According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2020, power generation from solar PV increased by a record 23% (156 TWh) from the previous year and accounted for 3.1% of the world’s electricity generation. In 2022, it remains the third-largest renewable electricity technology behind hydro and wind power.
The growth of solar energy has primarily been driven by investments made in China, the United States, and Vietnam. In fact, China alone was responsible for 75% of the increase in solar PV installations from 2019 to 2020.
If you’re considering a career as a Solar Engineer, there’s never been a better time to join the renewables sector. The Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) predicts that the demand for solar installers will grow by 52% between 2020 and 2030, so we’d expect to similar growth for solar engineers.
Likewise, the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) World Energy Transition Outlook forecasts that renewable energy as a sector could account for 38 million jobs by 2030, and 43 million by 2050.
Let’s take a closer look at what a day in the life of a Solar Engineer looks like:
What does a Solar Engineer do?
The role of a Solar Engineer can vary depending on the project they’re working on. Some projects might involve designing solar PV heating systems for residential properties, whereas others could involve working on large-scale utility power plants.
Typical responsibilities include creating plans using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software for solar energy systems, and developing, monitoring, and evaluating project activities.
Solar engineers can also be involved in other types of engineering throughout the supply chain, such as electrical, chemical, mechanical, and software engineering. Health and Safety is also an important part of a Solar Engineer’s role, so developing operational procedures to maintain safety standards is also a typical responsibility.
A large part of the role involves conducting research to develop new technologies that can improve the performance of photovoltaic cells. Some engineers may also carry conduct research on solar radiation and its effects on the surrounding environment.
Where does a Solar Engineer Work?
Sometimes a Solar Engineer might work in an office environment, developing designs. Other times, they might be out in the field, on construction sites, or at manufacturing plants.
Given that solar panels are often installed on rooftops, a Solar Engineer can also expect to work on top of buildings, so they need to have a head for heights.
Solar Engineers typically work full time with 40-hour work weeks. However, they often work longer towards the end of a project to ensure deadlines are met. Some projects may also require international travel, which can mean working irregular hours.
Given the commitment by many countries to reach Net Zero by 2050, there’s demand for solar engineers across the globe. However, the largest projects are currently taking place in the United States and China.
What does a typical day look like for a Solar Engineer?
Although no two days are the same in engineering roles, a typical day for a Solar Engineer might start with a briefing to discuss the tasks that need to be completed that day. Because timing is important with solar technology, the time of year has a big impact on when the day begins and ends.
On any given day, the aim is to ensure that existing solar equipment continues to run seamlessly. At the start of the day, an engineer might monitor any start-up issues, and track any equipment that isn’t working properly. They’d then do some troubleshooting and fix issues like motor stalls and breaker trips.
When working on new projects that are in the pre-construction phase, a typical day might involve gathering data and working on designs in an office. Later in the day, the engineer might travel to proposed construction sites to conduct analyses, or visit manufacturing plants to price component parts.
How do I become a Solar Engineer?
Most Solar Engineers have a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, Mathematics, or Computer Science. Others have studied Electrical, Civil, or Mechanical Engineering, and many have gone on to gain a Master’s in Renewable Energy, or an energy-related subject. Nowadays, some universities offer degrees in Solar Engineering.
In some cases, large organisations might offer internships, or apprenticeships that could lead to a Solar Engineering role in the future. Although qualifications are important in this field, so is gaining hands-on experience.
To work as a Solar Engineer, you also need to have a number of technical skills, including being able to work with CAD software. Having mechanical drawing skills is also beneficial. As you’ll typically work as part of a team, you’ll need to have good communication skills and be able to share information effectively.
Solar Engineers also have good problem-solving skills and are able to troubleshoot issues and find solutions quickly. Project management skills are also important as you could be working on large projects that need to be completed by deadlines and within strict budgets.
Solar Engineer jobs in the energy industry
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