Interested in developing software for the green energy sector.
April 13, 2008 10:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm a senior software developer, and I'd like to start working in the green energy sector. What are the opportunities in this area?

Also, if there is a market for developers in this sector, what can I do to make myself more marketable?
posted by Sloop John B to Work & Money (3 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
From a friend of mine:

I'm a consulting engineer in the renewable energy world, and I've been surprised by the amount of software that happens in this sector. I can't be too specific about a lot of this, but I hope it's helpful anyhow.

Generally speaking, anybody who's running their own fabrication facility is going to need a lot of industrial automation software. It's not particularly glamorous, but it does need to get done. You might consider trying to get in touch with a company that's building a fabrication facility (there are lots of these going up in lots of different renewable energy industries) of some kind and market yourself accordingly. Experience with LabView is sometimes helpful, and embedded C experience can make you an automation viking. A side effect of this stuff being not-very-glamorous is that it tends to get done by people who aren't that great at what they do. Consequently, automation software is often very brittle and unreliable. If you want to get in with somebody who already has a fabrication facility up and running, you might market yourself as somebody who can exorcise evil voodoo spirits from their control systems.

People who are developing new instruments or small devices basically always need software people to write firmware. Again, embedded C and assembly are where it's at for this stuff.

Also, a lot of companies are finding themselves building large installations consisting of hundreds or thousands of a particular device. The industry is gradually waking up to the idea that a web-based approach is good for interacting with this kind of system. If your interest is in more high-level, application-type stuff, you might try finding somebody who's doing something like this.

Hope that helps! The renewable energy industry needs good software people.
posted by olinerd at 12:58 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

A lot of renewable energy sources are handicapped by being somewhat intermittent and unpredictable. For example, wind may not be blowing during a times of peak demand, or the sun might not be shining. One approach to the problem is looking for ways to improve energy storage, the other is finding ways to better smooth and shift demand curves.

The latter approach can be pretty IT intensive, because one of the core ideas is dynamic pricing coupled with loads that can respond to frequent changes in price. It might be thermostats or refrigerators that let temperatures rise a little if electricity prices get too high. It could be plug-in hybrids that actually return power to the grid from their batteries when prices are high, etc etc. There is work to be done creating the infrastructure and smart devices needed to support this sort of scheme.

I'm very down on biofuels, but I accept that they may be a necessity to provide fuel for certain applications (like aircraft). More management-intensive agriculture (involving careful tracking of inputs (plant variety, fertilizer, water, soil & weather conditions) and outputs is probably going to be necessary to supply enough feedstock for biofuels production. The logistics in marshaling those materials efficiently will also require enabling software.

That's all very high-level, I don't know who is active in those areas, but most of them are areas companies with related offerings are probably edging towards.
posted by Good Brain at 9:37 PM on April 13, 2008

If you include energy efficiency in your "green" energy. I know that there is a saying in the industry that says " if you record it, it will be more efficient". I guess that databases logging the performance of the devices used in a building are a great way to pin point what needs to be optmised/changed/repaired.
posted by pigelb at 1:50 PM on April 14, 2008

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