Getting a Job in the Solar Industry: What You Need to Know
Job creation serves as one of the most frequently touted benefits of solar energy. You hear it all over the news: in presidential campaigns, senate bills, from conservationists and clean energy advocates alike. Heck, even conservative Texas governor Greg Abbott recently told Texans that solar can create jobs and add to the state’s energy security.¹ But what does this really look like? What are the jobs being created?
To start, let’s take a look at the numbers. According to the 2020 National Solar Jobs Census published by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) and The Solar Foundation, the U.S. solar industry employed 231,474 workers in 2020. It grew more diverse, with workforce shares at all-time highs across most demographic measures of diversity (though there’s still work to be done on this front). Of this workforce, over 10% are unionized, a figure above the national average and comparable with similar construction trades.
Wages within solar companies are on par with or higher than wages for U.S. workers in similar occupations. What’s more, while the solar industry is on a trajectory to reach 400,000 solar jobs by 2030, employment is projected to exceed 900,000 workers by 2035 if we’re working to meet the 100% clean electricity goal set by President Biden.²
So if you’re entering the workforce, or thinking about how to shift toward a career in sustainable energy, let’s walk through what getting a job in the solar industry might entail.
What Do Solar Jobs Look Like?
As awareness surrounding solar energy continues to grow, the industry is becoming a more and more desirable field to work in. The first job that may come to mind when you think about solar is that of an installer or electrician. However, we spoke with Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) program manager Megan Howes about the many other opportunities the growing solar market has to offer.
She put it this way: “Solar offers opportunities for individuals with diverse skill sets and career interests to help power the transition to a clean energy future. While skilled trades and technical roles like installers and electricians are the front lines of the solar workforce (and are some of the fastest-growing jobs in the country), the industry is supported by a wide range of job functions across engineering, manufacturing, business development, policy, finance, communications and much more.”
Let’s walk through some of the most common roles.
- Solar Installers, Electricians and Technicians: Though these positions do vary in their scope and qualifications, they all require a knowledge of basic electrical skills and will be involved in on-site installations of solar panels and solar batteries, as well as troubleshooting or commissioning of the technology post-install.
- Project Managers and Administrators: Enjoy logistics and streamlining efficiency? Managing networks of solar installers may be a viable solar career option for you.
- Solar Systems Designers: Before any solar panels can be installed, systems have to be designed. Many companies use a software called Aurora that employs satellite imagery to assist in planning how many solar panels you need on your home, how much sunlight they’ll receive and how direct that sunlight will be in order to create a detailed energy proposal.
- Financial Analysts and Accountants: Have a background in finance but an interest in sustainability? Every business needs someone to oversee the numbers — expanding solar companies especially.
- Materials Engineers: Somebody out there has to be working on increasing the efficiency of solar panels, sourcing new materials and testing new products. If your experience is in science, chemistry or engineering, that could be you.
- Marketing Professionals: Solar is a competitive industry, and the thousands of solar companies across the nation need to get the word out about why their company is best.
- Energy Attorneys: Solar is a developing industry that involves the navigation of government policies, bureaucracies and legislatures. Many of these reach a level of complexity that requires a law degree.
- Solar Consultants: Solar installers hire consultants who meet with potential customers or investors to outline the benefits of solar, present proposals and field any questions pertaining to a potential solar project.
- Energy Journalists: The solar industry is growing fast, and a number of news outlets are upping their coverage of energy, specifically solar and other exciting renewable energy sources.
We’ll get more into qualifications and salaries later in the article.
