Power systems engineering covers the generation, storage, and distribution of electrical power, and it’s come a long way since the invention of the light bulb. The rise of renewable energy means a similar rise in demand for electric power systems that can safely store and efficiently distribute that energy. This is the era of the smart grid—a time where clean energy is front of mind for businesses, politicians, and citizens. There’s never been a better time to become a power systems engineer and the work they do can be truly transformative.
Even though it’s a subdiscipline of electrical engineering, there’s a wide range of applications for power systems engineering. Power systems engineers can develop and test wind turbines, or they can design the layout of entire power plants. They can go into research, academia, or private practice. They can seek to lead publically-funded projects, or they can consult on privately contracted endeavors. Whether they focus on analysis, design, or development, power systems engineers play a critical role in how our world runs and how our future plays out.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) does not have any data specifically for power systems engineers, however, it does cover information about electrical engineering. It reports that the job outlook for electrical engineers will be bright in the coming years. The BLS estimates that openings for these professionals in the U.S. will increase 7 percent (12,700 new jobs) between 2020 and 2030, which is almost as fast as the 8 percent growth projected for all occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020) reported an annual average salary of $105,990 among the 185,220 electrical engineers across the country.
It’s important to note that these figures also varied based on the source of data. For illustration, Payscale—a data aggregator of self-reported salaries in common occupations—found national figures for power systems engineers which differed from the BLS. By illustration, Payscale (May 2022), found the following percentiles nationally:
According to the 282 salaries submitted anonymously to Glassdoor (2022), power systems engineers made $88,268 per year.
Just as there’s more than one way to store and distribute power, there’s more than one way to become a power systems engineer. If you’re ready to explore the paths available, check out our step-by-step guide to becoming a power systems engineer below.
After graduating from high school, aspiring power systems engineers will need to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, ideally from a university accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
These four-year programs provide a solid foundation of understanding in the field and prepare graduates for transitions into the subdiscipline of power systems engineering. Admissions requirements vary from program to program, but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT and/or ACT scores; letters of recommendation; and a personal statement.
Arizona State University, which is ranked second in the nation for online undergraduate degrees, offers a bachelor of science in engineering (BSE) in electrical engineering that can be completed entirely online. Students in this online program will develop engineering skills that will focus on the design of electronics, electric power systems, antennas, semiconductor devices, and signal processing algorithms. They will also be prepared for careers that pioneer new technologies in robotics, robotics, the energy sector, and beyond.
Courses cover topics such as Introduction to engineering; digital design fundamentals; circuits, signals and systems; computer organization and assembly language programming; fundamentals of electromagnetics; random signal analysis; and senior design laboratory. The program consists of 120 credits. The program will also allow students to pursue a concentration in electric power and energy systems.
At the end of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities such as aerospace engineers, solar energy systems engineers, wind energy engineers, radio frequency identification device specialists, telecommunications engineering specialists, energy engineers, and nuclear engineers.
Colorado Technical University also offers a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at its Colorado Springs campus providing students with a solid technical background and the opportunity to develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills to work with equipment ranging from smartphones and small electronic devices to supercomputers, within the various fields of electrical engineering and the high-tech industry.
The curriculum covers areas such as differential calculus; circuit analysis; embedded microcontrollers; advanced engineering mathematics; advanced circuit analysis; signals and systems; and electromagnetics. The program consists of 190.5 credits.
Several states require power systems engineers to be licensed in order to practice. Specific requirements for licensure vary from state to state, but further information can be found on the website of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
In order to begin the licensure process, applicants must get certified as an Engineer in Training (EIT) by passing a Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam in their area of study. While there is no FE exam that focuses solely on power systems engineering, there is one for electrical engineering, and many undergraduate programs prepare their students specifically for this exam. The 110-question exam, which is administered by the NCEES, is six hours long and costs $175.
After being certified as an EIT, it’s possible to begin work as an engineer, albeit under the guidance and supervision of a professional engineer (PE). Work experience at this stage is critical for accumulating the credentials necessary to become a PE in the future. Furthermore, it allows young engineers to build a resume and network as they explore multiple areas of the discipline and choose which is right for them. And, finally, it’s even possible that employers will pay for some of a young engineer’s graduate-level education.
While it’s not a requirement, many power systems engineers choose to pursue a master’s degree from an accredited institution. While undergraduate programs focus primarily on the foundations of electrical engineering, a graduate program can dive deeply into the specifics of power systems engineering.
Whether one is looking to build their resume, move into research, or advance into leadership and development roles, a master’s degree is often the first step. Admissions requirements vary from school to school but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); strong GRE scores; work experience; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement.
Northeastern University offers an online master of science (MS) in energy systems that takes a practical and interdisciplinary approach. Designed for those pursuing a career in public planning or industry, it prepares graduates for leadership roles within power systems engineering. Required courses cover the following areas: economic decision-making; the fundamentals of energy system integration; mathematical models for mechanical engineers; and the foundations of accounting and finance.
Students then choose two elective courses from a list of options that includes electrochemical energy storage; power plant design and analysis; smart grid; sustainable energy; and hydropower. The program consists of 32 credits.
Admission requirements to the program include an undergraduate degree (engineering major preferred), a completed online application, two letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, transcripts from all institutions attended, a current resume, and TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo scores for international applicants. GRE scores are not required for admission.
Michigan Tech also has an online master of science (MS) in electrical engineering with a focus on power systems. Notably, the Air Force, American Electric Power, and Consumers Energy have all funded this university’s research endeavors. Online students in this program enroll in the same classes as on-campus students and follow the same schedule and syllabus completing almost the same coursework. Lectures can be viewed at their convenience from the comfort of their office or home.
Classes cover topics such as distribution engineering; circuits and instrumentation for cyber-physical systems; electric energy systems; power electronics; advanced methods in power systems; transient analysis methods; power system protection; wind power; and power systems dynamics and stability. The program consists of 30 credits, of which 21 are dedicated to electric power. If pursued on-campus, it’s possible to extend the program and combine the MS degree with a PhD.
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While it’s not a requirement in every context, many power systems engineers choose to become licensed as professional engineers (PE). This enables one to lead publically-funded projects, and it also opens up pathways for advancements and job opportunities—especially on publicly funded projects—that are unavailable to those who lack the PE certification.
Eligibility requirements include four years of practical work experience under the supervision of a PE. Once deemed eligible, applicants need to pass a Principles of Engineering (PE) exam in their area of focus; an exam is available for the subdiscipline of power systems. The 80-question, nine-hour exam is administered by the NCEES, and exam fees vary by state.
Power systems engineering is not only an extremely collaborative discipline, it’s also a dynamic and evolving field. To catch up on where the conversation around power systems engineering is at today, check out some of the resources below.
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