Which Solar Career is Right for Me?

You’re ready to make the switch or embark on a career in solar energy. Congratulations! You’ll be among the 240,000+ Americans who work in this evolving industry. And with salaries higher than the national average, there’s a good chance you’ll be making more money than you are currently.

If you don’t speak the solar lingo yet, don’t worry. One encouraging aspect of this industry is that skills from other sectors are easily transferrable to the solar sector. Whether you’re entry-level or an executive in another industry, you have more applicable skills than you may think. The industry has a dire need for passionate, detail-oriented individuals with a strong work ethic who can communicate clearly and take pride in every job.

As you think about which area of specialization would best suit your skills, think what you’re most interested in – and where you can make the greatest impact toward a more sustainable future.

Here’s an overview of some different career options to help guide you toward a rewarding, lucrative career in the solar industry.

Solar Manufacturing Careers

More than 140 different solar manufacturing companies exist in America today. These companies do everything from producing solar modules and inverters to developing solar lights and other solar accessories like backpack chargers and solar ovens. And workers are needed to assist in every role, from the assembly to overseeing technicians to marketing the product to retail stores and selling to customers.

With the increased global demand for solar production, manufacturing companies need professionals who are experienced in other areas, such as:

  • Logistics
  • Purchasing
  • Quality control
  • Customer service
  • Investor relations
  • Accounting and record-keeping
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Communications and PR
  • Quality control

Solar Architect Careers

As developers incorporate solar power into their overall building designs, the demand for solar architects is constantly increasing. Professionals who know how to include technologies like solar awnings, transparent solar panels, integrated building PV (BIPV) and more are in high demand across the nation. There is also a growing market for architects who can integrate the latest solar technologies into existing buildings. These professionals have to be able to assess an existing structure like the condition of a roof, and recommend the most effective means for installing solar.

Sports stadiums, government buildings, schools and parking garages are harnessing the sun’s power. Solar is also being added to various public infrastructure and underutilized public land like decommissioned landfills. Projects such as these require skilled solar architects and engineers who can design new systems, supervise the structure during construction and monitor the new facilities after the solar is interconnected.

Solar Installation Careers

Solar installers are the individuals who make a project happen. Requirements vary by state, so be sure to check out the prerequisites in your area first. Some require a strong electrical background, while others emphasize roofing and building skills.

Solar PV installers do just this – install solar electric panels on residences and commercial buildings. Training often includes online courses and hands-on training at an institute like Solar Energy International (SEI). Solar hot water installers design, install and maintain heating systems that utilize the sun’s energy to heat water for a number of uses in homes and commercial buildings. Radiant heat solar installers are also becoming more popular. These professionals install radiant heat flooring and other systems that heat domestic water for a cost-effective way to warm their homes.

Solar Cleaning and Maintenance Careers

Sometimes the solar installer will also perform routine cleaning and upkeep on the systems that he or she installs. Other times, a company will outsource this role to an independent contractor or to another company that specializes in this service. Solar panels don’t require a significant amount of maintenance, but they do need to be regularly cleaned and monitored to ensure they are functioning properly.

As more upgrades become available, solar maintenance professionals may be asked to perform these design enhancements. For example, adding a hydrophobic coating to solar panels is believed to boost electrical output. Solar tracking mounts are also becoming more common on ground-mounted arrays to help the modules track sunlight throughout the day.  

Carrying lifespans of 25 years or more, crystal silicon-based solar panel systems can mean reliable and secure jobs for maintenance workers nationwide.

Solar Research & Development Careers

As solar technologies advance, solar research is one area in need of qualified professionals. Careers in solar research involve everything from photovoltaics, concentrating solar power (CSP), grid integration and market research. For example, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has a photovoltaic R&D division that focuses on areas such as:

  • Silicon materials
  • New materials and devices
  • Performance and reliability
  • Thin-film devices
  • PV engineering

Today, tens of millions of dollars are being invested annually in universities, governments, and private companies to support solar research and testing. In fact, solar patents are the second largest area of new patent filings.

Not all research deals with solar technology, however. As solar becomes more widely accepted across the U.S., there is a growing need for information about consumer behavior and trends, the performance of public traded solar stocks, support for various public policies, and more.

Solar Careers in Consulting, Sales and Financial Services

If you’re looking for work on the side, and you already have experience in the solar industry, a consulting gig may be the perfect fit. Consultants offer independent advice on site selection, technology, equipment configuration and more for both companies and residents. They can also recommend reputable installers and offer advice in terms of the best financing option for the client’s unique situation.  

Since all solar products must be sold, sales representatives will always be needed. Whether it’s selling the components to a solar array or the system itself, knowledgeable sales professionals are integral for keeping the industry afloat.

Nearly every solar project requires financing. Therefore, job opportunities exist at banks, insurance companies and through private financial institutions to help make the cost of going solar feasible for residents. In fact, the availability of solar financing is a key component of helping the industry grow – so you can expect jobs to expand in this particular sector.

Your dream job in solar is waiting for you. There’s no time like the present to embark on a gratifying career in this emerging industry.

Get started today on a new or different career in solar energy. Start by creating a free professional profile on Clean Energy Jobs List – then search for job opportunities near you!

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