mon Oct 31, 2016 11:53 am

navyasw02 wrote:
I respectfully disagree with you on this. A lot of my engineer friends have physics and math degrees since hard sciences are the foundation of engineering. Physics makes you derive everything that the engineers boil down to a simple equation for practical use.
navyasw02,

1) Please explain to me how they could be engineers with physic and math degree.

2) Do you hire engineers as part of your job? I did. Why would I want to hire someone with math and physic degree to work as an engineer instead of someone with an engineering degree?

<< Physics makes you derive everything that the engineers boil down to a simple equation for practical use.>>

3) Scientists do not care about practical usage. Engineers do. So, people with ONLY Physic degree makes for a lousy engineer. The mentality and attitude are different.

KlangFool

Zecht
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Zecht » Mon Oct 31, 2016 11:59 am

As an engineer, I'd recommend a few bits of legwork before deciding. There are a few majors to consider, which I'll list by discipline:

1. Ceramic, Materials
Ceramic and Material engineers are experts at material science and thermodynamics as most ceramics are chosen for their heat transfer properties and/or brittleness. In terms of renewables, ceramic engineers would typically be fabricating or researching ceramic or other materials used in energy producing devices. Note that ceramic engineering may or may not be available, and is by definition fairly specialized. Materials engineering is only occasionally listed as its own program, often rolled up into the metallurgical or mechanical engineering programs.

2. Metallurgy
Metallurgical engineering is the manipulation, research, and fabrication of metals, so just about everything renewable could fall within the expertise of a metallurgical engineer. Most met jobs tend to be in fabrication, but there is also plenty of research available. The focus here is on the metal components and their properties rather than on energy production.

3. Electrical
EEs are ubiquitous and typically have a power engineering emphasis program available to people that are interested. EEs focus specifically on the power production, movement, transmission, and losses associated with power rather than the materials used to produce it. A good example is solar panels, a metallurgist/materials engineer will focus on the steel, tellurium, and other metals used to produce the electron emissions whereas an electrical engineer focuses on what happens to that group of electrons after they are emitted. Note that EEs are very widespread, so competition in this degree program is fairly high.

4. Nuclear
Nuclear is a very niche program that focuses more on reactors, national defense, and non-proliferation, but has many programs focused on renewable energy production. Note that the hydrolysis method (irradiation of water to produce ionic hydrogen) is used periodically to harvest for hydrogen fuel cell batteries, and many aspects of nuclear reactor physics count as renewable (breeding Pu-239 from U-238 for more fuel, see the MOX program at Savannah River Site). Other key niche programs include Mo-99 production (medical isotopes) and laser isotope separation (medical & non-proliferation).

5. Mechanical
Mechanicals, like EEs, are very ubiquitous. I'd recommend this only if there are emphasis areas consistent with the goals of the individual as it is very easy to get lost in the generalities. Most MEs are able to work in the renewable energy sector only in a peripheral sense, such as looking at forces and fabrication flaws in wind turbines or structural stuff for holding solar panels.

6. Chemical
Chemical is another strong contender for renewable energies as most ChemEs typically have very strong programs available in biofuels, energetic reactions, chemical production/suppression/transmutation, and so forth. This is one of the best all-rounders for the issue as it has the greatest diversity potential.

7. Mining & Explosives
Mining and explosives engineering are programs that are not intuitively renewable, but are very key as they deal substantially with removal of materials required for renewable technologies. Safe, environmentally low impact tech is needed for much of the rare earth minerals required for most renewable processes.

Engineering programs you should stay away from are software engineering, bioinformatics, computer engineering, and computer science. The primary reason is that most of these programs lack both an "in" with that industry, as well as significantly lower degree requirements than what is commonly required on job applications (math through differential equations + 1 senior math elective, physics through special relativity, 1-3 thermodynamics courses, mechanics of materials, etc). Most jobs in these degree programs center around software or firmware manipulation rather than energy production or manipulation itself. Most systems used to gather and distribute electricity are handled by EEs. Keep in mind YMMV on these, and obviously any cross-trained engineering discipline can get work doing basically anything given a base level of technical competency. It is simply, more likely that a career trajectory of renewables may be derailed with the aforementioned degrees to avoid. Hope this helps.

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Psyayeayeduck
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Psyayeayeduck » Mon Oct 31, 2016 12:07 pm

KlangFool wrote:
In general, it is a bad idea to do a science degree at the undergraduate level. Many doors will be shut in the process.