Pros and Cons of Working in the Solar Industry
As with any industry, working in solar comes with its own unique benefits and challenges. Overall, solar being a young and growing industry presents both advantages and disadvantages. It can be exciting, but it also requires patience and adaptability.
|Pros of Working in Solar||Cons of Working in Solar|
|Solar is a developing industry with huge potential for growth.||The solar industry can be volatile as it undergoes rapid changes in policy, costs and investments.|
|Solar energy combats climate change and environmental injustice.||Your salary and job opportunities are highly dependent on your location.|
|Solar contributes to energy independence.||Specialization strictly in solar may exclude you from future opportunities in wind, hydropower, hydrogen fuel-cell, geothermal and other renewable sources of energy.|
|The world will always need energy professionals.|
Best States for Solar Energy Jobs
Notice the con we mentioned above about job availability and salary being highly dependent on location? You’ll find most new jobs in states with the best solar incentives, and hence, the most investment in renewable energy. Inversely, many states with close ties to oil, gas or coal won’t exactly go out of their way to support the solar industry. As it stands today, here are the top 10 states of solar energy jobs, according to data from the SEIA.³
- New York
- North Carolina
You’ll notice not all of these states receive an abundance of sunshine. What they do have in common are favorable net metering policies, tax incentives or rebate programs that attract investment.
Salaries and Qualifications of Jobs in the Solar Industry
Though there are all sorts of odd jobs in the solar industry, here are the primary careers we see emerging, along with their expected qualifications and salary. As mentioned, expect this to vary by state. The bigger the presence of solar in the state (California will be the best), the more competitive your salary will be.
|Solar Job Title||Qualification||Average Salary Range|
|Solar Installer||Certification or High School/GED||$35,000-$45,0001|
|Electrician (Solar Expertise)||Certification or High School/GED||$45,000-$55,0002|
|Field Service Technician||Associate’s Degree||$45,000-$55,0003|
|Solar Site Assessor||Associate’s Degree||$45,000-$55,0002|
|Solar Marketing Professional||Associate’s Degree||$45,000-$75,0006|
|Solar Sales Consultant||Associate’s Degree||$65,000-$85,0002|
|Solar Energy System Designer||Bachelor’s Degree||$65,000-$85,0006|
|Technical Solar System Sales||Bachelor’s Degree||$65,000-$85,0005|
|Project Manager & Administrator||Bachelor’s Degree||$65,000-$85,0001|
|Materials Engineer||Graduate Degree||$75,000-$125,0004|
|Energy Attorney||Graduate Degree||$75,000-$125,0002|
|Solar Engineer (Utility-scale)||Graduate Degree||$75,000-$125,0002|
1Data from Glassdoor. 2Data from ZipRecruiter. 3Data from Salary.com. 4Data from Payscale. 5Data from Indeed. 6Data based on our calculations.
Online Solar Trainings, Certifications and Courses
So, if you’re someone without a solid background in solar but you want to break into the industry, where’s the best place to start?
Solar Energy Training with Solar Energy International (SEI)
SEI offers online trainings and in-person workshops on topics spanning most renewable energy sources, including solar. Courses and workshops are available for students at any level. With video lectures, online forums and lesson quizzes, SEI provides a fantastic entry point to an aspiring solar professional looking to learn more about the technology. Get started with its free online course.
North American Board of Certified Energy Professionals (NABCEP)
NABCEP Board Certifications provide knowledge and skills to make a career in renewable energy. Certifications are fairly rigorous, and best for those with some experience with electrical work already. However, earning a NABCEP certification is the best way to stand out as a qualified, credible and knowledgable solar energy professional. Earning a NABCEP certification can also increase your earning potential by over $10,000 per year.
Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC)
IREC is a nonprofit organization working toward providing clean energy and energy efficiency for the benefit of people, the economy and the environment. As part of its efforts, IREC offers a Clean Energy Training program for professionals in a variety of related industries. Aligned with its mission to advance a highly trained and inclusive clean energy workforce, IREC recently published a brief guide that covers solar training and career development resources; offers detailed descriptions of high-demand, entry-level solar jobs; and describes advancement pathways that can lead to rewarding careers.
Karsten Neumeister is a solar energy specialist passionate about sustainable development, environmental and cultural change. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.