NEXT STEPS working in solar >>
and knowing the industry
are essential to landing
a solar job.
By LIZ MERRY
How mucH training do you need for
the solar job you’re after?
First, figure out where you fit into the solar
business. if you have an engineering or construction background, your most obvious path
leads to working for a solar installation company. Have experience in sales or administration?
You’ll find those jobs throughout the equipment manufacturing, distribution, installation
and retail sectors of the business.
if you’re a mid-career professional, you
already have a lot of experience with certain
industries and customer sectors. This is your
strategic edge when entering the renewable
energy industry. Depending on your career
field, you already know things like how the
civil legal system works; the real estate industry
structure and how property owners make buying decisions; how manufacturers and producers make decisions about purchasing industrial
equipment. Start by being clear about what you
already know, what you enjoy doing and what
you are good at.
whatever your goal, plan to take at least
a two-day hands-on solar installation course.
You want to get your hands on the equipment, and two days is the very minimum for
a layperson to gain a basic sense of how the
From there, you have lots of options for
training, depending on the amount of money
and time you’d like to commit. if you have the
time, there are certain advantages to earning a
two-year degree. First of all, though this may
sound obvious, a certificate isn’t a degree. A
degree from an accredited college — with
transcripts of courses and grades available for
an employer’s review — is a much stronger
qualification to advance to
(or even start at) a position beyond installation.
Do you imagine yourself
designing solar energy systems or managing teams of
installers? if so, a degree
could be helpful. if you
decide to pursue a higher
degree at a four-year college, a two-year associate degree can be applied
directly to the requirements
for the more advanced
training. getting credit for
certificate courses will be
much more difficult.
This is not to say you need to learn the full
set of skills described in every job listing. in
fact, most solar companies will want to provide
their own on-the-job training for most positions. Earning a two-year associate degree in
electronics or renewable energy technology
may not be necessary for your dream job, but it
certainly couldn’t hurt — and the community
college system is generally a great value.
where can you find schools and colleges
with good solar training programs? Start with
the listings on page 46. if you are looking for
a more intense “industry primer” in a specific
advanced topic, such as power project development, project financing, legal issues, policy
development and the like, there are specialized training providers happy to sign you up
for webinars and/or specialized conferences.
The key to ensuring value for the premium
cost of these events is to know what you want
to learn. For instance, you wouldn’t want to
spend $1,200 to attend a high-level day-long
project financing seminar without having first
learned the basics of utility-scale solar. check
the online SOLAR TODAY calendar (solar
today.org/dates) for upcoming online and live
events and seminars.
Additional training resources include
itunes u, which provides hundreds of free
lectures and college level courses in everything
from basic electrical engineering to advanced
mechanical physics. And many green energy
news and analysis sites, such as greentech
media ( greentechmedia.com) and clean Edge
( cleanedge.com), offer free webinars on hot
courtESy of SoLAr EnErgy intErnAtionAL
in addition to acquiring training, get to
know the solar industry. understanding the
solar industry means grasping the size and
scope of the industry as well as the interplay
among the various components of solar energy — the technology, the industry value chain
and major players, the equipment and project
economics, the policy drivers and the regula-tory mandates and barriers. getting the basics
down takes about a day, and it’s what we cover
in my Solar industry orientation courses.
The Solar Energy industries Association
hosts a navigant consulting report that provides an excellent industry overview ( seia.org/
Remember, the solar industry is a growing
part of the massive grid-tied utility industry.
The more you understand the utility structures,
policy mandates (e.g., renewable portfolio standards) and what they can offer your customers,
the better you grasp the solar opportunities.
many opportunities involve working with the
Also, network, research and share what you
learn. Volunteering tackles all of these at once.
get involved with your local American Solar
Energy Society chapter (see pages 78-79). GS
Ask Ms. Liz ( solartoday.org/askliz) is an online
resource for readers looking to build a new career
in solar or start a solar business. Liz Merry answers
questions and addresses topics including how to
find a job, understanding the solar industry, net-
working and how to do business in solar. Send her
your questions at email@example.com.