Sitting in my dormitory room seven years ago, it dawned on me what I wanted to do with my life. Energy. Good energy. Clean energy. Sustainable energy. Fortunately, I was in a degree program (Engineering Science @ The Pennsylvania State University) with coursework and research flexibility that allowed me to pursue my interest in energy. By graduating, I knew solar energy was the field for me. Prowling the solar landscape for suitable jobs was the next step. Here are some tips for launching your career in solar energy:
Follow and join solar organizations. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is the leading solar industry trade organization with 15 state-based local chapters. University students can join or start solar and renewable energy clubs and participate in the Solar Decathlon, a contest to design and build a solar powered home. Local and state government operated or funded clean energy organizations are often an accessible source of information and engagement in the solar industry. Many of these organizations are active on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, making it even easier to follow their activity.Kevin Graves leading Solar Installers in DC
Attend Solar Trade Shows. Solar trade shows are great opportunities to meet industry professionals and companies, that are often promoting their products AND HIRING. The two larger shows are Solar Power International (SPI) and InterSolar North America which each host a large event at a major metropolitan area in the US each year. These can be difficult to attend given geographic and budgetary constraints, so look for the smaller local shows hosted or promoted by some of the solar organizations mentioned above.
Self-Educate in Solar Energy. It is CRITICAL to educate yourself in solar energy.This is probably the easiest and cheapest way to set yourself apart as a candidate. Plenty of online and print resources like Home Power Magazine, Solar Professional Magazine, and Renewable Energy World feature free as well as subscription content ranging from solar financial mechanisms and incentives to product reviews and code discussions. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) contains comprehensive and up-to-date information on incentive programs and the government, utility, and non-profit organizations administrating them. Many solar product manufacturers offer free system configuration tools that will aid in learning solar design.
Solar Job Training Workshops. Workshops in solar training will pick up where the self-education leaves off. During my final year of school, I attended a week long solar seminar for students hosted by the Sustainable Energy Fund (SEF) a Pennsylvania based non-profit, all-purpose, sustainability organization. The program was funded by the university (to which I’m still paying for my tuition) so it was “free” for attendees, but it’s typical for training workshops to cost $50-200/day of training. NABCEP Entry Level PV training is one of the more technical programs but the most likely to differentiate you as a potential candidate for solar jobs.
Then you have to actually look for the solar job…
Utilize Solar Job Sources. Nearly every one of the organizations linked in this article include solar jobs or solar careers pages that companies and recruiters post open positions. Indeed and LinkedIn are great general job search engines, while GreenJobs is a leading solar and renewables jobs website. It is not unheard of to find a legitimate solar job posted on Craigslist, but user beware of scams. If you question the legitimacy of a CL job post, search the job title, company, and location to find the actual posting on the company’s website. Another great way, the way I was first hired into the solar industry in fact, is to research companies and look at their job postings in your area.
Kevin Graves visiting the Solar Impulse in Northern VirginiaSolar energy is still a very regional industry heavily governed by state and local solar incentives and renewables friendly regulation, so it’s no surprise that most jobs are in just a handful of states and regions. If relocation to one of the solar hotbeds is an option, it may be the best way to kick start your solar career, like my cross-country trek from PA to Los Angeles where I spent 4 years and gained all of my solar experience. But perhaps moving is not an option and you find yourself grinding to grow a smaller solar market into a flourishing industry like I’m working towards in Northern Virginia.
Kevin Graves is a NABCEP Certified PV Installation Professional with over 3 MW of design, installation, and management experience in Southern California and now Northern Virginia.