KlangFool

I 100% wholeheartedly disagree with this (and quite surprised this statement came from you). Where I work, the engineers here usually answers the question of "how it works" while the science-type folks answer the question "why it works". Both play an key role in design, implementation, costs, and feasibility.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by KlangFool » Mon Oct 31, 2016 12:24 pm

Psyayeayeduck wrote:
KlangFool wrote:
In general, it is a bad idea to do a science degree at the undergraduate level. Many doors will be shut in the process.

KlangFool

I 100% wholeheartedly disagree with this (and quite surprised this statement came from you). Where I work, the engineers here usually answers the question of "how it works" while the science-type folks answer the question "why it works". Both play an key role in design, implementation, costs, and feasibility.
Psyayeayeduck,

So, tell me does the science type folks only has an undergraduate science degree or more than that?

KlangFool

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Psyayeayeduck
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Psyayeayeduck » Mon Oct 31, 2016 12:33 pm

KlangFool wrote:
Psyayeayeduck wrote:
KlangFool wrote:
In general, it is a bad idea to do a science degree at the undergraduate level. Many doors will be shut in the process.

KlangFool

I 100% wholeheartedly disagree with this (and quite surprised this statement came from you). Where I work, the engineers here usually answers the question of "how it works" while the science-type folks answer the question "why it works". Both play an key role in design, implementation, costs, and feasibility.
Psyayeayeduck,

So, tell me does the science type folks only has an undergraduate science degree or more than that?

KlangFool

From the top of my head, we have 6 or so folks with an B.S. degree, 2 with a M.S degree, and one who is a PhD with a specialization in Electromagnetics here in the DC area. Compare to the number of engineers, it's a 1-to-4ish ratio.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by KlangFool » Mon Oct 31, 2016 12:44 pm

Psyayeayeduck wrote:
From the top of my head, we have 6 or so folks with an B.S. degree, 2 with a M.S degree, and one who is a PhD with a specialization in Electromagnetics here in the DC area. Compare to the number of engineers, it's a 1-to-4ish ratio.
Psyayeayeduck,

1) There are much more jobs for engineers than scientists.

2) For scientist type of jobs, many require a graduate degree for career advancement.

In summary, many doors are shut when a person pursues an undergraduate degree in science.

KlangFool

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Psyayeayeduck
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Psyayeayeduck » Mon Oct 31, 2016 1:10 pm

KlangFool wrote:
Psyayeayeduck wrote:
From the top of my head, we have 6 or so folks with an B.S. degree, 2 with a M.S degree, and one who is a PhD with a specialization in Electromagnetics here in the DC area. Compare to the number of engineers, it's a 1-to-4ish ratio.
Psyayeayeduck,

1) There are much more jobs for engineers than scientists.

2) For scientist type of jobs, many require a graduate degree for career advancement.

In summary, many doors are shut when a person pursues an undergraduate degree in science.

KlangFool

Forgive me but repeating your point from another reply and using my personal data point experience doesn't make it your generic statement any more true or false.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by David Jay » Mon Oct 31, 2016 2:05 pm

Sorry, but when I hear that someone wants to pursue "renewables", I think they should consider PolySci rather than Engineering.
Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future - Niels Bohr | To get the "risk premium", you really do have to take the risk - nisiprius

autolycus
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by autolycus » Mon Oct 31, 2016 2:17 pm

Focus on the tasks that sound more interesting. A big field like "renewables" will include all types of professionals, from business/finance people to software developers to a wide variety of engineers. I agree with the other general advice already given: look at the curricula for Electrical, Computer, Mechanical, Civil, Chemical Engineering, and Industrial and Systems Engineering. Decide which required classes sound the most interesting. Focus more on the required classes because those are the true foundations of the discipline, whereas the elective classes can sometimes be tangential or made to sound fluffier than the major may otherwise be. The principles learned are what matter most for undergrads, and it's best to pick a discipline based on those first. The application of the principles learned will come during the career or in grad school.

All that said, it's important to remember that a career is not set in stone to be never changed once a major is selected as an entering freshman. College students can change their major as they start to take the intro classes to their major and get a better understanding of that field. Engineers often work on varied tasks during their career that might not exactly match their field of undergraduate study. Grad schools are often looking for cross-discipline backgrounds for diversity of skill and perspective.

Oh, and I wanted to emphasize something one other person said: Environmental Engineering is NOT right the field for renewables. It is almost universally understood as the field for dealing with waste and with water--a noble endeavor itself, but not what it sounds like you're looking at.

