18 Solar Jobs With a Bright Future
Solar jobs offer the chance to do meaningful work in an expanding industry. Harnessing the power of the sun can save water, reduce energy bills, and bring electricity to remote areas, all without emitting harmful greenhouse gases. You can feel good about making a living in a field that has a positive impact on the planet. And as the industry continues to grow and diversify, you can pursue rewarding opportunities in a wide variety of areas.
Solar careers run the gamut from installation and maintenance to manufacturing and sales. Whether you're interested in doing hands-on work or lab-based research, you can likely find a position in the solar field to suit you. The information below can help you understand the amazing range of opportunities that could be in your future. Explore and be inspired!
(All earnings figures cited below are median salaries in US dollars, rounded to the nearest thousand.)
- The growth of solar power
- Solar industry certifications
- Solar jobs in:
- Additional solar industry jobs
The Growth of Solar Power
Solar is one of the fastest-growing electricity sources in North America. Canada's solar industry is small, but it is expanding rapidly. For instance, the total capacity of large solar farms in Ontario grew nine-fold between January 2015 and November 2016 alone.1 And the U.S. saw installed capacity double between 2015 and 2016.2 That growth is expected to continue: Data indicates that more than a dozen states will install at least 1 GW of photovoltaic capacity between 2018 and 2022.3
As the industry expands, so do the job opportunities. According to the National Solar Jobs Census, more than a quarter of a million Americans spent at least half of their job time on solar-related work in 2017. That represents a substantial increase from the 93,000 solar energy jobs that existed in 2010.2
In fact, one report found that, in the U.S., solar jobs are almost as numerous as natural gas jobs—despite the fact that solar only accounts for about two percent of American energy generation while natural gas makes up 32 percent. And when it comes to solar jobs vs coal jobs, the ratio is more than 2 to 1.4
Solar Industry Certifications
Many solar job openings call for certification by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). These industry-recognized certifications are not mandatory, but they can demonstrate your competence to potential employers.
The available options include two broad designations:
- Photovoltaic (PV) Technical Sales Professional—Intended for salespeople, financial analysts, and site assessors, it covers topics like site analysis, benefit analysis and financing, and proposal preparation.
- PV Installation Professional—Aimed at installers, designers, and project managers, it covers system design, installation, operation, and maintenance.
There are also five more specific certifications that reflect the increasing task specialization in the solar industry:
- PV Design Specialist
- PV Installer Specialist
- PV Commissioning and Maintenance Specialist
- PV and Solar Heating System Inspector
- Solar Heating Installer
To qualify for the certification exams, you must complete a certain number of training hours through an accredited program. You also need construction safety training (either through OSHA or a provincial equivalent) as well as some industry experience.
Solar Jobs in Installation
Installation makes up the largest share of solar power jobs. In fact, among workers who spent more than half of their time on solar projects in 2017, almost 52 percent were involved in installation.2 Check out some of the most common careers in this area:
1. Solar thermal installer—$38K5
Thermal installers build the systems that collect and circulate solar-heated water for use in residential, industrial, or commercial buildings. They install pipes, tanks, fittings, and mounting equipment, and they connect thermal systems to water and power sources. They also position solar panels to ensure that they capture the maximum amount of energy.
2. Solar photovoltaic installer—$39K5
Solar installer jobs involve assembling photovoltaic modules and panels, mounting equipment on residential and commercial rooftops, applying weather sealing, and connecting wires. This is hands-on work that requires lifting heavy loads and working at great heights. Experience in roofing, electrical work, or general construction can boost your job prospects.
3. Solar installation electrician—$59K6
These professionals are in charge of connecting solar equipment, such as panels and inverters, to a building's main power supply or to the nation's electrical grid. They plan the layout of wiring and fixtures, do voltage testing, and ensure that the system complies with all applicable codes. In most areas, electricians must be licensed.
4. Solar site assessor—$73K7
Evaluating the amount of energy that can be collected at a location is the primary task of solar site assessors. They measure roof areas, review historical weather data, and determine the type and layout of the solar panels that are needed. They also calculate installation costs and write up their findings and recommendations for customers.
5. Project manager—$91K5
Devising and coordinating the overall plan for a solar installation is the responsibility of project managers. They set work schedules, track costs, train crew members on proper solar installation procedures, and check the quality of finished work. Their job is to make sure that projects are completed on time and on budget.
Solar Jobs in Operations and Maintenance
On the operations and maintenance side of solar technology, jobs like those below are focused on monitoring performance and making adjustments to improve efficiency. Keeping solar energy systems up and running requires the skills of many different professionals. Here are a few examples:
1. Residential solar service technician—$53K8
Troubleshooting and repairing photovoltaic systems for residential customers is the focus of these technicians. They diagnose issues, replace faulty components, calibrate systems, and solve wiring and electrical problems. They also communicate with customers. Many of these technicians are licensed electricians.
