As the Government sets out its target to make every new home carbon-neutral by 2016, houses equipped with ground and solar thermal energy sources will become as common as DVD players and double glazing. However, this transition will require much innovation. Britain will need mechanical, electrical, civil and chemical engineers - as well as marketeers, energy accountants and builders - if it is to meet its energy needs; an exciting and challenging task for all those interested in assisting.

Nowadays, almost everyone is aware of climate change and the need for carbon reduction, but five years ago most people would not have understood the benefits of an active solar hot water system and few plumbers would have had reason to learn how to install one.

Ground source heat pumps, which use geothermal energy to provide central heating and hot water, have been used successfully in Scandinavia for the last 50 years. However, they are still relatively new to the UK. With new technology relating to reducing carbon emissions springing up all over the place, engineers with the ability to install this technology are much needed and hard to find. Unfortunately, there is currently little in the way of generic training for ground source design and installation in the UK, so most would-be installers have to choose between manufacturer-based training or training abroad.

In order to develop the geothermal market, a number of experts must work together. These include heating engineers, hydrogeologists, geotechnical drillers and building controls engineers, who have not previously worked as teams; now refrigeration experts, underfloor heating specialists and building services consultants all need to join the party too.

Similar challenges exist in the solar thermal field. The vast majority of solar thermal installations in the UK are for domestic water heating, while in Germany, half are for a joint central heating and hot water system. Additionally, both across Europe and beyond, solar thermal is increasingly being used for a huge range of commercial and industrial heating needs, so the pace of change will be rapid and there are career opportunities in every aspect of the field. There are currently at least two training courses available for would-be solar hot water installers who are already qualified heating engineers or plumbers.

For those who wish to work in the design, research, development or manufacturing fields, today's normal choice is to first obtain a degree in engineering, science or business and then later do a specialist degree in renewable technology. However, some undergraduate degrees specialising in renewable and energy technology are starting to come on to the market. All this provides a huge variety of options for career development.

It is becoming increasingly clear that over the next 100 or so years we need to press on with the implementation of renewable-only energy supplies. This is the big challenge for both our generation and the next.

Working in these industries offers exciting career paths with many routes to follow and the knowledge that your endeavours are of real benefit to mankind.

Karl Drage is chairman of the Ground Source Heat Pump Association and David Matthews is chief executive of the Solar Trade Association


If you are interested in finding out more about environmental engineering, the National Energy Foundation is a great place to start. With the aim of encouraging energy efficiency, they act as an information and educational body for anyone interested in carbon-saving measures. For more information, log on to