EJS22
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by EJS22 » Mon Oct 31, 2016 3:05 pm

I work in the energy efficiency/renewable space and have a mechanical engineering degree. I take existing technologies and apply them to customer sites. There are a lot of mechanical engineers in the space due to the energy efficiency tilt to my job but really any one with a technical degree could most likely do just as well.
Mechanical engineering for the following technologies (not all renewables but generally considered green):
-Solar thermal
-Thermal storage
-Turbines
-Waste to energy
-Geothermal/ground source technologies
-Wind
-Fuel cells
(Generally technologies that have heat transfer and/or moving parts or moving fluids)

PV, energy storage, microgrids, etc would definitely be more suited for electrical engineers but I have done some PV design in the past as a ME for preliminary analysis.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Durzo » Mon Oct 31, 2016 3:22 pm

chipperd wrote:Hello all,
My son is currently a junior in h.s. and we have checked out a couple colleges in our area. He is high functioning (3.98 gpa, AP/honors and one college class) and is looking to engineering as a major. Specifically, he would like to study(to quote him) " The harvesting, storage, delivery and further development of renewable energy sources and how to improve efficiencies in this area" . After going to UCONN last weekend and RPI this weekend, and asking this question of students and professors, he/we haven't really gotten a definitive answer. He initially thought chemical but now maybe mechanical due to it's wide application. Any input from current engineers in the field of renewables or others in the know on this would be appreciated. Thanks a bunch.
Depends on the school, but generally for undergrad you want to get a degree in the "big" engineering fields (chemical, electrical, CS, mechanical, civil/environmental). Your son probably does not want CS but any of the other ones are fair play depending on the school. One school's chem-e program maybe 80% petroleum related in terms of job placement, research and projects. Another school's chem-e program might focus sustainable/alternate energy. Same major but different approach by different schools. In my school the mechanical engineering would be the ideal choice as it had a huge emphasis on sustainable energy development, alternative power systems, renewable/alternative fuels etc.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Copernicus » Mon Oct 31, 2016 5:53 pm

An addition to my previous reply: I joined my kid ten years ago to visit several top engineering schools in UC California system. I heard an interesting comment more than once from the engineering students in those schools: "For engineering jobs, MS is now what BS used to be!" That was long before the job market collapse at the end of last decade.

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by dpc » Mon Oct 31, 2016 7:35 pm

Another EE here. I tend to do an eye roll when someone is totally focused on "renewables", so take my comments for what they are worth. Your son is clearly pretty bright so he can probably succeed in about any engineering field if he is interested in math and science, with a little accounting thrown in.

But he's really young to focus on something as ephemeral as "renewable energy". Renewables are mostly in the eye of the beholder. And technology is changing rapidly. I think EE with a power emphasis or mechanical would serve him well as the industry stands today.

I wouldn't worry too much about the college - find a decent state school you can afford. He'll have time to figure out what engineering field he is most interested in - assuming the freshman chemistry, physics and math don't bore him to death. At many schools the first couple of years are considered "pre-engineering" and students are not fully accepted into the engineering program until their junior year.

He'll have to figure it out as he goes, just like everyone else.

Cheers,

Dave
"Worrying is like paying interest on a debt that you might never owe" -- Will Rogers

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Dilbydog » Mon Oct 31, 2016 11:43 pm

I am a degreed, but NOT, licensed EE working in Renewables. Specifically, construction of utility scale PV. I couldnt say my EE education puts me ahead of my other xE peers, but this is in the construction side of the world. For what little it's worth, I think the world of energy storage is incredibly interesting, but that's the physics / design side of the world.

NDfan27
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by NDfan27 » Tue Nov 01, 2016 12:28 am

I'm an EE that works in power on the utility side. I agree that the core engineering disciplines are the way to go. I started in ME because I had no idea which field I wanted to go into and I was told that it was probably the most flexible. You do a little bit of everything (though most engineering majors are that way). In general, I think you usually have about two years to decide without tacking on extra years as long as you don't take too many specialized courses early on.

chipperd
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by chipperd » Tue Nov 01, 2016 4:48 am

Zecht wrote:As an engineer, I'd recommend a few bits of legwork before deciding. There are a few majors to consider, which I'll list by discipline:

1. Ceramic, Materials
Ceramic and Material engineers are experts at material science and thermodynamics as most ceramics are chosen for their heat transfer properties and/or brittleness. In terms of renewables, ceramic engineers would typically be fabricating or researching ceramic or other materials used in energy producing devices. Note that ceramic engineering may or may not be available, and is by definition fairly specialized. Materials engineering is only occasionally listed as its own program, often rolled up into the metallurgical or mechanical engineering programs.

