According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), solar generates enough electricity in the United States to power 1.3 million homes. Since the beginning of 2010, average panel prices have declined by more than 70% and average system prices have declined by nearly 50%. This has made solar energy more affordable for industries and homes. The SEIA reports that a solar energy system is installed in the U.S. every four minutes.
The states with the highest concentration of solar energy workers are California and Texas, for obvious reasons: abundant sunshine. Nationally, there are more workers in this field than coal miners. The demand has escalated because of it causes no pollution and the source (the sun) is free. Every hour the sun beams onto Earth more than enough energy to satisfy global energy needs for an entire year. Solar energy is the technology used to harness the sun’s energy and make it useable. Today, the technology produces less than one tenth of one percent of global energy demand.
The downside is that it doesn’t work at night, making the need for a storage device such as a battery. Solar technologies are also very expensive and require a vast area of land to set the solar panels. Despite these drawbacks, solar energy has surged 20% over the past 15 years globally.
There is a school devoted to renewable energy called Ecotech Institute, College for Renewable Energy and Management located in Aurora, Colorado. This school offers a course in solar technology; it’s designed to take 88 weeks to complete which 49% accomplish. Their tuition and fees are $37,202, however no on-campus room and board is offered.
Upon completion, the student will have earned an Associate’s degree. The degree is designed to prepare graduates for careers in the field of renewable, sustainable and energy efficiency. Ecotech walks the talk as they have “solar trees” erected in the parking lot to produce solar energy.
More conventional schools offer bachelor’s degree in renewable energy within the engineering department. Typically, solar engineers have a degree in mechanical or electrical engineering with a concentration in solar energy. Courses for these programs may include:
- Energy Policy
- Geothermal Energy
- Solar Power Materials
- Computer Software
While not always necessary, some employers prefer candidates with a graduate education. A master’s degree in solar energy engineering usually takes one year to complete. Some of the graduate courses students could take include solar energy and public policy, evaluation of photovoltaic and fuel cell systems, and solar systems engineering.
A solar engineer who provides a service, usually as a professional consultant, for a company or private party must be licensed. Each state has its own licensing and continuing education requirements. Once licensed, the engineer may use the P.E. or Professional Engineer designation after his/her name.
According to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2013, there are 142,698 solar jobs in America. This represents a 20% increase in employment opportunities from 2012. The foundation also predicts that the industry will continue to see growth in the next 12 months, with 45% of solar companies expected to add jobs in 2014.
The best place to start your solar energy career is in California. The state is leading the nation in solar jobs, with more than 47,000 employed by the industry. The Solar Foundation predicts California’s solar sector will continue to grow in 2014, adding another 10,500 jobs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have a category for solar engineers specifically. For comparison purposes, in 2010 the median annual salary for chemical, electrical and mechanical engineers was between $78,910 and $92,820.
Clean energy such as solar power is expected to be a key piece of the growing “green economy,” and jobs in solar power show great potential for new employment opportunities. Jobs are expected to grow in all the major sectors of the solar power industry: manufacturing, project development, construction, operation and maintenance, and installation. This growth in the solar power industry is evidenced by the rapid increase in solar capacity over the past several years, leading to the increased the demand for skilled workers. Jobs in this industry are located in many states and cover a wide variety of occupations. As solar technology evolves and new uses for solar power are discovered, occupations in the industry will continue to grow and develop.