Engineering Careers: Solar Engineers

Michael Dosunmu

In the United States of America alone, over 200,000 residents work for solar companies. Jobs in the industry rose to about 123 percent in 2015. Now, this is not just good news for those who intend to become Solar Engineers, it equally implies the world is beginning to explore Solar as a source of energy on a larger scale. I will not be surprised if the rate of job opportunities increases to about 200 percent in the next few years.

How then is this crucial to you as an aspiring Engineer? Read on to find out.

What is Solar Energy?

Solar Energy is also known as Energy from the sun. This is because the radiation from the sun is what engineers have been able to convert into an energy source in the form of electricity. More and more people have begun to use Solar energy to light up their homes. Some use it to power their tools and even operate complex machines.

Who is a Solar Engineer?

A solar engineer is a skilled professional who builds solar cells that act as containers for sunrays. He/she usually engage clients to plan, design, and install solar energy kits in houses, organizations, and communities.

Engineering Careers- Solar Engineers

What are the roles of Solar Engineers?

As a Solar Engineer, your roles include designing and managing solar projects which can range from rooftop projects to citywide installations. Your roles are usually in phases, starting from the client consultation phase. Although your tasks may be cyclical (in cases of maintenance) in the end, the initial engagement phase between you and your clients will end at the implementation phase.

Client Consultation in Solar Engineering: This is the stage where you get to communicate with clients on their solar energy needs, their expectations, budgets, and, limitations of projects.

 Site Assessment: Here, you proceed to check the proposed location(s) for the installation. This is important as it helps you plan appropriately. After assessing the site, you can plan the size of the solar kits, their capacities, the tools you need for installation, and many other requirements that will ensure an error-free installation process. Site Assessment will also help you make good decisions in terms of spending within your client’s budget.

The Design Phase: This is the stage where you create the panels and energy converting engines. Your success in this stage is measured by putting your client’s needs side-by-side with what you have designed. The designing phase goes beyond the functionality of your kits. Since solar energy kits are mostly kept in visible places, your design must also consider aesthetics. You won’t want the kits to look all messy.

Implementation Phase: After perfecting your designs, the next stage is to move back to the site and install the kits you have created. This is usually the most demanding phase in terms of physical energy. You may sometimes need to climb as high as rooftops to install solar kits or assign others if you are working in a group. The implementation phase is also where you get to test your solar kits for efficiency, errors or glitches. It also where you learn about whether they meet the expectations of your clients.

Maintenance Phase: The maintenance stage comes after you must have wrapped up the initial engagements with your clients. On many occasions, it is not part of your original arrangements. However, maintenance of solar kits is an important role for any solar engineer. The engines, panels, and machines need regular check-ups. This helps to prevent sudden failures and hazards in locations where solar systems have been installed. Maintenance phase can also include writing reports on the state of the kits and suggesting ways to improve on the installations you earlier made.

Job Outlook for Solar Engineer

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, there was a 40% increase in the generation of Solar Energy worldwide between the year 2000 and 2011. And since the rate has continued to increase, newer job opportunities are being created in the field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics in the United States predicts that in 2022, Solar Engineering jobs would have increased by 24%. Now, you may not think of this as good news until you realize that the average job growth for many other career paths is just 10%.

Currently, California offers the most Solar jobs around the world with over 10,000 positions already created as of 2013. Meanwhile, New Mexico comes just after California on the list, while cities such as New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have records of high job opportunities for Solar Engineers (The Solar Foundation).

Thinking you should pursue a career in the field? Learn about the skills you need to excel as a solar engineer below.

Engineering Careers: Solar Engineers

Important Skills for Solar Engineers

Auditing skills: As a solar Engineer, you need to master the act of auditing as you will be engaging in site audits to gather electrical and structural information from the site you will be working on. Auditing will help you prepare adequate design models during the design stage.

Designing Skills: One very crucial skill that differentiates a solar engineer from other engineers is their ability to create photovoltaic systems, also known as solar thermal systems. Your designs must always take different dimensions, depending on the type of project you are handling. Besides, you should be able to create vacuum tube collector engines for your solar systems.

Drawing/ Construction skills:  creating single line diagrams, connection diagrams, and panel schedules on the Computer-aided Design (CAD) program are central to your activities as a solar engineer. You can’t afford to not know how to illustrate your designs.

Organizational skills: Planning for the development of your clients’ solar energy systems, evaluating the kits on time, and preempting possible malfunctioning are skills necessary to become successful in your Solar Engineering career. Your organizational skills should also extend to providing technical support for the installation team during the installation process.

Communication Skills: As a Solar Engineer, your ability to communicate fluently and effectively will help increase your success rates. This is because you constantly have to discuss with clients to understand their needs. And in the case of bidding for contracts, barring other requirements, your ability to convince your prospective clients by using compelling words and illustrations is key.

Also, learn about the skills you need as an Agricultural Engineer

How to become a Solar Engineer

Although I have highlighted universities already offering Solar Engineering as a standalone course, both at the undergraduate and postgraduate level below, Solar Engineering is scarcely taught as an independent discipline.

