There are many changes underway in the energy industry, and with these changes come uncertainty. While energy policies continue to change, the strategies and techniques energy managers use continue to evolve and become more cost-effective. As energy becomes more dynamic and complex via smart grids, intermittent renewables, storage and sustainability issues, energy managers are becoming more valuable. However, to remain up to date, an energy manager must continue to learn about new technologies and methods. In some cases, employers like to see certifications that demonstrate a professional’s competency.
Over the past year, I have seen an increase in the number of young people fresh out of college attending energy training courses and taking certification exams. This shows that energy is becoming a more attractive career path for young professionals, and more people in this age group are interested in earning a distinction to separate themselves in the job market.
Today, there are many certifications and training programs, including those offered by AEE, USGBC and the Department of Energy. Some programs are online, some are more traditionally classroom-based and some are self-study. The amount of available training can be overwhelming and even confusing.
While it is critical that you become an expert in an area you enjoy, it is also important to demonstrate competencies in the fundamentals and stay updated. Organizations like AAE, for example, provide training and resources for these aims in three key ways:
- Professional Certification
- Conferences and Expos
1. Attaining Professional Certification
A good, basic energy management certification allows the professional to see the big picture while also being able to do some calculations of energy savings and project vetting. While there is no substitute for experience, the Certified Energy Manager (CEM) is the most well-known certification. Earning this distinction demonstrates that a professional is proficient regarding the fundamentals of energy management on the customer’s side of the utility meter.
Training within a broad-based program tests you on a variety of subjects covering how energy is purchased and can be conserved within many types of systems (motors, boilers, lights, compressors, HVAC, etc.). For the AEE program, training is available in a live seminar format focused on solving real world challenges and not becoming too theoretical. Programs like this are popular with employers and large companies and organizations because attendees can apply what they learn immediately to reduce energy and operational expenses.
I know hundreds of people who received a salary raise after they passed their CEM exam. For decades, such a distinction has been a pre-requisite for jobs in large companies, cities, states, federal agencies and foreign governments. A sample list of where a CEM is required is available on the AEE website at www.aeecenter.org/recognition.
It is important to note that the CEM exam is not easy. The average passing rate has consistently been about 70% for the past 20 years. However, most test participants say it is tough but fair. To pass this exam, you must be able to interpret real world problems and solve them during a 4-hour exam.
2. Attending Conferences and Expositions
Attending technical conferences where you can learn about new technologies and case studies can keep you updated. At an energy expo, you have access to acres of technology, and witnessing practical technologies demonstrated on an exposition floor can provide valuable insights. You can ask vendors to demonstrate the functions and paybacks of equipment in one location.
For college seniors, energy expos are an excellent place to meet potential employers. You can see their technology and products and evaluate the prospects of the companies that are on display.
Sometimes it is difficult to place a value on collaboration, but the ability to meet with other like-minded people is very powerful within this field. A network of like-minded professionals sharing expertise in the field promotes sharing good ideas for energy solutions.
Furthermore, because energy is such a broad topic, no one can have all the technical knowledge, so it is important to collaborate with people that are experts in other areas. For example, a solar installer may not know anything about a combined heat and power plant, but specialists in both areas could develop a project that effectively combines the two. If you look in your geographic region, you will likely find energy-related associations, groups and chapters that have regular meetings where professionals can share ideas and advance the field.
Utilities and energy management approaches are becoming more complex and dynamic, so the energy manager of the future needs to utilize any available resources to stay ahead of the field’s many changes.