Solar’s future is a shining star in an otherwise dark economy. Here’s how to put your career in the sunlight.
In 2012, the solar industry saw a 13.2% increase in employment in the United States—nearly six times higher job growth than in the rest of the U.S. economy. And in 2013, the industry experienced a 20% growth in solar jobs—10 times higher than the national employment rate. This trend is expected to continue as increasing demand for solar will require new professionals involved in the installation, design, sales, and manufacturing of solar heating and photovoltaic (PV) systems.
If you’re looking for career in renewable energy, now’s the time to assess your skills and interests, which will help you choose your pathway into the solar industry. An electrical contractor will have a more direct path to becoming a PV installer than an individual without trades experience who is finishing an unrelated college degree. Not having experience or a related degree may mean a longer or more difficult path.
Solar employers tend to favor those with bachelor’s degrees and related work experience. Roughly 40% of the new solar positions in 2012 required a bachelor’s degree, and 50% required related work experience—some required both.
Aspiring solar professionals can readily attain “related work experience.” Applicants with experience in general construction, roofing, electrical, plumbing, or heating have attractive overlapping skill sets. Since the design of solar systems is complementary to many engineering disciplines, traditional design backgrounds provide relevant work experience and training for system and equipment designers. Experience in other industries related to sales, marketing, manufacturing, or accounting can also be assets for particular jobs.
The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and the U.S. Department of Energy collaborated on a tool for learning about diverse jobs within the solar industry. The Solar Career Map details common job descriptions, the skills and experience required for these positions, and pathways for career advancement within the solar industry.
If you’re entering college, consider earning a degree in a related discipline (engineering, construction management, building trades, business, etc.). You may also choose a program focused on solar technologies.
A number of these schools have been involved with the Department of Energy’s Solar Instructor Training Network (SITN), developed to increase the quality and accessibility of training across the country. Nine regional training providers train instructors and support the development of solar training programs at schools and other training institutions.
If you have limited solar experience, you can increase your formal knowledge and receive an industry-recognized PV or solar heating credential through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).
The NABCEP Entry Level program is a collaboration between NABCEP, industry professionals, and training organizations. The program is based on “Entry Level Learning Objectives” developed by subject matter experts and used as the basis for training content.