2. Metallurgy
Metallurgical engineering is the manipulation, research, and fabrication of metals, so just about everything renewable could fall within the expertise of a metallurgical engineer. Most met jobs tend to be in fabrication, but there is also plenty of research available. The focus here is on the metal components and their properties rather than on energy production.

3. Electrical
EEs are ubiquitous and typically have a power engineering emphasis program available to people that are interested. EEs focus specifically on the power production, movement, transmission, and losses associated with power rather than the materials used to produce it. A good example is solar panels, a metallurgist/materials engineer will focus on the steel, tellurium, and other metals used to produce the electron emissions whereas an electrical engineer focuses on what happens to that group of electrons after they are emitted. Note that EEs are very widespread, so competition in this degree program is fairly high.

4. Nuclear
Nuclear is a very niche program that focuses more on reactors, national defense, and non-proliferation, but has many programs focused on renewable energy production. Note that the hydrolysis method (irradiation of water to produce ionic hydrogen) is used periodically to harvest for hydrogen fuel cell batteries, and many aspects of nuclear reactor physics count as renewable (breeding Pu-239 from U-238 for more fuel, see the MOX program at Savannah River Site). Other key niche programs include Mo-99 production (medical isotopes) and laser isotope separation (medical & non-proliferation).

5. Mechanical
Mechanicals, like EEs, are very ubiquitous. I'd recommend this only if there are emphasis areas consistent with the goals of the individual as it is very easy to get lost in the generalities. Most MEs are able to work in the renewable energy sector only in a peripheral sense, such as looking at forces and fabrication flaws in wind turbines or structural stuff for holding solar panels.

6. Chemical
Chemical is another strong contender for renewable energies as most ChemEs typically have very strong programs available in biofuels, energetic reactions, chemical production/suppression/transmutation, and so forth. This is one of the best all-rounders for the issue as it has the greatest diversity potential.

7. Mining & Explosives
Mining and explosives engineering are programs that are not intuitively renewable, but are very key as they deal substantially with removal of materials required for renewable technologies. Safe, environmentally low impact tech is needed for much of the rare earth minerals required for most renewable processes.

Engineering programs you should stay away from are software engineering, bioinformatics, computer engineering, and computer science. The primary reason is that most of these programs lack both an "in" with that industry, as well as significantly lower degree requirements than what is commonly required on job applications (math through differential equations + 1 senior math elective, physics through special relativity, 1-3 thermodynamics courses, mechanics of materials, etc). Most jobs in these degree programs center around software or firmware manipulation rather than energy production or manipulation itself. Most systems used to gather and distribute electricity are handled by EEs. Keep in mind YMMV on these, and obviously any cross-trained engineering discipline can get work doing basically anything given a base level of technical competency. It is simply, more likely that a career trajectory of renewables may be derailed with the aforementioned degrees to avoid. Hope this helps.
Great summary. Thanks!

chipperd
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by chipperd » Tue Nov 01, 2016 4:52 am

I knew I could count on the Bogleheads and you all gave me great input and information to consider and share with my son. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences!
Chipperd

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Material Guy » Tue Nov 01, 2016 10:20 am

I would highly recommend a Materials Science & Engineering (MS&E) undergraduate degree for getting into the field of renewables. Zecht touched upon this in his post and made the excellent point that there are many routes to get to broad field of renewables. Considering the original question posted by the OP's son of wanting to study "The harvesting, storage, delivery and further development of renewable energy sources and how to improve efficiencies in this area," arguably materials are critical to this endeavor. Materials science touches every aspect of harvesting and generating energy (wind, solar, tides, nuclear), storing and delivering energy (batteries, fuel cells, supercapacitors), and developing new sources. Improving efficiencies in solar energy is entirely being driven by developments in advanced materials such as CIGS and perovskites.

MS&E is a lesser known undergraduate degree but will be ideal in this case for your son.

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David Jay
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by David Jay » Tue Nov 01, 2016 12:03 pm

Material Guy wrote:I would highly recommend a Materials Science & Engineering (MS&E) undergraduate degree for getting into the field of renewables. Zecht touched upon this in his post and made the excellent point that there are many routes to get to broad field of renewables. Considering the original question posted by the OP's son of wanting to study "The harvesting, storage, delivery and further development of renewable energy sources and how to improve efficiencies in this area," arguably materials are critical to this endeavor. Materials science touches every aspect of harvesting and generating energy (wind, solar, tides, nuclear), storing and delivering energy (batteries, fuel cells, supercapacitors), and developing new sources. Improving efficiencies in solar energy is entirely being driven by developments in advanced materials such as CIGS and perovskites.

