It’s no secret that Texas leads the nation in crude-oil production, with our petroleum refineries processing nearly 4.8 million barrels of crude oil daily. We’ve discussed before how both oil and gas have led to a hiring surge in places like Beaumont, TX, not only for engineering talent but for positions at all levels and all areas of business. But here’s something to consider: Texas isn’t just generating oil and gas. Areas throughout Texas are harnessing unprecedented amounts of natural energy in some surprising forms. From wood to wind to solar power, here’s a roundup of the alternative energy sources that are attracting engineers and other professionals like magnets.
What’s looming in the great, wide open West Texas expanse? Wind power, and lots of it. According to the National Wind Institute, wind energy is poised to provide 20 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030. Texas is the nation’s leader in wind energy production, with more than double the wind power capacity of California, its closest competitor.
Now that Texas has proven it can reliably utilize its wind potential, wholesale buyers are flocking in from a surprising place: the tech industry. Earlier this fall, Google blazed the trail by announcing the purchase of the 240 megawatt Amarillo, TX, wind farm called Happy Hereford. It’s Google’s biggest energy deal to date. And, just a few weeks ago, Microsoft announced a first-of-its-kind, 20-year deal to buy power from a Texas wind farm owned by RES Americas. The wind farm will be built not in West Texas, but just 70 miles northwest of Fort Worth in order to take advantage of the lower-cost Dallas-Fort Worth lode.
What’s notable for engineering recruiters when it comes to solar energy production in Texas is not in how big the industry is currently, but how big it will likely be in a few years. Here’s an impressive industry statistic: The sunshine that falls on Texas in one month contains more energy than all of the oil that has ever been pumped in the state. Yet, Texas ranked ninth in solar energy growth last year. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Texas solar industry currently employs less than 4,000 workers. But, given the state’s potential – with more than twice the usable solar space than that of any other state – it could increase this number exponentially. Cities like Austin and San Antonio are leading the charge by seriously increasing rebates and incentives for solar power use. Plus, San Antonio is currently building what is expected to be one the largest municipal utility solar projects in the U.S. bringing with it 800 new jobs.
“Texas’ potential for solar power, combined with solar energy’s low water usage and peak generation, makes it a perfect fit for the state’s current and long‐term electricity needs,” Carrie Cullen Hitt, senior vice president of State Affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), released on SEIA’s website. “Installing more solar in Texas would entice more solar companies to do business in Texas, and further fuel the Texas economy by creating jobs and increasing investment in the state.”
Wood & Biomass
Just north of Beaumont – and the entire petroleum stronghold of Texas – lies a 75 mile radius of forest land dubbed the “wood basket.” The area’s new notoriety doesn’t stem from the energy it provides Texas, but from what it provides Europe: wood pellets. What makes wood pellets so important? They can be burned as an alternative fuel replacing coal in coal-fired power plants. European consumption is expected to increase to between 15 million and 25 million metric tons (up to 27 U.S. tons) per year by 2020. That’s a lot of pellets, requiring a lot of manpower to make.
German Pellets Group is set to output 1 million tons of wood pellets per year between its soon-to-be-completed Woodville, TX, and Urania, LA, plants. A new harbor facility at Port Arthur will serve as the pellet warehouse and loading installation for transporting to Germany.
While the wood pellets produced in Texas are destined for Europe, it is a biomass energy source: A category that has huge energy potential right here at home. According to a Texas Renewable Energy Report, energy from biomass sources such as wood and wood products, landfill waste, agricultural byproducts, and livestock waste contributed to a measurable amount of energy for industrial use. Biomass facilities throughout Texas in Sacul, Woodville, and Lufkin are poised to further the sector’s growth. Couple that with Texas’ related biofuel sector and it becomes an important area to watch, having already recorded more than 53,000 employees throughout the state in 2011.
What About Hiring?
According to Wanted Analytics, hiring for renewable energy jobs increased 10 percent over the past year. While Texas rides this trend within the sectors mentioned above, highly skilled professionals like engineers could be dispersed into energy jobs throughout the state, outside the traditional Southeast Texas oil and gas epicenter. This will bring both opportunities and challenges to recruiters throughout Texas. How do you view the situation: Does your organization stand to gain or lose? We’d love to hear from you!
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