Is Certified Energy Manager Certification Worth It?

Certified Energy Manager (CEM) certification has become an increasingly popular credential for professionals looking to advance their energy management careers. The CEM certification signals extensive knowledge in areas like energy auditing, energy accounting, and building system optimization. However, the CEM exam and renewal process requires a serious time and money commitment. This leads to an ongoing debate around whether CEM certification is truly worth it for energy management professionals.

In this article, we will examine the key benefits and drawbacks of obtaining CEM certification. We will look at the exam itself, career impacts, maintenance requirements, and other factors to consider. With an informed perspective on both sides of the debate, you can decide if pursuing CEM certification aligns with your own career goals and priorities.

What is CEM Certification?

CEM stands for Certified Energy Manager. It is a professional certification that demonstrates competency in the fields of energy management and energy efficiency. The certification is administered by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) and requires passing a comprehensive exam covering topics like energy accounting, electrical and thermal systems, lighting, HVAC, boiler and steam systems, and industrial systems.

According to the AEE, the CEM certification is designed for professionals responsible for managing energy use and improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings and industrial facilities. Typical job roles include energy managers, facility managers, plant managers, building operators, and sustainability directors.[1]

To become a Certified Energy Manager, candidates must meet eligibility requirements for education and experience, agree to the AEE’s code of ethics, and pass the CEM exam. The exam covers technical knowledge as well as comprehension, analysis, and problem-solving skills related to energy management best practices. It aims to validate expertise in areas like energy performance, energy auditing, energy accounting, electrical and thermal systems, and energy project financing.[2]


Benefits of Getting Certified

Getting CEM certification provides several key benefits that can advance your career in energy management:

Career advancement – According to the Association of Energy Engineers, CEM certification demonstrates a commitment to the field and can give you a competitive edge for promotions and leadership positions. Many employers view CEMs as more qualified for senior energy roles (source).

Shows commitment to the field – Becoming a CEM shows current and future employers that you are dedicated to energy management and expanding your skills. It signals that you are serious about professional growth in this industry.

Access to network – CEMs gain access to the AEE’s network of over 18,000 professionals and resources. This community provides opportunities for career development, best practice sharing, and connecting with other energy management leaders (source).

Salary Boost

Research indicates that CEM certification can lead to a significant boost in salary. According to data from Payscale, the average salary for an energy manager with CEM certification is $95,685, with salaries ranging from $66k to $128k. For mechanical engineers, the average is $76k to $124k. ZipRecruiter shows an average salary of $80,833 for Certified Energy Managers as of 2024.

The data indicates CEM certification can provide a boost of $10k-$30k over similar roles without the certification. This sizable increase demonstrates the value employers place on CEM in assessing candidate qualifications and compensation.

Employer Demand

The CEM certification is in high demand by employers, especially in industries like manufacturing, commercial real estate, and utilities where facility energy use is a major cost driver. According to research by the Association of Energy Engineers, over 60% of companies with 500+ employees require or encourage CEM certification for at least some of their energy management positions. Large organizations like 3M, Toyota, Walmart, and others actively seek out CEMs to help improve energy efficiency, cut costs, and meet sustainability goals.

Job postings frequently list “CEM preferred/required” as a qualification. The CEM shows employers you have the required knowledge and commitment to managing energy use in buildings and facilities. Some companies may even reimburse the cost of certification due to the value CEMs provide.

Exam Difficulty

The CEM exam is considered quite difficult, with average passing rates around 70% for the past 20 years. According to buildings website “It is important to note that the CEM exam is not easy. The average passing rate has consistently been about 70% for the past 20 years. However, …” The exam contains 140 multiple choice questions and applicants have 4 hours to complete it. Questions cover energy accounting and economics, energy auditing, financial analysis, and aspects of facility management and building systems. Significant study and preparation is required to pass the CEM exam.

The CEM exam is administered by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) globally. According to the AEE handbook “While application and exam fees are nonrefundable, a candidate may reschedule taking a live exam at any time, for any reason, up to 24 hours prior to the scheduled exam start time.” This allows flexibility if an applicant does not feel fully prepared when their exam date arrives.

Maintaining Certification

To maintain CEM certification, certified professionals are required to obtain Continuing Education Units (CEU) or Professional Development Hours (PDH) every 3 years. According to the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), 10 AEE credits are needed every three years to maintain CEM certification[1].

person reviewing energy audit procedures to maintain cem certification

These credits can be obtained from various sources such as employment in energy management, completing energy audits, attending seminars and conferences, authoring published articles, papers or books on energy management, and more. The AEE has specific guidelines on which activities qualify and how many credits each activity is worth[2].

Around 3 months before the certification expiration date, certified professionals can submit their completed renewal application documenting continuing education activities completed during the 3-year period. There is also a certification renewal fee that must be paid to complete the renewal process[3].

Alternative Certifications

Besides the popular CEM certification, there are other highly-regarded energy management certifications professionals can pursue. Two of the top alternatives include:

The Certified Renewable Energy Professional (REP) offered by the Association of Energy Engineers is centered around expertise in renewable energy systems and technologies like solar, wind, geothermal and more. It covers financial, environmental, and logistical topics related to implementing renewable energy solutions. According to the Association of Energy Engineers, the REP certification “recognizes the expertise and experience of professionals involved in the specification, design, installation and management of renewable energy systems.”

Another option is the Certified Energy Auditor (CEA) credential from the Association of Energy Engineers. This certification focuses specifically on conducting energy audits for residential and commercial buildings, analyzing energy use data, recommending efficiency upgrades, estimating cost savings, and more. The CEA is geared towards energy auditing specialists and requires related work experience along with passing an exam. According to Energy Digital, it’s one of the “most globally respected certifications in energy auditing.”

Is CEM Worth It?

The CEM certification has many benefits that make it a valuable credential for energy management professionals. According to the Value of a Certified Energy Manager article, “When it comes to energy management, there is no better recognised certification than the CEM. The training needed to obtain the certification is in-depth and equips candidates with the skills needed to reduce energy consumption and costs.”

Some of the key pros of obtaining CEM certification include:

  • Higher salary potential. Certified professionals earn over 10% more on average compared to non-certified peers according to industry surveys.
  • Increased job opportunities. Many employers specifically seek out CEM certified candidates.
  • Comprehensive training. The CEM exam covers all aspects of energy management in depth.
  • Industry recognition. The CEM is globally recognised as the top certification for energy managers.

However, there are some potential cons to consider as well:

  • High upfront costs. The training course and exam fees can be expensive, often over $1000 total.
  • Ongoing certification maintenance. CEM certification requires re-testing every 3 years as well as professional development credits.
  • Time commitment. Becoming certified requires significant study time and effort.

Overall, for professionals working extensively in energy management, the CEM certification provides knowledge, skills, and credibility that can further a career. The initial investment is high, but can pay off in the long run with more job opportunities and higher salary potential.

Next Steps

If you’re interested in pursuing CEM certification, here are some helpful resources to get you started:

The Association of Energy Engineers website has detailed information on becoming a Certified Energy Manager. This outlines the eligibility requirements, exam details, and step-by-step process for applying and registering for the exam.

You can also find the application form, certification renewal process, and other key resources on their CEM program page.

Be sure to carefully review the eligibility, exam content, and requirements to ensure you qualify and are prepared for the exam. Reach out to AEE with any questions as you go through the process.

Once certified, take advantage of AEE’s network and career resources to maximize the impact of your CEM credential.

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