Earth Day has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean that the world stops spinning (or that the environment stops being something that needs attention).
If you’re in the market for a green career, it’s worth paying attention to these three big issues that have really blown up so far in 2014. Read on for an explanation of each issue—and what it means for green jobs.
“Decentralized everything”—meaning a shift toward local control of resources—seems to be the trend this year with rooftop solar, the sharing economy, 3D printing, and the concept of microgrids dominating the sustainability dialogue. The smaller energy footprint associated with locally based goods and services is good for both the environment and job seekers. Thanks to technology and social platforms, this new distributed world of energy and things will only grow.
Two hot spots in the decentralized future are in distributed energy and the sharing economy. In the energy world, rooftop solar companies like SolarCity and Sunrun are hiring like crazy. In the sharing economy, many people are opting to work for themselves through platforms like Lyft, Uber’s new UberX, Airbnb, and TaskRabbit. There’s no need to work for The Man when new, decentralized opportunities abound all over the world.
2. The “Utility Death Spiral”
Something that touches everyone’s lives—your electric or gas utility—could be about to change big time. Oddly, the industry has remained more or less the same since Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Enter this year’s “utility death spiral” meme: the concept that the utility business model as we know it is doomed as distributed sources of clean energy like rooftop solar, microgrids, and battery storage come on the scene. The bottom line is that, as these new technologies are allowing people to become more energy independent, they may not want or need to rely on their utility anymore. Utilities have had low customer satisfaction rates, and it’s not clear that they’re ready for the shake-up headed their way.
NRG is one exception to the death spiral: Its CEO, David Crane has been making waves with some bold statements and big bets on new technology like solar canopies, energy storage, and new ways to link power and water generation through its Station A outpost. If you’re interested in or already working in clean energy, make sure that, like NRG, the company (utility, startup, what have you) is committed to renewable energy and is going all out to maintain its customer relationships. Opower, Nest, Clean Power Finance, and SunEdison are all new-school energy companies on the up and up to check out.
And within a utility, any role related to energy management software, renewables, or customer engagement will serve you well no matter what happens with the death spiral.
3. Water (or Lack Thereof)
With 40% of the Western U.S. in official drought conditions and world wars of the 21st century predicted to be over water, this issue is set to ignite in 2014. One especially recent example: This LA Times article sounds the alarm on Lake Mead, which only has 50 feet of water left before Las Vegas is forced to make some tough decisions.
We need more technologies to conserve, capture, purify, and desalinate water. Not only is water a big deal, it’s also attractive to investors right now, so startups, start your engines. Big companies in every industry will also need to calculate risks (financial and security) for when the price of water goes up. There is not one industry that water doesn’t touch, from manufacturing to data centers to hospitality, so no matter what field you’re in, you should be talking about what water means to your business and your career. Some interesting water-minded companies include WaterSmart, Veolia, Coca-Cola, and Imagine H2O.
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These issues have blown up quickly in the first part of 2014, but rest assured, they will be around for some time to come. And remember: One person’s impossible challenge is another’s career.