Job profile: What’s it like to be a renewable energy expert?

Although government subsidies for renewables have fallen, many say the sector is facing a buoyant future.

A rural practice surveying career can offer the chance to combine work in this field with other estate management tasks.

For those with commercial aptitude – and a sense of how energy projects can fit in to the wider countryside – this is an exciting option, as 35-year-old Tom Beeley of Fisher German explains.

See also: See more job profiles and ag careers advice 

Tom Beeley

Tell us about your job

As a graduate surveyor, I work across sustainable energy and rural estate management. On the renewable side, we identify and assess opportunities from sustainable energy – whether that’s clients investing in projects or getting involved in developer-led schemes.

I also assist with due diligence work for lenders and valuation of existing plant.

On the rural estate management side, I work with clients assisting in managing their rural estates – which can involve letting properties, arranging repairs and maintenance, plus dealing with access and wayleaves, among many other things.

There is overlap between the two, with farms and estates often involved with renewables or having opportunities for energy development among their wider property interests.

Are there a lot of job opportunities in renewable energy?

The number has shrunk over the past few years due to the decline in government subsidy for renewables, but there is seemingly a renewed government focus on reducing emissions.

The sector is now less reliant on subsidy schemes, which should make it more resilient and bring new opportunities.

Large-scale, subsidy-free solar has seen renewed interest in the past six months and such projects require more detailed appraisal to ensure they stack up financially.

How much time do you spend dealing with farmers?

Not a huge amount at present, because much of my work is with the more diversified aspects of businesses.

What skills do you need to do your job well?

As a surveyor, you need to be able to communicate effectively – be that with clients, farmers, tenants or third parties like local authorities.

You have to understand the clients’ needs, plus be able to explain regulations and communicate information clearly.

Renewable energy technology and legislation is changing fast – how do you keep up?

In some ways, the end of Feed-in Tariffs has meant there is less policy to keep track of, and less of a need to comply with scheme rules, which were being continuously adjusted.

However, subsidy-free projects bring new challenges, such as understanding more complex and variable income streams. The Renewable Heat Incentive has got continually more complex since it began.

Allocating time to read about these subjects and related policy as well as attending events is important.

You used to be an adviser at the Country Land and Business Association  – why did you make the shift into private practice?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the CLA, but wanted to get more involved in project delivery rather than policy. I also wanted to get out of London, where I was based, and had decided to go back to university to study an MSc in rural estate management.

Tell us about the MSc

It was a Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics)-recognised course, which I did with a view to then be able to do training to gain chartered status.

There was group of 35 on the course with a variety of ages and backgrounds, and everyone got along well. I was surprised by how many mature students there were, but it does seem to be a sector in which outside experience can be put to good use.

Returning to studying was enjoyable and surprisingly straightforward – perhaps because the resources are so much more accessible now than when I did my first degree.

You studied geography, environment and development at Durham. What made you choose that?

I hadn’t decided on a career when I left school, so I looked for a course that covered the A-levels I had enjoyed most – geography, biology and economics.

It was mostly enjoyable, covering subjects from basic geology to development planning. Plenty of field trips were also an attraction, as was the university’s reputation.

What advice would you give a young person wanting to pursue a career in renewables or rural surveying?

Take an interest in rural affairs generally to build up a broad understanding of rural business and the policy and legislation that affects it. This is really helpful for context to understand client decision-making, as well as identifying opportunities and risks. 

What are the salaries like?

The larger firms tend to pay graduates about £25,000/year, with a few additional benefits, and they also cover the cost of qualifications with Rics and CAAV.

There is an element of lifestyle choice as well, since it is a role that will get you away from your desk, seeing interesting places and meeting interesting people. n