2. Commercial solar PV technician—$62K8
Technicians who work on large-scale photovoltaic systems monitor, test, and maintain things like sensors, transformers, inverters, weather instrumentation, and fuel cell equipment. They identify and repair issues with electrical and mechanical equipment and replace parts as needed. Some technicians are based at a single facility, whereas others travel to different locations.
3. Solar utility operator—$77K5
Solar power plant operators use sophisticated technical equipment to monitor the operation and performance of photovoltaic arrays and generators. They investigate system outages and coordinate with technicians and operations staff to resolve issues, maximize production, and ensure safety. They also document all maintenance activities.
Solar Jobs in Design and Development
Are you interested in coming up with a new and improved way to build a solar panel? Jobs in solar design and development allow you to combine technical skills with creative thinking. Here's a sample of careers in this sector:
1. Residential PV system designer—$48K6
Using information from site photos and surveys, these professionals design solar photovoltaic systems for residential rooftops. That work includes calculating system sizes, creating electrical diagrams, and selecting appropriate components. Designers might also work with building department officials to acquire the applicable permits.
2. Commercial solar design engineer—$53K6
Developing large-scale photovoltaic or solar thermal systems is another way to make your mark in the renewable energy industry. This role involves running computer simulations of system performance to identify and improve inefficiencies, devising the specifications to connect solar energy systems to the electrical grid, and determining installation procedures.
3. Solar product development engineer—$71K6
These engineers develop, test, and document new or improved products for the solar industry. Those products could be anything from more efficient photovoltaic cells to better energy storage systems. Engineers must consider cost, durability, and manufacturing requirements when coming up with their designs. A degree in mechanical, materials, or electrical engineering is usually required.
Additional Solar Industry Jobs
There are many other types of careers that support the solar industry. You can find positions in research, manufacturing, sales, finance, and more. Here are a few more solar careers that don't fit into the other categories:
1. CNC operator—$53K5
Many solar projects would not be possible without the efforts of computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tool operators. They use highly precise computerized tools to manufacture components to exact specifications. These components might include solar mirrors, mounting brackets, or frames for supporting photovoltaic cells.
2. Solar sales representative—$48K6
Solar sales jobs are in demand in many areas. In fact, the National Solar Jobs Census found that sales positions were the hardest ones to fill.2 Sales reps focus on educating prospective clients about the benefits of switching to solar power. They give presentations, answer technical questions, and prepare quotes and proposals. Commissions can significantly boost your earning potential.
3. Engineering technicians—$52K to $54K5
The solar industry relies on engineering technicians to help solve problems in manufacturing, construction, and maintenance. For example, civil engineering technicians might review blueprints to calculate the materials required to build a solar energy system, whereas industrial engineering technicians might collect data on factory production methods in order to make solar manufacturing processes more efficient.
4. Electrical inspector—$59K5
Once a solar energy system is installed, it must be inspected to ensure that it's up to code. Electrical inspectors have the task of determining whether the system is safe and will work properly. These workers review mounting structures, check wiring connections, and make sure that photovoltaic arrays are properly grounded. Most inspectors start out as electricians.
5. Electro-mechanical technician—$57K5
Electro-mechanical technicians install, operate, repair, and maintain equipment used in solar manufacturing. They diagnose malfunctions with production machinery, assemble and disassemble equipment for repairs, and perform preventive maintenance. It's important to make adjustments quickly and efficiently in order to get a production line going again.
6. Solar project financial analyst—$84K5
Developing financing solutions for large-scale solar customers is the responsibility of project financial analysts. They analyze utility rates and research photovoltaic incentive programs to come up with detailed financial models. They also prepare reports and presentations for prospective customers. A bachelor's degree in finance or economics can get you started.
7. Materials scientist—$100K5
Did you know that most solar panels only have efficiency ratings of somewhere between 15 and 17 percent? Materials scientists research ways to boost those numbers. They study the properties and structures of materials such as glass and semiconductors in order to invent new solar products or improve existing ones.
Advance Your Aspirations
Take the first step toward a career in solar energy by exploring the training options listed above. Or enter your zip code into the school finder below to find convenient programs near you!
1 National Energy Board, "Market Snapshot: Power generation from large solar farms in Ontario almost doubled in 2016," website last visited on March 15, 2018.
2 The Solar Foundation, National Solar Jobs Census 2017, website last visited on March 15, 2018.
3 GTM Research, "10 Trends That Will Shape the Global Solar Market in 2018," website last visited on March 15, 2018.
4 U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Energy and Employment Report, website last visited on March 15, 2018.
5 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on August 28, 2018.
6 PayScale, website last visited on April 16, 2018.
7 SimplyHired, website last visited on March 15, 2018.
8 U.S. Department of Energy, Solar Energy Technologies Office, website last visited on April 23, 2018.