Top 5 Careers in Renewable Energy
There aren’t many fields where you can have it all—a good job in a growing industry that helps people and the environment. But renewable energy is already big business, and it’s growing fast. Solar capacity has grown over 4,300 per cent since the turn of the century. In 2013, $214 billion was invested in renewable power and fuels worldwide.
An industry growing this quickly creates jobs—lots of jobs. The challenge is that these jobs will require different kinds of skills. Some people will need new training in traditional trades; others will need PhDs in advanced science. We’ve taken a look at the best careers in renewable energy across the spectrum.
#1 Meteorological Technician / Wind Technician
Meteorological technicians work on wind farms during their early stages. When developers are looking for the best sites for wind farms, they use special equipment to measure wind speeds and weather patterns. Meteorological technicians look after that equipment, installing it, keeping it working properly, and dismantling and moving it as needed.
Wind technicians install wind turbines, and deal with maintenance and repair. They need the skills to discover and fix any problems with turbines, and they need to be able to work safely and comfortably at great heights.
Meteorological technicians can sometimes get by with a high school diploma, although they usually need to complete an apprenticeship or training program.
Wind technicians need more training: often a two-year associate’s degree from a technical school, plus training on the job. Some wind technicians learn their trade as apprentices. The median salary for wind technicians in 2013 was a decent $45,970 (half of wind technicians earned more, half earned less).
#2 Solar PV Technician
Photovoltaic (PV) cells are the building blocks of solar power, producing electricity from sunlight. Solar technicians install and maintain solar cells, fixing them if something goes wrong. Solar technicians can work with retail customers, putting solar panels on roofs, or on large-scale industrial solar arrays.
The main skills required are electrical—although a head for heights is needed, if working on roofs. As such, Solar PV technicians usually require a Journeyman’s Electrician or Journey Power Plant Electrician licence, and a few years’ experience. Solar PV installers earn an average salary of $41,820.
#3 Energy Auditor
The future won’t just be about renewables: it will also be about energy efficiency. Energy auditors, sometimes called energy inspectors, visit homes and businesses and advise on ways to save energy and money.
Energy auditors examine buildings and past utility bills, giving advice on renewable energy, as well as air leaks and insulation, heating and cooling systems, energy-efficient lighting, windows, and appliances.
Because energy audits are new, licensing requirements still vary. Some states have their own certification requirements (this list is a starting point). There are organizations that certify energy auditors, such as the Building Performance Institute or the Residential Energy Services Network. Some energy auditors have associate’s degrees in fields like energy management.
Reliable salary data is hard to come by, but current listings on career site Glassdoor are in the $50,000-$55,000 range (though more senior auditors may earn more).
#4 Solar Sales Associate
Solar companies need customers, so they need people to find potential customers and make sales. Solar panels are an expensive outlay, so people need the benefits explained to them.
Like anyone in sales, solar sales associates need to understand the product they’re selling—down to the technical details—so they’re selling customers on the right thing. They need to understand their customers and markets. And of course they need outstanding communications skills.
Solar sales associates usually need bachelor’s degrees, usually in a field related to sales, such as management, marketing, or finance. There are no government salary numbers for solar sales associates, but sales representatives selling machinery and equipment in general made an average salary of $73,410 in 2013.
#5 Materials Scientist / Materials Research Engineer
These are the scientists and engineers that design the solar panels of the future. Materials scientists need master’s degrees or (more likely) PhDs in materials science or applied physics, and they need to understand how materials such as crystals, ceramics, metals, and glass, behave at different temperatures and in different states. Materials scientists also need skills in testing, research, and reporting.
That advanced knowledge pays off, though: the median salary for materials scientists is $80,300 per year.
These careers are only the start of what’s possible in renewable energy. If you want to know more, check out our schools page and develop the skills to get you into the industry.