Solar Power Careers
Despite the rare occurrence of a solar eclipse, the supply of solar energy is limitless. Unlike fossil fuels, the use of solar energy produces no air or water pollution. Solar energy is primarily converted into two forms of energy – thermal (heat) and electricity. Solar thermal (heat) energy is used to heat homes, buildings, greenhouses, and pools, among other basic structures.
Solar energy can be converted to electricity in two ways:
The first is the use of solar cells to change sunlight directly into electricity, and the second is a solar power plant, which uses solar thermal collectors to indirectly create steam that is used to power generators.
Solar Energy Education
Many individuals who want to get into the solar power industry study engineering, a branch of earth science, or a technical field. And, although few in number at the present moment, many universities are developing solar power programs in their respective renewable energy departments. It is only logical that, as the industry continues to grow, degrees in solar power studies will become a feature on college campuses nationwide. Two schools that have already developed solar programs are:
- University of Delaware – Solar Power Program
- Farmingdale College, Farmingdale, NY – Solar Energy Center
Solar Energy Employment Outlook
The solar energy industry in the U.S creates thousands of green jobs for Americans. Over the next 25 years, the worldwide market for renewable/solar energy and energy efficiency represents a multi-trillion dollar opportunity for U.S. firms.
Worldwide, the solar photovoltaic (PV) power employed 3.1 million employees, up 12% from 2015. The growth came mainly from China, the United States and India, whereas jobs decreased for the first time in Japan, and continued to decline in the European Union.
Types of Solar Power Careers
Most high level employees in the solar power industry have advanced degrees and a long track record of success in the field. The solar power industry is one where an individual with a high school education can enter the field as an installer, and work his way up to being a technician.
The higher level positions, such as engineers and managers require educational backgrounds in engineering, physics, the earth sciences, or management.
Solar Power Project Managers
The project manager acts as the overseer of the solar power site. Managers need to be experienced in all aspects of solar power operations. An advanced degree is preferred for this position, but a bachelor’s degree in engineering, physics, or a field of earth science, and experience in the industry is accepted. Project managers need to hold many industry-specific certifications.
Solar Power Engineers
The primary responsibility of an engineer on a solar power farm is the design and development of solar energy systems. Solar engineers have a role to play in all aspects of the solar power operation, from systems development to troubleshooting, and from research to management duties.
Solar engineers have an educational background in engineering, or even physics. Many solar power companies will hire engineers from relevant field with the preferred amount of experience. Engineers are required to be certified and licensed.
The field technician is responsible for the examination and inspection of solar systems.
Technicians also perform installation of solar systems, and perform service and repair duties. This is a position where experience outweighs education, and technicians usually spend 2-3 years as installers before being promoted.
An excellent way to break into the solar power industry is as a solar panel installer. Solar panel installers are responsible for all installation aspects associated with solar systems, including electrical wiring and mounting. Although education is important, certification and experience in wiring, construction, and residential electrical installation is highly valued. Solar installers are usually paid by the hour, ranging from $14-20 an hour depending on experience and location.
The need for qualified solar electric system installers has been recognized in the USA through the establishment of a national certification program overseen by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).
Top Solar Energy Companies
- First Solar
- Ascent Solar
- Suntech Power
- Amtech Systems
- Evergreen Solar
- Stirling Energy Systems
- SunPower Corporation
- FPL Energy
- The Solar Energy Company
- American Solar Energy Society
- Solar Energy Research Information
- U.S. Department of Energy, Solar Energy Technologies Program
- Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)