MS&E is a lesser known undergraduate degree but will be ideal in this case for your son.
...so says the Material Guy :)
Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future - Niels Bohr | To get the "risk premium", you really do have to take the risk - nisiprius

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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Rodc » Tue Nov 01, 2016 12:19 pm

navyasw02 wrote:
KlangFool wrote:
msk wrote:With that kind of GPA I would say that whatever engineering discipline he goes into at the undergrad level, he would not be practising in it ten years hence. Very high GPAs tend to end up in research. The research fields that will be most relevant ten years from now invariably will be interdisciplinary in today's terminology. He is in a similar situation as when I was applying for my undergrad studies (and also for my own son). Since childhood I wanted to be an engineer, but never did resolve whether it should be civil, electrical/electronics, or mechanical. I had never heard of chemical nor bio (50+ years ago). So I went into Physics because of indecision, then into lasers/ultrasonics/solid state at the MSc PhD levels. Three years after PhD I was in Petroleum Engineering! That was very relevant in the 1970s. My colleague at the next desk had a PhD in Nuclear Physics. So don't sweat it. My son is doing physics... Even though I was registered as a grad student in Physics, both my research director and most of my co-grad students were in Electronics Engineering. Pertinent points between an Engineering degree and a Physics (or other pure science degree): At most campuses the Engineering degree takes a year longer (but that's also similar for a Physics Honors degree rather than a Physics Major). The Engineering degree allows registration as a Professional Engineer who can sign off drawings, but a pure science degree never leads to that. If he is leaning towards research I would point him towards a Faculty of Science degree and save a year on his way to a PhD. If he thinks he might stop at the BEng level then a Faculty of Engineering degree is probably more appropriate. My daughter wanted to study Geography and enrolled into an Earth System Science program. Now she wants to be an Environmentalist. My wife studied Anthropology and ended up as a Commissioner on public hearings at the Canadian Federal level, on a wide spectrum, from nuclear power plants to ports. Let the kid study anything that turns him on now, even if it's writing Apps for phones. That may well lead to writing software for a Mars rover. His career will be different from what we envisage today.
msk,

My son wants to do a Physic degree. I said no and I will not pay for that. So, he is double majoring in Physic and Mechanical Engineering.

In general, it is a bad idea to do a science degree at the undergraduate level. Many doors will be shut in the process.

KlangFool
I respectfully disagree with you on this. A lot of my engineer friends have physics and math degrees since hard sciences are the foundation of engineering. Physics makes you derive everything that the engineers boil down to a simple equation for practical use.
I agree as well. I am in the field of research engineering and have some understanding of the software field. A physics BS can provide a very solid start on a career. Unlikely you will be a "physicist" with just a BS but you can be a fine engineer, can get a great job in software (assuming you had a numerical bent as a student). You can go on to get a grad degree in many nearby fields like math and engineering.
We live a world with knowledge of the future markets has less than one significant figure. And people will still and always demand answers to three significant digits.

Rodc
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by Rodc » Tue Nov 01, 2016 12:22 pm

To the OP: your son's desires are extremely broad. He needs to narrow down his interests before he might be able to say I would prefer electrical over chemical, or whatever. Best would be to get into college and take a variety of classes before deciding.

Conversely, this is a smart kid, set them to work doing some more research on the current and expected future landscape. They will get a lot out of the exercise.
We live a world with knowledge of the future markets has less than one significant figure. And people will still and always demand answers to three significant digits.

NDfan27
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Re: which engineering major for renewables

Post by NDfan27 » Tue Nov 01, 2016 1:48 pm

Rodc wrote:To the OP: your son's desires are extremely broad. He needs to narrow down his interests before he might be able to say I would prefer electrical over chemical, or whatever. Best would be to get into college and take a variety of classes before deciding.

Conversely, this is a smart kid, set them to work doing some more research on the current and expected future landscape. They will get a lot out of the exercise.
I think it's tough for most kids to know what they want to do for the next 40+ years. I didn't even know that I wanted to be an engineer going into college. Most engineering majors will focus heavily on calculus, physics, chemistry, etc. early on and those classes are fairly universal for all engineering majors. He has time to figure it out before things start to get expensive. We had a "general engineering" major or something like that a few years ago when I was in school. I'd avoid that option since it prolongs your degree in many cases. If he wants exposure early on that his core classes won't provide, then join a club or two. If he finds that he really enjoys his chemistry classes, then maybe switch over to ChE or something more specific if he's sure. I think it's easier to start broad and look at more specialized options later on (I think most schools have you do this anyway).

In short, just pick the major that corresponds with the classes he enjoys the most and don't worry about his final degree yet. Few kids start and end with the same major these days.

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