Many practicing Solar Engineers are Mechanical and Electrical Engineering graduates. In the United States, however, you can study a 4-year course in Renewable Energy in a good number of universities. Renewable Energy studies such as Biogas is closely related to Solar Energy. So, you can easily adapt what you have learned in renewable energy when you decide to switch to a Solar Engineering career.

Note that professional certifications are often required for advanced job descriptions in the Solar sector. Experience is equally a crucial factor. Hence, engaging in volunteering projects will give you the necessary skills to kick start your solar engineering career.

What can you learn from this? It is simple. Enrolling for Bachelors and/or Masters Degree in Solar Engineering will give you an edge in the fast-moving field, as many employers will be aiming to have those with relevant skill sets on their team.

Engineering Careers: Solar Engineers

Workplace for Solar Engineers

As you progress in your Solar Engineering career, you are more likely to work from an office. However, you will be traveling from time to time to assess sites. Some projects may also take you away from your city of residence as Solar Engineers are in high demand around the world.

How is Solar Energy Helping to Change the World?

There is nothing wrong with making lots of money from Solar Energy. It has become a prominent aspect of renewable energy systems around the world. However, you should understand how exactly this field is helping to solve some problems around us. With that knowledge at the back of your mind, you can then contribute your quota when you become an expert in the field. At the moment, Solar Energy has assisted in:

Tackling climate change

Shift to Solar Energy has been helping to reduce the harmful emissions of natural gas and coals which had had be causing climate change on our planet. The over-dependence on these gases if fast reducing as more and more people, governments, and organizations have begun to opt for solar energy as replacements.

Ensuring Energy generation is sustainable

Sometimes in the future, natural gas, coal gas will no longer be available. But Solar energy, being a renewable form of energy will be here to ensure that energy generation continues throughout the world. At least we know that the hydrogen fuel from the sun cannot run out before 5 billion years.

Improving human health

As against some other energy sources, Solar Energy does not pass out waste into the air. Hence, with Solar energy, our air is cleaner.

Saving water and preventing drought: Solar energy uses less water than when we burn coals or make use of water from hydroelectric fields. This helps to reduce the probability of droughts in drought-prone areas.

Improving lives in impoverished regions

By converting energy from the sun into electricity, Solar engineers have helped in providing electricity in communities that have not had access to electricity before now. These communities have begun to improve in terms of wealth and education.

Helping house owners to cut down on bills

House owners who have solar systems installed can save as much as $150 every month. This means it costs lesser to sustain and maintain Solar energy installations.

Careers within the Solar Engineering field
  •  Installer: Assembles solar systems and places the photovoltaic panels on rooftops or other locations.
  • Solar Electrician: connects high voltage tools and power supply and engages in other wiring tasks or problems.
  • Solar Salesperson:  Helps to identify the needs of prospective solar systems buyers. Convinces them to make purchases, and creates room for referrals.
  • Systems designer: Specializes in creating photovoltaic systems, and provides support at the installation stage.
  • Solar Project Developer:  Monitors the progress of Solar projects right from scratch. Ensures the project reaches its completion at the time it should.

You should also read “What is Biomedical Engineering?”

How much does a Solar Engineer Earn?

Salaries of Solar Engineers in the United States: According to Payscale, the highest annual income for Engineers in this field is around $80,000 while the lowest you can earn is $37,000 within the same period, This then means that the average income for Solar Engineers in the country, is about $67,000 on yearly basis.

Salaries of Solar Engineers in the United Kingdom: Total jobs’ statistics show that Solar Engineers at the entry-level in the UK earn about £29,000, while the very experienced experts in the field take home the sum of £42,500 yearly. By these, the average annual salary for Solar Engineers in the country is £32,500.

Salaries of Solar Engineers in Canada:  Engineers creating solar energy in Canada earn around  C$53,798 yearly, at the entry-level. But after working for some years, they can earn about $151,249. Hence, the average salary scale for professionals in the field is C$72,000. Source – Payscale.

Engineering Careers: Solar Engineers

Famous Solar Engineers

Peter Glaser: Created the idea of having a satellite solar power station in 1965. His research led to an increased interest in the Solar Industry.

Dr. Elliot Berman: Designed a solar cell with reduced cost. His solar cell was sold for $20 per watt. This is in contrast to the $100 per watt that that had been existing in the 1970s.

Subhendu Guha: Created a state of the art technology that made it possible to convert sunlight into electricity.

Universities to Study Solar Engineering.

As I mentioned earlier, Solar Engineering may be relatively new. Nonetheless, there are already a good number of universities and colleges, offering courses in Solar Energy. I have carefully assessed the following schools with particular attention on their facilities, teaching excellence, and the standard of their researches. So, if you believe a career in Solar Engineering is what you genuine desire to pursue,  get your Bachelors and/or Masters Degree from these Universities.

  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • The University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)
  • Northeastern University (Boston, Massachusetts)

Want to enroll in any of these institutions? Send me a mail or chat me up via the chat button below your page right away. I can help.

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