Installation firms employ nearly one-half of the workers in the solar industry. These companies manage a number of responsibilities, including:
- Selling systems
- Coordinating system design
- Obtaining components and materials
- Acquiring building permits
- Installing the systems
- Servicing and maintaining systems
- Coordinating paperwork, such as customer billing, and managing incentives
Most installation companies are small, employing two to three workers. They resemble traditional electrical, plumbing, and heating contractors. The owner often handles the majority of the sales, purchasing, design, and administration; while employees handle the installation and service work.
In larger installation firms, jobs may be more specialized. These companies manage multiple work crews, using lead installers and installation helpers. They have an administrative staff to manage and oversee the larger volume of projects. Administrative positions may include salespeople, designers, warehouse workers, marketing professionals, and general office staff.
A job with an installation company may require a host of skills, ranging from basic carpentry to engineering and design.
Highly trained engineers may choose to specialize in product or equipment design.
The manufacturing sector employs approximately one-quarter of the solar industry. Companies range from the obvious—such as PV module and solar collector manufacturers—to those that manufacture components such as glass, ingots, heat-transfer fluids, pumps, and balance-of-system components like inverters. If you’re interested in manufacturing, you might find yourself working for a solar-specific manufacturer or for a manufacturer that has a solar division. Jobs in manufacturing include positions in sales, production, accounting, marketing, and engineering.
The availability of manufacturing jobs in the PV industry has been more volatile than in other sectors due to economic pressure from the steep drop in the price of PV modules over the last several years. While this price drop has driven significant industry growth, it has also led to some manufacturers going out of business.
Sales & Distribution
Sales and distribution companies act as wholesalers (and, sometimes, retailers) of solar equipment. They may be solar-specific or offer solar equipment in addition to their traditional electrical, plumbing, heating, or hardware selection.
This portion of the industry is dominated by positions in sales and marketing. There is also significant demand among these companies for individuals with engineering expertise to help customers with their designs. While this sector represents only 13% of the total jobs in the solar industry, it grew by 50% between 2010 and 2012.
As the solar industry grows, more professions benefit from individuals with solar-specific expertise. Likewise, the solar industry benefits from the expertise and experience of complementary trades. Experts in finance, law, and taxation are needed in those peripheral areas. For example, third-party ownership models (like leases) drive significant growth in the solar industry. Engineers, architects, utility representatives, energy analysts, code officials, lenders, real estate appraisers, and large infrastructure development firms also need people with solar knowledge.